The famous quote from Bono at the end of their Rattle and Hum tour, heralding the end of the U2 as they’d been known, expressing their unique blend of faith and questions. What followed, after a long break, was a whole new version of U2 that burst the band through their own glass ceiling, becoming the biggest band in the world.
We've got to go away and dream it all up again. One of the most scary and beautiful statements anyone can make. In last month's post I talked about a friend's journey through this process of pulling everything down so she can dream it up again. And I'm doing a similar sort of thing with my own musical journey this year.
However, recently the statement took on a new depth to me.
I was away recently with my Artists Anonymous group - my songwriter's support group. As part of this weekend, we did an activity that began with each of us defining what we felt about the "music industry". From there we got to explore in more depth how we felt about it, how we have been treated by it and what has hurt us, what frustrated us, what put us off being part of it. All four of us had no trouble answering these questions! We were all disillusioned and 'over it' in many ways.
What was interesting to me is that each of us had a different part of the industry that we felt was mistreating us. One felt it was the fans who have no real commitment, one thought it was the websites that give music for free and undermine sales, one thought it was the venues who replace music with pokies and expect artists to play for free and the fourth was upset because the industry had not seemed welcoming or supportive or inclusive.
Four artists, four different issues, all blaming "the industry". And, in fairness, four valid comments, specially for unknown, independent artists.
So the idea hit me: We, the musicians, have to go away and dream it all up again.
I know this may not seem like a revelation – younger musicians, who’ve never experienced a world without free music have simply accepted that new ways of generating income must be found. But what I’m talking about feels different to this. I don’t mean we need to dream up ways to use technology to generate revenue (though it’s true, we do need to do that).
What I’m talking about is re-visioning how we think about our own music “industry”. I’m talking about the musician dreaming how they want it to feel, and building from there.
Earlier this year, my colleague and co-writer, Linda Wood, and I trialled an idea we’d had about creating really gorgeous gigs, gorgeous for performer and audience. We ran three gigs, with different formats, to beta test ideas. And we LOVED it. We didn’t change the world. But we did please a whole bunch of guests, we loved the gigs as performers and we did manage to make a profit.
We did this by dreaming it all up again. We didn’t use existing venues. We didn’t use set formats. We didn’t assume anything. We re-visioned every element to be just the way we wanted it. In many ways we even hand-picked our invitees. We delivered our music in a way that suited us.
Following my support group’s “what we dislike about the music industry” exercise, I’ve been thinking about whether we can just leave it behind.
Can musicians create the industry in which they want their work showcased? Can we totally change the way we think about the experience of creating and delivering music, the places we play, the availability of our work, the experience of our audiences, how we define a musical career?
It’s not just about retaining creative control or being paid a fair price for our work, though hopefully those are two side effects. Its deeper and more wholistic. As coined by one of the statements that flashed on U2’s mega screens during their Achtung Baby/Zooropa tour, “Everything you know is wrong”.
This idea is about completely erasing everything that is, and re-visioning from the ground up. Pull it all apart and create a “industry” that’s founded in something entirely different.
And as musicians that are unknown and who don’t have the threat of losing income (which can make bold new directions scary to follow), we’re fantastically positioned to do this.