Agitate, Educate, Organise!

I’ve recently been a guest speaker at a couple of PRS meetings and the question I’m most often asked is, “What advice can you give me to help me make it?” My reply is always the same: get on the Net. I’m surprised by how many times this response is greeted with cynicism or outright hostility. It seems a lot of musicians out there believe the Net is at best an unreliable, non-secure shopping mall and at worst a den of thieves, plotting to purloin their life’s work. Let me tell you why I think they’re wrong.

This *could be* the best of times for independent musicians. Yes, the major music industry is more moribund and desperate than I can ever remember. Yes, it’s bloody difficult to compete with them for rack space when they’re giving stock away. But at the same time, it’s never been easier for musicians to communicate, collaborate and connect, not just with potential audiences but with other musicians, video directors, graphic artists, whatever. We may not have access to the funds majors have but, as Noam Chomsky said, “There are ways of compensating for the absence of resources.”

There are people out there who’d *love* to make you a pop video or design your sleeve (maybe for free) just an email away. And by the Net, I don’t only mean the World Wide Web. That’s just one face, like email, of the Net. My favourite face is Usenet, which I love because it’s uncensored, open, funny, and often libellous. It’s my main source of music reviews, recommendations and even collaborations. In fact, the last four remixes I’ve done have been through friends I made on newsgroups. This is equally true of the work I got in *before* my two minutes of fame and without the Net I’m not even sure I would have had that brief commercial success. I got a huge amount of help and advice from Net mates, signed and unsigned, at that time.

The Net can help combat one of the biggest problems for modern musicians – isolation. A lot of people work on their own, in a little room filled with a rusty menagerie of gear. You may not find anyone else in your home town who likes/understands your stuff but it’s a big world out there – why not let the Net help you connect? MP3 files of samples or vocals can be emailed back and forth or you can even take the plunge and meet up in the flesh.

Yes, the Net has dangers, anything in life worth doing is risky. But it’s nothing a good firewall, a virus checker and some common sense can’t handle. For example, *never* send anyone your lyrics or music unsolicited – you may get ripped-off or severely annoy someone.

I believe that for a modern musician the basic starting point should be having a personal website, email address and Usenet presence. Look at what’s on the Net and if you don’t like it, create your own website, newsgroup or NetRadio station. It’s time to take music back from the corporations…

(This guest editorial was in the November 2000 issue of The Mix magazine)