If a tree falls in in the forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Despite the length of time I have spent on Earth, this philosophical question has only just become relevant to me. Let me explain…
When I joined what was to become known as Crimson Creatures in 2021, there was always the aspiration that the band would gig, if all went well. I was nervous about the prospect, not having played in front of an audience since the 1980s, but nerves are normal and, sure enough, just before our first gig, they left me, and I was raring to go.
3 gigs later, and I am no longer in the band. The gigs were successful, in that we played well and sounded good. Did I enjoy the experience? Hmm. Yes, and no. I mostly enjoyed the 45–60 minutes I was on stage, but the rest of it?
I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to do any more gigs. The lead up to each gig was filled with repetitive rehearsals, gear prep, and a nagging apprehension that something might go wrong on the night. The next gig was always lurking in the back of my mind.
The gigs involved lugging gear up and down stairs from badly parked cars, solving equipment problems, sound checks and fighting sound systems, playing to half empty rooms, and packing up late at night. I was sober in a room full of well-oiled people, before a long drive home, when I really could have done with relaxing. You can keep your Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle.
Now, when friends ask about my musical activity, I tell them that I’m concentrating on writing and recording. They will inevitably ask when I’m gigging again, to which I reply that I’m not keen, and it may not be for a long time, if ever. The reaction is always the same — total dumbfoundment. It’s as if there’s no point making music, unless I’m playing it live, probably in a bar near to them. This is where the philosophical falling tree comes in.
What is the point of making music, or being in a band, unless there are gigs and the performance? I’ve thought about this a lot recently.
I’ve been listening to and collecting music since the 1970s. I can’t usually remember what I ate for lunch, but I can tell you in what year Band X made their 2nd album and who played on it. There’s no feeling like discovering and going through the honeymoon listening phase of a great album.
Once I learned to play an instrument and how to record and mix, it was natural to want to make something vaguely resembling the amazing stuff I loved. So, by the age of 17, I’d made my first album and played in front of a big audience.
To be clear, those first gigs were playing covers of popular songs to crowds which were coming anyway. We were the entertainment, and we were appreciated. It was great. We later introduced our own songs, with limited success, and realised that the public wasn’t ready for our stuff. Still, a crowd is a crowd, and memories were made.
But, isn’t that what being a musician is all about? Well, no. Music isn’t made to get a round of applause and a pat on the back — though it’s nice if that happens. Many people make music because they they want to create something great sounding, thought-provoking and original that they can listen to and can be proud of. If other people like it too, fabulous, so much the better. It’s a huge buzz to add another great recording to your collection, especially if it’s been made by you.
Of course, people like to play music in front of a crowd too, because they want to share, perform and entertain, and that’s fine. But not all musicians are entertainers. And not everyone makes music for entertainment.
Keep Music Live
When recording studios really took off in the 1960s, until piracy became widespread, popular music was consumed voraciously in its recorded form. But, as artists lost revenue from falling sales, they had to hit the road to make a living from music. And now streamed music is king, and recording artists get very little income from streaming, nothing is set to change.
Digital technology has enabled anyone to become a recording artist. This is a double-edged sword, and there are more recordings being released now than ever before. It’s difficult to get noticed amongst the sea of music, unless you have any marketing skills or staff at your disposal.
So, musicians are expected to perform, whether they like it or not. “Keep music live,” they said. Well, music wasn’t always live.