Covid-19 is dangerously impacting the social-economic category of musicians. No concerts, poor political and social consideration, uncertain earnings. As a consequence, an ever-growing number of musicians, especially those from the experimental area, are trying to promote their music on BandCamp in digital format only. It is increasingly difficult for me to follow and review this incredible flow of music. I therefore decided to open this section on my blog Neuguitars where I propose music in digital format that I consider particularly interesting and worthy of attention. I hope you like it. Let’s support musicians. They need it.
I am closing this sad 2020, a year that I will try to forget as soon as possible, with some thoughts related to what I will try to call as “New Experimental Guitars”, a sparkling new scene for experimental, contemporary and avant-garde guitar music. I have always idolized guitars as weapons for noise, creativity and the frontier spirit. My listening has always been moved by the desire to discover the most radical and futuristic sonic potentials of the latest creative trends, by the desire to discover how the guitar machine could be reinvented every time, both through logical processes and through a stylistically and technically incorrect use. My blog Neuguitars was born itself as a diary, a path, an Ariadne’s thread through which to probe the limits of music in the conventional sense of the term.
On April 30, 2020, I started a new series of articles on my blog, all dedicated to the music that was appearing more and more frequently on Bancamp. All the posts reported and still report the phrase that stands at the beginning of this article. What moved me initially was the desire to try to help the musicians whose music I loved and whom I saw in serious economic difficulty because the Covi-19 epidemic: without being able to play in public, ignored by an addicted mass public opinion to free background listening on Spotify and without any political support, survival was not an option. During this fatal 2020, all my favorite guitarists moved to the Bancamp platform in search of an alternative distribution channel that would guarantee them visibility and some economic income. The result was a musical explosion to which I could not remain indifferent and which I in turn tried to promote and document.
What is Bandcamp? It is a service that sells music, (in an age when we listen to everything in streaming), and that distributes a higher share of revenues to authors: for musical niches, like the one I follow, it was a success. Bandcamp has been around since 2008 and is based in Oakland, San Francisco Bay, but it’s a company that operates on very different principles than the largest digital company in the music industry, Spotify. Spotify is widely criticized for the compensation reserved for artists, which allows real gains only to those who make large numbers. For each reproduction, the Swedish platform gives less than a cent to the artist: the exact figure changes depending on the case, but the average of $ 0.0038 per listen is often considered as an average. The public radio network site NPR has calculated that to earn an average salary of $ 15 per hour, for a monthly total of $ 2,500, an artist must make 657,895 plays.
Much of Bandcamp’s success depends precisely on the alternative model to streaming services, accused of reserving too low percentages for artists, changing the functioning of the record industry for the worse. Basically on Bandcamp you don’t listen to streaming music. Or rather, it can also be done, but it’s a secondary function. Anyone can upload their music to the site, set a price and sell it in digital or physical format (from vinyls to cassettes), together with their official merchandise. Bandcamp retains 15 percent of the sale price, which becomes 10 percent above a certain threshold, not to mention the fact that, every now and then, it eliminates the portion withheld on sales for a day, leaving it all to the artists. Music can be bought in various formats, including those that guarantee higher quality, and there is also the possibility for users to pay more than what they asked for to support a band. Basically Bandcamp is the closest thing to a record store, and offers a niche where things work more or less like they did thirty years ago. In short, Bandcamp, like my blog, focuses on the idea of owning the music you listen to, on the complicity between the listener and the band and on a certain sense of belonging to a project that distributes money in a way considered by many to be fairer. . Is it not enough in these days? The need for economic survival has therefore pushed those artists, far from any idea of music mainstream, to move to this platform, quickly making it the center of their niche distribution model.
Not only. The forced lockdown has pushed everyone to concentrate their energies and their time carrying out projects temporarily suspended due to live activity and/or to produce new material to be released and sold. Cooperation is also a powerful engine of growth and therefore a way to all possible interactions between artists that can be obtained by staying at home, in their studio, making the most of the possibilities offered by internet. The result has been a real musical cornucopia: not only have a ton of new productions and records appeared, but many artists have taken advantage of them to finally make their entire discography available in digital and / or physical format, allowing the listening and buying so far traceable gems are on Ebay or Discogs.
