FRSA Dr Sue Oreszczyn and FRSA Dr Neil March invite fellows at the RSA who would like to join them in a conversation about how to support grassroots independent artists and their environment.
Our world needs more of what brings us together, helps our wellbeing, gives communities a voice and supports us in our changing environment. Music has the capacity to do this while contributing to economic wealth, yet participating in the music industry remains one of the most vulnerable and precarious occupations where the pace of technological change can be overwhelming.
In theory, being a DIY musician creates a level playing field and today there are a diversity of approaches and models. Artists of all ages, genres and at all stages of their careers, are able to benefit from wider support for new music as the industry is forced to be less ageist and understand how the audience for music has changed and diversified. However, DIY artists also need to be successful DIY enterprises.
Lack of pension and sick pay; low and variable earnings requiring more than one form of employment are issues many independent artists are confronted with. These reflect the issues enshrined in the gig economy and self-employment.
However, some issues are specific to musicians: getting music heard in an oversaturated market; playing live is increasingly important for profitability but is challenging for those with mental and physical health issues or artists unable to live close to one another; marketing and selling merchandise requires money up front; legal contracts associated with their work are complicated and confusing and they often have no or limited access to good legal advice, gatekeepers and influential networks within the industry.
Intensive self-learning is required to stay afloat in a constantly evolving industry, entailing an understanding of new technological developments and mastering management of musical enterprise. There is no shortage of resources on how to ‘make it’ in the music industry, much of this information is scattered across the internet, not necessarily updated, can be of questionable quality and is frequently behind a pay wall. That help is needed is broadly recognised.
Key industry players already collaborate to bring issues they face to the attention of policy makers and government, for example, through Music UK. Organisations like PRS, Help Musicians and AIM provide practical support and music conferences provide access to expert advice. These developments aside, the industry struggles to address the career needs of grassroots artists.
Artists are forming their own networks and collaborating freely across continents through the internet. As a result, more experienced independent artists have taken matters into their own hands by mentoring and supporting the next generation of grassroots artists. This support is often one-to-one without external help or resourcing. We need to think about how we can help grassroots independent musicians, particularly those disadvantaged in some way, and encourage the development of a healthy environment for independent artists.
By thinking systemically, we can consider the following issues and find practical solutions:
- How we can better support artists who are facing mental and physical disabilities; who are financially disadvantaged or lack a supportive network; who lack access to music networks; who are rurally located; who are without formal education.
- How we can minimise the generational divide by helping older artists update their industry knowledge.
- How we can make information more accessible by helping people identify, understand and utilise the skills and roles of others (artists, labels, managers, publishers, booking agents, promoters, radio producers, bloggers, journalists, BBC Introducing etc.).
Our Work So Far
Practical actions have been taken to initiate change and increase public awareness on this topic. Eighteen months ago Neil March started a monthly live event through Demerara Records in South-East London to showcase emerging independent artists from sources including Fresh on the Net and BBC Radio 6 Music. In 2019, Neil’s book The Independent Music Sector was published. Neil’s work has successfully attracted Arts Council and National Lottery funding to support the establishment of a community of independent artists through festivals and gigs. However, only so much can be done without the support of a wider network.
By bringing together RSA fellows with a common interest in these concerns, we open the door to wider conversation. These are global issues, RSA Fellows from across the world are encouraged to join us.
We envision an ongoing conversation that can think through issues of concern and potentially draw in others from the industry. We aim to find practical ways to help and support grassroots music as new innovations emerge and so impinge on practice.
As a first step we intend to make a short presentation followed by a Friday Conversation at the Rawthmell’s Coffee House on Friday 31 January 2019. Learn more and register for this event.
If you are unable to make this event or are an overseas Fellow who is interested, please contact us.