Culture has to be a party now

And that could look like a bad thing, but on balance I think it’s great.

People have vastly more choice about what culture and entertainment to consume with their time than they did in the past. And they can get all the films, tv shows and music they like from home, plus all the stuff being created specifically for the web. So getting people out of their houses to actually go to stuff is harder than it used to be.

“Come hear my music” “But I can hear it at home, it’s cold out, and tickets are expensive” “I can’t really argue with that….”

That’s changed into something like this:

“Come to my show – we’ve got music, food, drinks, your friends, foursquare specials, and generally a really awesome night out” “Okay, that sounds fun!”

There are two ways to look at this. First is the hidebound traditionalist way. Artists have to spend time on all this other stuff to go with their concerts that they should be spending on their art and just their art. This is terrible, it’s distracting from the real work and diluting our cultural blah blah blah…

Obviously I’m on the other side.

We’ve got more competition, and we’re upping our game. Instead of just presenting music, and relying on the scarcity of the art to draw people into whatever situation we can present it in, no matter how unpleasant, we have to create a full experience that will get people out. Is the booze and food and relaxed social atmosphere pandering to how people want to experience culture? Yes. That’s good. People have more options to experience culture how they want to. It’s for everyone now, and in these new contexts they have a much better chance of having those transformative artistic experiences that feature in the memories of all of us who decided to do this with out lives. Isn’t it great?

Yes, artists have to work on a full experience instead of the narrow bit they used to focus on. That can look like a dilution, but really it’s a shift of focus from the materials and tools of the art itself to the experience of the audience. Instead of thinking fundamentally about rhythms and pitches, I get to focus on making people happy, and giving them life-changing artistic experiences. Pitches and rhythms are just tools. I think that’s awesome.

In case you’re worried about the death of classical music

To start with, the art isn’t going anywhere. The reason live events are under pressure to change is that art is in more places more of the time and more accessible to more people. There’s a problem paying people properly (a big one – it’s for real), but at a basic level more art = good. The art is not under threat. At all. Stop it with the culture is dying malarkey.

“But live performances have more competition now, and it’s harder to put on shows than it used to be,” I hear you cry. I thought we were capitalists? More competition means we have to get better, it means we have more pressure to actually serve the cultural needs of people. And the great thing about the huge variety of choice on the internet means that we’re no longer competing to be one of the 20 songs on the radio this year. It means we’re competing to authentically reach people who want great cultural experiences.

It’s true that great art is often misunderstood and shouldn’t have to pander, and it’s hard to be a visionary and lead people if you’re trying to give them what they already know they like. But if anything the pressures on the live event from the internet are helping solve that problem, not making it worse. The old system was terrible at that.

Now I use the word social

Look around at these new cultural events, and what you’ll notice is the same thing that you hear about businesses. “It all has to be social now, from the ground up. Connect authentically with your market! Let people talk to each other! be friendly!” Everywhere you go people say the word social as if it’s the revolutionary way of the future. And it kind of is, but it’s more a tearing down of old ways that people were stuck relating to each other, and replacing them with the even older ways that people have always liked relating to each other.

Look at concerts in pubs and people are more comfortable because they’re talking to each other in a social context. They’re making friends. People are getting their culture now in ways that are more like parties and less like single-purpose professional gatherings. They’re more receptive in that context, they’re more comfortable, they’re happier, and they’re more likely to leave their houses and come to your show.

After Ruckus Amongstus, I thought, as a lot of showrunner types do, about how much of the audience was my friends and how much was strangers. There were plenty of people in the house I didn’t know. Come to think of it there were plenty of people on stage I didn’t know. But I could trace my connection through friends of friends to almost everyone in the room. As musicians we’re trained to think of knowing everyone in the audience as a kind of failure. But here’s the thing: it’s not just my audience’s relationships to each other that are more social. It’s my relationships with them.

It’s not that my friends came to my show (though they did). It’s that new technology lets me think of my audience as my friends.

1 Response

  1. Sharon Kathleen Johnson says:

    ART FOR THE PEOPLE!

    The old paradigm of “skilled performer” and “audience in awe” is shifting, because the audience itself is more highly skilled. Everyone and their mother can now create and post engaging paintings, photos, dramas, and music on You Tube to be enjoyed in the comforts of ones room, free of charge.

    This new level internet playing field is pumping out such a glut of art that the specialized performer of yesteryear doesn’t get the respect and awe he once enjoyed. “I, too, can do THAT!” seems to be today’s response to just about everything.

    Why pay good money to watch somebody else do what you already are doing? What makes them so special outside of publicity and hype? Case in point, I wrote sensitive, poetic songs as a teenager–why should Joni Mitchell have become a millionairess instead of me?

    The old capitalist pyramid where one at the top makes millions and millions at the bottom make jack isn’t operational when an enlightened public grasps that everyone is equally special. We’re not naively lining the coffers of a few over-promoted, young, attractive “stars” anymore.

    Read KARAOKE CULTURE, a social critique that illustrates how the old socialist cliches “ART FOR THE PEOPLE” and “CULTURE FOR THE PEOPLE” are finally being realized, thanks to the de-mystification of the traditional “rare artistic creativity” of “sacred genius” paradigm.

    That was a false totem built upon a bourgeoise and elitist cultural bias. Now everyone is an artist in their own right and everyone has the same chance of going viral. And ultimate worth is measured out in Facebook “likes,” not lucre.

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