Respect as a commodity?

Originally published June 24th 2014:

Anyone who keeps up to date with the big music stories in Scotland may very well have stumbled across the tale of Eric Clapton’s recent misadventure at the Glasgow Hydro concert. If you haven’t, the gist is that old Slow Hand stopped his performance in the middle of his classic number Cocaine, and left the stage permanently, much to the outrage of the sizeable audience.

This abrupt termination was put down to technical issues, but other than that, no explanation or apology seems to have been given on the night. Now, every band has had some sort of equipment breakdown at some point. It’s just the law of averages that something will eventually go wrong. What sparked interest in writing this piece is the attitude that accompanied it.

Being from a different era, the golden age of recorded music, it’s pretty unlikely that this event has caused much of a problem for the guitar legend. He has probably built up enough of a buffer, both financially and in terms of audience, but times have well and truly changed. For artists coming up in the present environment for music, this could well have been the career equivalent of stepping into a suicide booth and pressing all the buttons at random. Yet, bands on the ‘toilet circuit’ still seem to display a similar lack of respect at times. Well, here’s where they’re setting themselves up for a slow climb to the bottom.

Your ‘fans’ ARE your band! They have to be able to relate to you instantly and in a positive way. Some artists can still make headway with the application of mystique as their banner, but for many the way forward is building a more personal clan. The audience has to own you to a degree. Check out number 4 in this listThe rest of it is good advice, but that might just be the cherry!

Remember, though, that almost everyone you come across is a potential member of your musical family (e-marketing guru Seth Godin calls them tribes – I actually really like reading this guy’s work!). The sound guy you just had a rant at? He works with a different band or four every week/day. That could be around 240 people in one month – who are passionate enough about music to start their own band – that sound engineer won’t be telling about how awesome your music is. Worse still, he could be damning your name to them.

That’s only scratching the surface of the negative impact poorly managing your behaviour can have. How many people do you know who are only involved in one aspect of the music industry? I’ve had a number of bands over the years, I’ve run numerous events, I do security for gigs, I speak to music journalists frequently from PR-ing events and bands, write reviews for an on-line magazine, and I’m part of a music services group, as well as fumbling my way through this blog. All these things have necessarily brought me into increasingly involved relationships relating to the music scene, and I assume a significant number of others are similarly deeply engaged in the community.

Let’s go back to your theoretical nemesis, the ‘irritating’ sound engineer. He could also be in a band that plays to hundreds everywhere they go, and make the effort of speaking to them. He might be reviewing your gig for some illustrious magazine you’ve been dying to get into. Maybe he got the teching job from his older brother who runs a death-metal booking agency! Your bad name has potentially now reached thousands due to one singular lapse in judgement. I’m not saying you should be brown-nosing all in sundry, but you should be constantly aware of the repercussions of off-hand, disrespectful behaviour.

When people talk about ‘fans’ nowadays, I feel like the word kind of sticks awkwardly in my mouth. I can’t quite assimilate the notion that these people are somehow a separate species to the musician. Every person I interact with in the music sphere is part of the bigger picture; the security staff, the rigger, the stage techs, the bar tenders, the bands, the merch team, the tour manager, and yes, the paying gig-goers. Every single one of them is an individual, not just a body fulfilling a function. I hope and believe that they are there for something more, and are due the same respect as any other potential convert to a band’s cause.

If current theories are to be followed, these converts are exactly the type of person you want to get involved with, as people are tending more towards paying to help bands they like, rather than shell-out for products. Accepting this as the case, good relationships are pretty much an investment.

I hope this doesn’t sound too clinical, cynical or calculating. It’s not meant to. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s merely an attempt to clarify the rapidly shrinking gap between good business sense and common decency. Respect is now becoming a commodity, and it reaches out in all directions to work in your favour when managed correctly.

The problem still remains, however, that you only have a limited amount of time at your disposal to engage. You can’t talk one-to-one with every single person who might be involved with your band. That would exhaust you to the point where you would be unable to perform the artistic duties on which the whole process is hinged. What we’re left with is a bit of a tight-rope walk, constantly having to maintain a balance between the needs of the creator and the needs of their community.

Social media is a big element in this. Digital interactions are mainly conceded as both part of the cause and part of the cure for current music woes. Through various networks, you can reach massive numbers almost instantly, but these are much colder relationships than those which take place in the real world. Again, you have to decide how much effort to invest in these approaches; how much of yourself to put into the digital world without getting lost, and how much to invest in the more expensive physical realm, kissing hands and shaking babies.

The mystery isn’t going to be solved by one answer for everyone, so again, UP is off in search of insight and experience at the hands of those who have been, seen and done. Until next time – RESPECT!

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