Jem Godfrey – Cake Or Death?
Posted on Jun 8th, 2007 by Alan @ 1:16 pm

With Bob Lefsetz’s rant still fresh in my mind, I really enjoyed this post from Jem Godfrey on a similar theme. Jem is the musical genius behind the finest album of 2006, “Milliontown” by Frost*. That’s my opinion and it is clearly not one shared by more than the tiniest proportion of the music-buying public. Jem realises this too, and is refreshingly down-to-earth about his music and the place it occupies in the world, and is a very very funny guy to boot.

I was feeling nervous about the amount of swearing in Bob’s rant – what if my Mum decided to read my blog? – and although there’s a wee bit in Jem’s post it is done with much more verve and style, so I’m prepared to risk a rap on the knuckles with the rolling pin for it.

I’m probably going to get shouted at a lot for this one…but.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about music piracy. The message is that if it doesn’t stop, a lot of progressive rock bands will go out of business and the genre will die out forever.

My gut feeling is – and?

There’s been some speculation that unless piracy is stopped, all new music will die. Oh, do fuck off…

If anything, it’ll grow beyond anything we can comprehend at the moment. I’ll bet anybody £1,000,000 that new songs will be released for public consumption every week for the rest of my life and my son’s and my grandchildren’s life too. Who cares if we pay for it. Most people make music for the fun of it, perhaps the future of music is with the gifted amateurs. Maybe that’s precisely what music needs – a bit of a clear out from all of us in the moaning old boys brigade that should have retired years ago.

Music and media piracy has been going on since the beginning of time. If any of you have been to Thailand, you’ll know what I mean. You can buy DVDs of films before they’re even on general release. When I was there, you could even buy a copy of “Raiders Of The Lost Ark 4”. I wish I had now in hindsight…

Does anyone remember the “Home taping is killing music” campaign in the 80’s? Oh, how we all frowned and looked concerned. This’ll be the death of music we cried. Well, if I remember rightly, the world didn’t end did it? We, the record buying public, still managed to make multi multi millionaires out of Sting and U2 and The Police and Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen and Dire Straits and Prince and Madonna and Genesis and Elton John and Enya and then later, Britney Spears and Take That and The Spice Girls and Christina Aguilera and Eminem and Robbie Williams and Dido and and… do you need me to go on?

If the small acts are struggling, it’s because they’re small. You can’t have the big without the small. That’s life. Sounds really harsh I know, but not everyone can start a band and expect to end up being Bono. Maybe your Chi was out of alignment on the day you started your band. We can’t all be rock stars. Shit happens. Deal with it.

If I may be so bold, perhaps sales of prog rock are down because, with a few notable exceptions, these days it’s mostly self referential, smug, cliché ridden arse gravy. Milliontown only sold about 9,000 copies I think, but you don’t hear me complaining about it. Frankly, I’m not surprised it sold that badly, it’s got a 26 minute long song about zombies on it for fuck’s sake. Who are we kidding here?? Prog’s time was the 70’s, just as psychadelia was a product of the 60’s. It’s simply not relevant anymore. You don’t hear “In The Mood” on XFM do you? Or The 5th Dimension? We don’t hear them on contemporary radio anymore than we should expect to hear “Supper’s Ready” on the Chris Moyles show tomorrow morning.

We are a novelty sideshow. Up there with people who do classic battle re-enactments on Sundays or who think they’re actually living in The Matrix. And those of us who can accept that with a wry smile and still enjoy the ride are all the better for it. We know who we are and are confident enough to be happy with that. But those of us who take it too seriously and think such a tiny corner of the universe actually has the capaicty to afford us some kind of living are going to lose. It’s a case of evolve or die ufortunately. A good case in point would be Marillion. I totally admire what they’ve done to combat adversity and it’s great to see a band like that bend the rules to their own advantage. If only other bands would take some time to be inspired by that rather than bitter about the unfairness of it all, they might see a similar reversal of fortune occur slightly nearer to home.