Not only. All these artists have the opportunity to listen to and interact with each other on a more equitable and supportive economic basis, far from the neoliberal model of Spotify: I have the feeling that a sort of “digital scene” is being created on Bandcamp. The concept of “scenius” was devised in 2016 by His Intelligence Brian Eno.
According to Eno, the old romantic ideas of the author as an independent individual with infinite creativity are, in fact, hyper-romantic and outdated. The epoch in which we live is, on the other hand, witness to the need for a more impersonal notion of creativity, influenced by cybernetic theory and sociology, by self-organizing systems equipped with retroactive feedback systems. In music I think that a composition, a piece has to work on many different levels. It has to be something that can be approached to the more immediate, simpler level and then beyond this evident level there should be more subtle, complex levels. Experimental, avant-garde and contemporary music has now been able to create their own language, partly derived from the old, partly new. A phenomenon that has very deep origins, not only musical but also political and social. Nowadays there is a musical pluralism and my pleasure and duty is to navigate between these languages looking for the thread that holds them together. Bandcamp is an excellent ground for the birth of a new subculture dedicated to the guitar that goes beyond the physical limits of national borders. Personally, I don’t conceive of history in a deterministic way, as a series of facts that happen because there was a cause that produced certain effects. In music there is not that linearity of development that allows science (a very light vision of science) to make predictions on the basis of experience and acquired data. Like any form of creativity, the music that I explore every day on this platform is more than just an individual fact. Creation needs dialogue, interlocutors. Musical creation also needs interpreters in the most concrete sense of the term. But the interpreters are not invented, just as the public is not invented: they are part of a cultural and evolutionary process that implies a dialogue, not always a peaceful one. The composer, the performer and the listener do not belong to different socio-cultural categories. They all three produce culture. The artistic explosion that is flourishing on Bandcamp is a demonstration of how languages are not invented by a superior intelligence: they are formed and transformed, under all sorts of influences, even extraneous to music. Art is not deaf to history. The civil world, whatever the land registryists and deniers of various kinds think of it and despite all its crises, transforms and changes like a living body: it elaborates symbols, living languages and objects of its existence. The artist is the first to be immersed in it and creates not only for himself, but also for its civilized world, for its lights and shadows. Today’s music is not made only with notes. These new music that I document every day on my blog are above all a testimony, an evidence and not just a state of mind to be perceived, nor a scheme to be analyzed with philological scruple.
The risk? This feverish hyperactivity can make artistic identity both empty (at the mercy of impetuous and disparate flows of influences) and omnipotent (capable of shaping the sound and mixing styles at will). Whoever has access to so many resources and can manipulate them so deeply tends to a certain grandeur. In an apocalyptic artistic vision it is possible that the combination of guitars (primary machine), computer (infinite flexibility) and the internet (infinite resources of raw material and inspiration) causes a sort of artistic paralysis: the fusion that degenerates into con-fusion, a kaleidoscopic collage-mosaic out of control. Not to mention the fact that a lot of today’s music lives on the border between collecting, retro-mania and accumulation. A heap of everything that catches our attention without comments and guides. Of course, we have been worried about information overload for decades, if not centuries. In his “Passages” Walter Benjamin made fun of how people complained about the daily publication of a newspaper in the nineteenth century: how could people have assimilated all this information? The Police responded to these forms of informational distress by singing:
Too much information running through my brain
Too much information driving me insane
Too much information running through my brain
Too much information driving me insane
Personally, in my book “John Zorn Book Of Heads” I talked about Zorn’s postmodern ability to cut and paste, to accumulate, to edit, to compose, to improvise a musical and cultural “gomi” able to overcome the limits of its own creative capacity. Am I therefore worried by this creative maximalism, by this pornucopia of immediate access musical bliss that easily translates into a growth of very limited edition CDs and LPs for my collection/archive? Absolutely not. The music I listen to is a screen, but the guitarists create the movie.