Saturday, 10 May 2014
Flying The Flag For Scotland
I saw something on Facebook this week which got me thinking. Thinking enough to actually sit down and write about it, which is something that I've not done in a while anyway. It was a conversation which popped up on fellow blogger Halina Rifai Podcart's page, and related to a tweet that Podcart received and replied to. For ease here's the conversation below, and you can read the full Facebook conversation here.
Now firstly let me just point out that the following is my thoughts, and my thoughts alone, and in no way is meant to criticise anyone else involved or otherwise in these events. In fact the only reason I reference the conversation that happened on Podcart's Twitter/Facebook is because that's what kicked the whole thing off in my head.
Essentially the band (Once) We Were Kings requested a retweet to help them publicise their involvement in the Hard Rock Rising competition which relied on votes to help them progress to the next stage. Podcart did not retweet, but replied that the band's music was not to their taste and wished them luck. This resulted in the ensuing back and forth, and eventually ended with the band's Twitter account apologising for the way they spoke to Podcart.
Now there's a couple of points to address before I get to my actual reason for posting. Firstly, the band were tweeting the hell out of this link. Some might call it spamming, which I would probably agree with. Now whether you feel that's a bad thing, or a useful marketing ploy probably depends a lot on how much spam you receive yourself. Scottish Fiction gets a fair amount of Facebook/Twitter/email spam, Podcart being a bigger blog than us, I imagine gets a whole lot more. Public figures like Jim Gellatly, Ally McCrae and Gary Barlow (yes they tweeted Gary flipping Barlow) get a shit-ton of these messages every day, and will ignore nearly 99% of them. You could argue though that the tactic worked as the band made it to the next stage of the competition. I'm sure that's how they will see it at least.
Secondly, Scottish Fiction received the same message on Twitter that Podcart did. I retweeted it, as did lots of others. If I'm perfectly honest with you, I can't tell you why. I didn't follow the link and listen to the track, but I retweeted the link anyway. Is that wrong? Possibly.
Thirdly, having now listened to the track in question, I would agree with Podcart, that it's not my type of music. It's not something I would feature on the blog, or play on the radio show or podcast. That of course is my prerogative, and the simple fact of the matter is that bands have to be prepared for rejection and the fact that some people won't like their music.
My actual point relates to what (Once) We Were Kings claim that "Would've been nice for you to support your fellow Scots / City regardless..."
This for me raises an interesting question as what the purpose of local music blogs/zines/podcasts/etc actually is? Should they on one hand support all music from their local area regardless of personal tastes or should they act upon personal tastes thereby denying some music a place at their table? Is nationalism in music a bad thing?
That's a dangerous question for a blog/radio show specifically called Scottish Fiction to be asking. I actively promote this blog/radio show as featuring only Scottish music. Others don't have the caveat, but will naturally be immersed within the local music scene thereby being heavily skewed towards it. It got me thinking; why did I retweet (Once) We Were Kings tweet at all?
The answer I suppose is that there needs to be healthy mix of both support for local (whatever that boundary may be) music and a filter of not just personal taste, but of overall quality. The filters have to be applied for two reasons.
Firstly personal taste is impossible to avoid. Music is, despite whatever argument you can present, purely 100% subjective. I don't like One Direction. My 11 year old niece does. We are both right, and both wrong. Personal tastes dictates what you are passionate about, and that passion will result in you caring enough to write about that music, play it on your podcast, or whatever in the first place. Music journalism or radio presenting without that passion is dull, lifeless and limp. I don't mind admitting that I have in the past featured or played artists that I was not 100% behind, and it was the wrong thing to do. I've learned that along the way, and I'm glad I have. I will never, and have not for a long time, write about or play a track from an artist that I do not like or enjoy. Of course there will be varying levels of enjoyment, some tracks will go on to become staple favourites, others fleeting moments of enjoyment, but the basic principle must be on the first play; do I like this?
Secondly a blog, radio show, podcast, music website or journalist must apply filters to ensure the quality of their output is maintained. Remember that when you contact anyone in the music industry and ask them to endorse your music, they have a following who trust their judgement. While I'm not deluded about the scale, I know that people who listen to my show - thanks Mum! - trust me to provide them with good music and good tips on new artists. They expect a certain level of quality control. That means that I won't play everything that is submitted just because it is Scottish. Aside from personal taste, I also have to ask; is this good enough? Will other people like this? Any of course I'll get it wrong from time to time, as will any DJ, journo or blogger. People who hold John Peel in high esteem are often guilty of forgetting that he played some amount of shit records in his time. But I won't feature an artist on either the blog or show if I don't think they are good enough. And that could be that their material isn't quite ready yet, or that they are simply imitating other successful bands (take note 100's of Frabbit, Biffy, CHVRCHES wannabes).
Support for local music takes many forms. Ultimately most of those forms can benefit a local music community. Even if my own personal taste is not for, let's say Kasabian style 'lad-rock', I realise that others may enjoy this music, and the knock on effects of a healthy community, of whatever genre, is good for the overall music community. For example; venues get paying punters through the doors, shops may sell CD's or merch, studios will be used for practising and recording, artists can collaborate, share, develop and build contacts between each other, and a whole myriad of other things. Equally I realise that there will be plenty of people who don't appreciate the drone ambient music that I may promote, but again, the overall aim should be to promote and help local artists.
With the current independence referendum in full swing we are seeing both the positive and negative sides of nationalism. Music, indeed any art, should be able to transcend these labels, but when radio play, newspaper inches, and ultimately funding come down to what postcode an artist is from, then it's hard not to sometimes feel the need to champion and promote your own. I've been on record saying that Scotland punches above it's weight in terms of music many times, and I truly believe that. And for the cream of our musicians to get the recognition they deserve, there will be several layers underneath them all angling for a piece of the pie too. If a band like (Once) We Were Kings make it through to a national final, gain some fans, and ultimately do their bit to bring money and interest into the Scottish music community, then is that all that bad? And if, along the way, I as a Scottish music blog give them a little bit of support, even if I don't like their music, is that not ultimately worth it?
Of course the real answer is that there is no answer to these questions. Like music itself, a lot of this is subjective and will be flavoured by your own views and experiences. One thing I think that should be clear, is that music if often about more than just the music. Perhaps that is where a lot of the problems lie.