An Introduction

I first became interested in 4AD, a UK independent record label founded in 1980, towards the end of the '80's. I was falling in love with the music of Dead Can Dance, Clan of Xymox, Pixies, Bauhaus and The Birthday Party and was surprised when the 4AD label sampler "Lonely Is An Eyesore" came out in 1987 that all these bands were from the same label.

After visiting a Pre-Raphaelite exhibition of some American's collection of art, I came to thinking of all this musical art that 4AD have released that may one day drift into obscurity unless someone shows it as art. So now I'm on a crusade, to collect the first ten years of 4AD's releases and exhibit the collection on 4AD's 50th anniversary in 2030. This is a big task which will have some interesting twists and turns along the way.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Business and Art, the eternal conflict

I had an interesting but short conversation with a couple of colleagues at work a couple of weeks ago where they suggested that all music and all films are made purely for money and nothing else. To say I was shocked at this universal statement of absolute truth would be an extreme underestimation. The shock turned to disbelief that there are so many people out there that think that way, which turned to great pity for those that never open themselves up to the beauty of the art that artists tear themselves apart to make.

After reeling from the shock for a couple of hours, it did make me think of how music has progressed and changed over the last century and how Indie labels have been the modern saviour of music as a real art form.

As popular music grew in the 1940's and 1950's an industry grew on the back of it, manufacturing, recording and managing artists that were as happy performing their music for themselves which was unprofitable to the entourage as they were to paying audiences. The lure of the big bucks meant better returns from artists that could be squeezed and manipulated to the industries target markets rather than the small time risky propositions of the artist that wouldn't bend to the will of the money men.

It made a certain business sense to control an artist towards a carefully prepared target audience. But already the music artist with wild ideas was left to pick at the bones of industry or have no backing at all if they didn’t tow the company line in creative thinking. Thankfully the Sixties saw many an example of artists breaking free of these moulds and yet still making huge slabs of money for the controlling industry, which changed the way the executives saw the potential in an artist and gave them more space to explore and craft their art. But even in the heady days of the Sixties and Seventies when vast amounts of wealth was coming in from music, the artists were seeing hardly any of it. Only the artists with good and ruthless personal managers managed to squeeze anything out of the industry that gorged and fed off the artist.

The late Sixties and early Seventies did see a lot of new artists given the chance to record music with little prospect of fame and fortune as the industry started trying to learn from the past by taking up the trend of throwing lots of different artists out into the world in a hope that some of them would skyrocket. But generally, this was just another business ploy, mostly poorly executed and, as always, the interest wasn’t in the music at all, but in the fortunes it could create. Artists hated the business and the business hated anything from the artist that wasn't a guarentee of big bucks.

If you play devils advocate, you can see that both sides needed each other. But artists would act as temper tantrummed children trying to get their own way and throwing their toys out the pram when they didn't get their way and record companies and managment teams would manipulate their artists and drop them whenever the big money peak wasn't maintained.

There were always small independent record companies around that found the talent which then bigger companies would snatch up when popularity loomed. They were never that succesful and didn't last very long.

When punk came along it drove a similar do-it-yourself mentality that the artists had over to those that loved the music and chose to release their music themselves. This spawned a new wave of independent labels, management and even distribution that cared about the music they pedalled unlike their predessessors who most of the time didn't even listen to the music they made money from.

It was still a far from perfect marriage between artist and business. Many artists not really knowing what the major labels and management had been like previously, still thought they had a poor deal and the new independents were either extremely inexperienced, or had more passion for the music than they had business sense. This is where labels such as 4AD, Beggars Banquet, Factory and Creation came from. Their passion for the music they handled and promoted was always undeniably evident, not for the money the artists could make them but because they loved the music.

The Eighties then became a very difficult time for these independents to try and find that elusive level between the love of the music and care for the business. Torn between the whole point of these labels which was to get amazing music heard against making enough money to be able to continue doing that, many indie's ran out of money and disintegrated. I have a lot of respect for 4AD as they were one of the few labels to manage that careful balance and be able to keep going when all around them were failing. Yet even through that whole period, the artists from all these labels still complained about being ripped off by their "greedy" or deceitful labels.

Many of the profilic small independent labels around today were inspired by these post punk labels such as 4AD. Not all of the labels in those early days were greedy business exploiters and not all the Indie's of the Seventies and Eighties were primarily lovers of the art they produced (Stock, Aitken and Waterman of Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan fame were an Indie label who were a pure business with a marketing strategy that made their music and artists to fit that agenda. Yes they also made their artists), but today we have some amazing small labels that primarily do it for the love of music and any money made is a secondary blessing.

There is an interesting last footnote to all this. There is a growing trend for artists to look after their own business managment, funding, marketing and distribution themselves. Gary Numan is about to start completely from scratch on his new album through Pledge Music where fans can buy a special pass to have access to his 12 month process of writing, recording and even trying to find inspiration for an album he's not even started on yet. The idea of sites such as Pledge Music is for artists to get orders for an upcoming album so that money can be made to actually get them made. A clever idea which has been creatively used to judge demand for special editions and special packages and even to sell autographs and instruments from the sessions. All arranged by the artists themselves.

Also, where at one time artists toured to promote an album, increasingly an album is produced to promote a tour and an artist makes money from touring and the album is almost a promotional giveaway.

Most artists who create music, do it because it's a part of their soul, a part of their make-up. It's an unfortunate reality, that to get that art out to people costs money and money from such output allows an artist to live a life where they can create more art.

So is art created purely to make money? NO, I'm afraid an artists primary reason for creating art isn't money. If an artists states that money is the reason for making their art, they ain't artists in my opinion.


  1. Makes sense to I! Couple of friends already use pledge or similar. one of them eagerly waiting on Mr Numan! Another works hard with small bands trying break thru because he loves the music, sure in increase in his pension fund would be nice but not the main reason.

  2. Makes sense to I! Couple of friends already use pledge or similar. one of them eagerly waiting on Mr Numan! Another works hard with small bands trying break thru because he loves the music, sure in increase in his pension fund would be nice but not the main reason.