Look, there I am, deep in thought. I've put the picture there (taken by Pal Hansen) as something to look at so you can ignore this bit of my blog if you want to retain the image you may have formed of me, as someone skating down the surface of life, trying to make pretty songs, but otherwise not too bothered about many things.
No? Not got that impression at all? In fact the opposite? Someone seemingly obsessed with trivia, culture, current affairs, injustice, music, and fishing. Yes, perhaps I haven't exactly hidden that side of me. I am, in short, like everyone else and just trying to get through the day, trying not to get too angry, trying to look for the candle in the gloom. Sometimes being the gloom, sometimes the candle.
The reason I've delineated between my normal blog and this one (with occasional cross-over territory) is that I have a long-held belief that just because you make music as your profession, your other opinions aren't necessarily valid. I don't want to be a mouth-piece for anything other than me, we have way too many rent-a-gobs as it is.
So I'm simultaneously hiding this bit of me here, and telling you about it. Which as a sentence and mission statement, neatly illustrates what I wanted to sound off about today.
Episode One - The Internet and The Modern Musician
Is it me, or has the playing field been so levelled recently that the rolling hills of our cultural landscape have come to resemble a car park in Wembley?
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, car parks are convenient, used by millions and provide shelter to mentally ill homeless people - I am grateful for all future accommodation. In many instances the examples of how popular culture has improved are now almost infinite, especially in the margins. You can't just be good any more, you have to be better - in every field, especially those that can be digitized - this often makes for better art. But also it seems, you have to be noisier. All the time. (Again, the irony of writing about this and posting it isn't lost on me, that's why it's here).
Big marketing budgets are now the preserve of the shallower end of the cultural gene pool, like giving your knuckle-dragging cousin (we all have one) control of the household expenses. You may have cupboards full of stuff to consume, it just won't be very good for you.
So that leaves the modern musician seeking an audience outside the mainstream (not always by choice) with the options of toiling in silence, and usually playing to it - or entering the fray, and self-publicising relentlessly in the name of art. And for those of us in the middle of the venn diagram trying to persuade the remaining infrastructure of the business to fund us - it is now usually contractual to keep an online presence, to move as the herd moves from social network to social network, frantically leaping up and shouting: "Oi, look at me".
And here I have to be honest - I am deeply uncomfortable with it. As guilty as the next undoubtedly, trying to judge each step carefully, watching, taking note, but ultimately still clamouring for attention. It is in the nature of the job. I have a nice enough bedroom, I just like getting out of it once in a while.
I'm scared of the way some things are going, I'm not wild about subscription models, about asking people to invest - you, we, all do that anyway. I pay to go to gigs, I buy merch, I reserve the right of the artist to be good or to suck, and to vote with my feet and wallet accordingly. Hands up who loved King Of Cards? Or for some of you anything since 2001, but that is your opinion and one you have the right to express. I like having an audience of like-minded people, I hate the idea of playing to shareholders. Unless it's a corporate gig, in which case I'm available year round for any event, especially in Dubai.
Like many I'm signed up to Facebook and Twitter and MySpace (or the Land of The Lost) and whatever's next. See how I linked to them, to illustrate how at ease I am with the new technology? I update them in the ways I know how, hopefully not too pompously, hopefully not driving people away by being too needy. It is a fine line to walk. I personally always liked the idea of being allowed to forget about artists for a year or two, then to have them return like heroes from the war. Or not. But these days it is almost constant. I don't want to be one of those artists in people's faces 24/7 but I also can't afford to sit Bin Laden-like in my cave, waiting to be discovered. So you see my conundrum. Yes, I know it's not Sophie's choice, but I'm a sensitive man, it says so on the razor I have recently started using.
I have a vision of all of us sitting, scratching our heads every Monday, searching for the best aphorism, the most nuggety soundbite, the most re-tweetable tweet. We have turned the internet into an Epigramaphone©, broadcasting our Wildean genius to the world. And some of us just discuss what we had for breakfast, and those somehow seem more honest.
You know when you see or hear a comedian being interviewed and they are always 'on' always grasping for the next funny - some days I feel that's the world we now live in. Sometimes I take things too seriously. I know, I know. Lighten up, McRae. It's just a bit of fun, and indeed it is. But it is also my business. Love me, love me, love me - now buy my CD. I feel like I'm grooming people, in a sort of Catholic priest way. And as the choir boy said, it's leaving a bad taste in my mouth.
And it's driving me insane.
And now I'm doing it to you.
I also know that I’m the luckier side of the equation, I had some years of the machine that enabled me to find an audience in the 3-D world. And I am grateful, and in no way am I judging others or their choices (I am exactly judging others and their choices). We all have to find our way.
What I think I’m saying is that I am a little wary of person and persona. I think mine are closer to each other than more glamorous types ( although you haven’t seen me in my Princess Leia, circa Empire Strikes Back costume) but in an era of a degree of fame for everyone (famous for fifteen people) I’m not sure that we’re not in danger of losing something. Something that makes all but the prettiest of us more attractive. Distance.
Art is artifice, it's there in the name. But it's only a small step to artificial, and I can feel the inexorable pull of an unattractive tide.
Love me, love me, love me... buy my CD.