Desperately Seeking Dimes: my SBPost Artistic Licence column, 4/11/12

Recently I received an email from a new Dublin band, who, by the sounds of it, have already reached a point in their youthful existence where they’re clinging to artistic life by a thread: coma-ridden, hooked up to an IV, breathing with the aid of gently bleeping machines.

Well, they didn’t say that, exactly, but I was left to conclude it from the thrust of their email, which made them sound less like vibrant young men out to reshape the world with their tunes than withered old crones gasping for oxygen as they collapsed over their Zimmer frames.

In the interests of kindness (well, that and a reluctance to offer them publicity for a cause I don’t believe in), I’m not going to proffer the band’s name. But let’s call them ‘the Desperados’, a tag which seems appropriate in the circumstances. The email – with the names swapped – reads thusly: “Be part of the Desperados’ debut album. Name it, design it, play it! The Desperados have come up with an unusual set of rewards for anybody who pledges to the recording fund for their debut album . . . parts in making the album itself!”

Yes, it appears the Desperados have a plan. So willing are they to bend over backwards for cold hard cash that they’re turning themselves into an indie-rock karaoke machine, for your pleasure and edification. Wail into the microphone, strum a bit of guitar – they don’t care. As long as you pay for the recording costs, you’re in!

“The band are putting song titles, cover art, the album name, and even guest appearances up for sale as part of their Fundit campaign,” the email continues breathlessly. “Also on the list of rewards are exclusive artwork, merchandise, and of course copies of the album itself.”

In other words, the Desperados want to make their debut album into your debut album. Colour me pessimistic here, but doesn’t that completely defeat the point of making an album?

You might think I’m being a bit harsh on the poor old Desperados, because bands do have it tough these days and because they’re far from alone in seeking financial assistance via slightly more unusual methods. From soundtracking adverts to selling band T-shirts, artists do what they can to ensure that every last drop of milk has been squeezed from the record industry teat. It’s just a fact of life.

But you do have to draw a line somewhere, and that line should run well outside the studio door. By all means use a public patronage system such as Fundit, but don’t offer to bend yourselves sonically out of shape for a few shekels. That’s not art, it’s prostitution.

The Desperados finish with a final, awful quote for intended investors and recruits: “This isn’t just our album, it’s our fans’ too. We want this release to bear the marks of those who helped make it a possibility.”

Contrast this with a line from Peter Hook in his Joy Division memoir, Unknown Pleasures: “I joined a band to tell everyone to fuck off. You have to have self-belief. You have to believe right from the word go that you’re great, and that the rest of the world has to catch up.” Or Neil Young in his new book Waging Heavy Peace: “Care must be taken to have respect for the muse.”

Which attitude do you think is going to yield better art? Take the hard road, guys. Man up, and make the damned thing without the cash. Otherwise, can you seriously even call yourselves a band?




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