On unpopular music

Some thoughts that arose from the experience of Friday’s WaveForms gig where the audience fluctuated but peaked at four. It’s not completely unexpected – crowds do not flock to listen attentively to music that has no rhythm and no discernible tune, and where the musician appears to be (and is) making it up as he goes along.  OK there’s jazz, but …   WaveForms was born out of admiration for Fripp’s Soundscapes, and he finds it hard to locate the audience for those. He’s been slow hand clapped by some audiences wanting him to rock out.  And I have played gigs as a member of a band to fewer people (I won’t name it but it was a damned good band!)

So with WaveForms, but that’s not all I do. I have the singer/songwriter gig also, and that doesn’t pull in the punters, nor does it attract much interest on this site.  So if I choose not to deny the fact, what then?  The paths seem to be:

  1. stop producing music for public consumption; play for my own enjoyment at home
  2. put more effort into marketing and promotion; accepting that I have a full time job, this reduces the amount of time recording and playing
  3. produce different stuff – focus on the type of songs I know people will like, not the songs that appeal to me, (and not WaveForms!)
  4. perform live more – website interest follows from a good live experience. I know I can play well live – I just balk at most of what goes with it.
  5. get my musical fun playing other people’s (popular) songs in a covers band.

Now I haven’t finished digesting these choices. (3) seems craven and unsatisfying, except in a balanced set of songs. (5) would, I think, be a passing fancy whose appeal would wear off. (1) is something I could contemplate now for the first time in my life, but that tipping point hasn’t been reached.  Which leaves (2) and (4) as hard to argue against. But hard to contemplate. They would require a deliberate commitment to do something I know I will not want to do when it comes up. That’s good.

This isn’t by any means a call for pity or declarations of support – I’m past all that! I just post it because I think it reflects what a lot of my friends in this musician-saturated city come up against. I know most of the readers of this page are singers and writers. Some have gone down one route or two, and I wonder if they went through a similar decision process?

8 thoughts on “On unpopular music”

  1. Sheena and I almost came along on Friday evening but it was the venue that put me off. To me, The Salisbury Centre = hippies, the pseudo-religious, the religious, and the opposite of enjoyable. I would like to hear WaveForms in a music venue, and I would pay to see that.

  2. Thanks Jim, but I can’t imagine WF in any music venue I know of. I understand your aversion to the pseudo-religious and cranky; I share it to a degree, but my boundaries are in a different position on the map to yours. Hairs can be split in the most tiresome way between the ‘religious’ and the ‘spiritual’ and I get bored with that, but the truth is that WF was born out of ‘that’ area, and when it works, it taps into the energies of that contemplative, still, silent area. You and I would agree that the established religions don’t hold a monopoly on that, but as far as WF is concerned, this music would be more likely to be welcomed in those kinds of establishment than in traditional music venues.
    Having said that I did do a set in BeanScene once, causing Lindsay some amusement that I could drink my coffee while the loops built up! Maybe I should try there again and you could see it without paying!

  3. Hello,
    I went through a similar thing a few months ago and have packed my basses and warr guitar away under the bed. Which turned out to be a great choice as the next day, once I’d stopped sulking I decided to re-learn the cello. I haven’t really played in a decade, and loving it. If you’re going to play somebody else’s music, you might as well play Bach! 🙂

  4. We’ve not played live since Perthshire Amber last year – and I don’t really miss it. This year we’ve put out 2 Cds worth of songs and soundscapes (of mixed quality!), basically giving them away on the web and found a surprisingly big audience albeit a detached one. Writing and arranging and performing songs is hard work for little in the way of return, soundscapes are easier but strangely rewarding. If you want a “career” in music on your own terms then you probably should play to your current strengths and you do have some killer material – it’s the amount of stamina required to keep it all going that’s the problem.

  5. Popularity as you know is not necessarily a measure of worth.
    I definitely fall into the category “could try harder”. Ultimately we do this music thing for its own sake, for our own sakes. Sometimes the grand ennui must be fought, but only when we’re in the right zone. Sometimes one just cannot be arsed and that’s ok too.

  6. Here’s my 2 cents worth Norman on your 5 options…
    Option 1 : I don’t particularly enjoy playing at home – it bores me (mainly because me and an acoustic is pretty shit – I have a loop station which has not been out its box since the recordings I did when I first got it in 2005 – must do something about that)
    However, I do enjoy listening to the end results of what I’ve done when I spend time on a project every so often (generally an album of songs every couple of years).
    I’ve often thought of packing it in and am often in the position where everything is indeed packed away apart from one acoustic guitar, then, all of a sudden I write a song and another and another and I realise the next project has started…
    Option 2 : I agree – marketing yourself is nonsense really, you need someone else to market you so you can concentrate on the music. Of course no-one who’s any good at marketing will do it for free so, unless you’ve got cash to splash, you’re stuffed (plus, at the end of the day, you’ll probably have wasted your money anyway because you won’t have enough to make a difference)…
    Option 3 : Ah, the big sellout – “people liked that one, I’ll write more like that” – that route is unlikely to make you happy with your music…
    Option 4 : I really enjoy playing live though I do get extremely nervous. I am also very disatisfied that people don’t get to hear the “real” CBQ because me and an acoustic plus 1 or 2 others playing along is nothing like the recordings.
    My last gig at Secret CDs I gave away 25 albums to audience members and managed to pull in a goodly amount of punters but actually sold no CDs.
    Of course even though the other performaers sold one or two, more people went away with CBQ in their pockets (even if they didn’t choose to have it there LOL) – so probably John’s right – give your music away and what the hell…
    I don’t need the money and I’m not sitting here with boxes and boxes of vanity manufactured CDs under my bed…
    But it does lead you to think “what’s the point” or “can I really be so much worse than I think I am?”
    Option 5 : At our age, the commitment to rehearsals and gigging is just too much – you only get one life – plus “Coronation St”‘s probably on…
    There you go
    I enjoyed the post by the way and also greatly enjoy your WaveForms – keep doing them if you like doing them and to hell with the small audiences…

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