When popular becomes outsider.
In the swirling morass of content which is uploaded to the internet minute by minute it is remarkable that any of we appreciators of independent music get to hear anything above the background noise of playlists, recommendations and likes on social media that assail us from every angle. What is it, then, that makes a tune catch on in the public domain outside of its niche?
Some of us are old enough to remember JCB song by Nizlopi. (2005). Championed by Radio Two and played during the times when many who can relate to the experience of being stuck behind some slow moving piece of plant or agricultural implement whist projecting subconscious derision towards the hapless driver and finding their ire being tamed by the unfolding realization that the song on the radio is about a young lad who, being bullied at school is empowered by the experience of going to work with his dad... Nice.
What Bob Dylan said...
“The world don’t need any more songs. They’ve got enough. They’ve got way too many. As a matter of fact, if nobody wrote any songs from this day on, the world ain’t gonna suffer for it. Nobody cares. There’s enough songs for people to listen to, if they want to listen to songs. For every man, woman and child on earth, they could be sent, probably, each of them, a hundred records, and never be repeated. There’s enough songs. Unless someone’s gonna come along with a pure heart and has something to say. That’s a different story. But as far as songwriting, any idiot could do it. If you see me do it, any idiot could do it.”
"A pure heart and something to say..."
The bands guitar technician, the then unknown Ed Sheeran opened for them at one of their rare live performances and went on to have five platinum disks. The other side of the digital watershed has served him very well, in fact. Though downloads and social media were a "thing" back then (remember MySpace?) Between 2008 and 2011 the new paradigm of popular vs niche and physical vs digital had consolidated.
So here we are in 2018, with niche within niche and playlist within playlist which pretty much ensures that people are listening to music that some of us will live out our entire lives without awareness of its very existence or the artists that create it. Yes, I appreciate that there is a wealth of back catalog music that this applies to as well but with the sheer volume and diversity of styles, genres and sub genres all of which are related by algorithms and playlists how does that 'Pure heart with something to say" get heard these days? Answers on a postcard please.
The acceptable face of outsider music.
An recent article in the industry blog "A&R Factory" caught my eye; entitled "The Acceptable Face of Outsider Music" I was naturally curious, having an awareness of outsider art I expected something primitive, slightly mawkish, and against the grain. No, what is considered outsider is in fact pop (as in popular) rock.
The digital age has not only turned the music industry upside down, it now seems to have turned it inside out..(cue for a song) in a way that hitherto only Jazz, Rock and Roll and Punk cam lay claim to. And what can we call this "insider" movement, since what is popular is now "outsider"?
We have gone full circle it seems. Pre-punk, the majors controlled what music was allowed to be served up for popular consumption and now every man and his dog is their own record label and the result is that it is equally hard for the great performers who write and perform great songs to get themselves heard above the general clamor unless, of course, like in the "bad old days" they get lucky, have access to a lot of money or get spotted busking in the street by David Bowie's record producer, whether they are any good or not.
If ever there was a need for the outsiders to start kicking in doors (metaphorically speaking) it is about now. We need good songs with popular appeal and artists who can keep them coming, can fill venues and have meaningful careers, they are out there, and they need to come through or we'll have to put up with, err... Ed Sheeran.