On of the changing facets of modern life which encourages me is the tendency for more people to become creators rather than consumers. New technologies and social media have been important tools in this new environment. More young people are watching and commenting on YouTube videos than are watching TV, and substantial numbers of these are creating their own videos. Facebook, twitter and blogging platforms all encourage people to create their own content. In many spheres, the advent of social media has served primarily to highlight trends that have been going on for years, not always in the public eye.
Music is one of these spheres. People have always made their own music, but various events have given stimulus and encouraged widening of participation. Many people would point to the arrival of punk rock in the late 1970’s as “democratising” music creation, but I think it goes back further than that, with the rise of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s being perhaps the first global music phenomenon, which was followed by the fame of The Beatles, which was important in encouraging musicians to form groups and this gave them collective power to bargain with the moguls of the industry and take a degree of control over their careers. Punk gave a new stimulus to these trends when they were flagging, and the digital age has created new ways of people making a living out of music without being beholden to big companies; and of connecting with their audiences.
But there are still a lot of people who don’t get how the world has changed. And I’ll cite the opening of the new Leeds Arena as an example. Leaving aside the arguments about whether so much money should be invested in a massive venue in an age of austerity (and let’s face it, they’re pretty big arguments), there is the question of how the facility should be launched. A lot of Leeds council tax payers’ money is going into this. Originally, it was announced that the opening night would feature the Kaiser Chiefs, pretty big stars, yes, but they come from Leeds, and this seemed to be a fairly good choice. But then, another announcement came, saying the launch would feature Bruce Springsteen, much to the public annoyance of the Kaiser Chiefs, who seemed to think some promises had been broken.
Now the problem with all this, I think, is what it says about how those who make big decisions like this view the world. OK, to justify such a big outlay and investment, you probably need to attract massive stars like Springsteen, and Elton John (another big name on the list to play the Arena), but, this suggests we are still in consumer mode here. Music is something to be consumed and the big stars deign to play in the venues that can bid the highest fee. But, in reality, music is the ultimate co-creation industry. Leeds, like most cities, has a thriving local music scene, populated by people who make music as well as consume it. The Arena might take some of that audience away from local events. Wouldn’t it be better to invite the musical co-creators in to see how they might use the venue themselves, rather than setting up in opposition to them?
So, I think the opening event at the Leeds Arena should have been a day-long festival of local acts, headlined, probably, by the Kaiser Chiefs, with main support, obviously, the doyens of the local music scene, the awesome, Hope and Social. That would have been a showcase for the crossover between the creation and consumption of music, and the fact that it is not happening is a massive missed opportunity.
I’ll sign off with a bit of Hope and Social