Musicians making records are no different from chefs making food. If you’re still serving up the same food you were making in 1975, no wonder your restaurant is in the shit compared to the nearby Gordon Ramsay establishment… Yes, piracy is bad and it is having a big effect on sales, but prog’s hardly doing itself any favours with all this mellotron and widdly widdly shit is it? I mean we’re hardly selling ourselves as a vibrant, must-have music genre worth fighting for are we? A few well-meant MySpace domains isn’t going to make it go away. The people that download aren’t doing it maliciously, they’re simply taking the path of least resistance to obtain the things they want. That’s been the way of things since we started walking on two legs and probably even before that actually.

Frost is my hobby. My Grand Designs project. My Harley Davidson during my mid life crisis. It’s a thing to be enjoyed for what it is. If every single person downloads the new album, to be honest, I won’t really care. I will still probably make another one. I’m not doing this to make a living. I already have 2 other livings and that’s my point. I’ve had to evolve both as a musician and as a businessman. I stopped doing music entirely in my early 20’s to go and work in radio because I could clearly see that my stars were not in alignment to be a global superstar. Therefore I stopped pissing about with it and got on with something that could sustain me financially and be creatively fulfilling at the same time. I have no sympathy for those that “hung in there” and failed because you make your own luck when things get shitty. It was largely fluke that I got into songwriting in my 30’s and even now, I fully expect it to stop tomorrow. I’d be an arsehole if I didn’t. That’s why my main line of work is actually writing music for TV and Radio. You’ve gotta have a Plan B.

For all I know, Inside Out could ring me tomorrow having read this and drop me on the spot for being an opinionated twat. So be it. That’s their prerogative. I hope that’s not the case obviously, but again, I have a plan B…

The music industry is a cold, hard, financially motivated place to spend your time. And this isn’t a new thing, this has been the way of things since popular music came into being. Please don’t kid yourselves that this is a bunch of caring, sharing businessmen who want to see you express yourself as an artist. Elvis took 50% of the writer’s share when he covered their songs. That was the deal. A well know female pop star even now buys you off of the songs you write with her so that it’s credited entirely to her on the sleeve notes. TV companies take half your publishing when you write music for them. With no negotiation. You have to give half your money away just to be involved. There’s no point rolling your eyeballs and tutting because if you can’t hack it, I and many others like me will happily take your place in the queue. That’s the reality of it. Evolve or die.

The high street in my village is dying on it’s arse at the moment and everyone is up in arms about it, but again, I find it hard to be sympathetic. How can the village bookshop compete with Amazon? It can’t so why pretend that it can. The village ironmonger (outgoing) has even gone to the papers about his plight, but everytime you go in there and ask for something, he tuts and says he has to order it in. In the case of the axe I bought from him that was 2 fucking weeks! I could have driven to B and Q and sorted it out in 15 minutes, but I hung in there as a show of support. Fat lot of difference that made.

When Wife went in for a replacement part for the strimmer, he denied the part she was after even existed and gave her proper 1940’s style sexist rhetoric about knowing what you’re talking about before you go in asking for things.

Sorry, but that’s not how people do business in the 21st century. I don’t want that shit in my village, I want a great delicatessen, a wine merchant, a dry cleaners, a branch of my bank, a fishmonger, a butcher and a shop where I can buy baked beans and bog roll at 11pm. I won’t miss the 4 estate agents, the rubbish Ironmonger, the electricians that’s only open 3 days a week and the 2 hairdressers frankly. See ya.

The greengrocer, however, is branching out into deli stuff and locally made and grown food. Really good Sussex made products. You can buy stuff in there that you can’t get in Sainsbury’s and they’re doing really well. And that’s my point, there ARE ways to make a living as an artisan in these ghastly times, you just have to be prepared to be a bit more lateral with your definition of what it is that you do. Again, I present them Marillion boys as testament to that. And UB40 for that matter. And Enter Shikari (initally).

And so if piracy does eventually kill all music, and we lose prog as it stands now, nobody will mourn us, they’ll just move onto Playstation games or whatever else costs “too much”. Then we’ll just start again.

And by the way, I buy ALL my downloaded music, my CD’s, my sample CD’s, my music software and all my plug-ins. I have the reciepts, the free updates and online support to prove it. I believe it’s good Karma. And it’s all tax deductible.

But I suspect I’m in the minority of the musicians reading this who do.

So who’s the fool? Me or you?

QED.

Read Jem’s blog here – you’ll probably enjoy it even if your not a fan of the “widdly widdly shit” he makes!

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