JOE BATES on why every artist should aim for the mainstream.
I am an enthusiastic purveyor of a niche music genre. No, not Electropop meets Southern Hip Hop. People tend to call it ‘contemporary classical’, but I personally hate that name.
Last Tuesday, for the first time, it was covered (as ‘indie-classical’) in the home base of hipsterdom, Pitchfork. Yet, ironically, it was this inclusion that made me realise for the first time why I was so uncomfortable with the terms ‘indie’ and ‘hipster’.
Central to the idea of hipsterness is the celebration of one’s own alternativeness. It is the crowing ‘you probably wouldn’t have heard of them’, the disappointment when your favourite band hits the mainstream. But it’s totally alien to how I feel.
I want to sell out. I want the music I love to make everyone who writes it millionaires, for it to top the charts. I’m delighted that such a well-read publication wrote such a good article about ‘indie classical’. But I would have been even more delighted to see the same article in the NME, yet more in The Sun.
Now, I’m not an idiot. I’m aware that it will probably never happen. But I really, really want it to, and intend to try as hard as I can to make it happen. I want to go mainstream. And I have a deep suspicion of those that don’t, whether they’re an art gallery, a band or a newspaper.
It’s not that I confuse value with popularity. That’s another kettle of fish. But the logic, to me, seems inescapable:
I love what I do. Therefore I want to share it with as many people as possible.
So what could possess people to do otherwise? A lot of the more hipster-y types seem to cling to a pair of stale arguments:
‘It’s too difficult, people won’t appreciate it’
Really? Then why do you? Are you just better than other people? I understand people don’t always attach moral value to aesthetic value, but this view seems always to be accompanied by that particular brand of arsey superiority.
‘I don’t want to change what I’m doing for the sake of other people’
Fine. Don’t. Enthusiastically try to sell what you’ve got.
People are crap at predicting popularity anyway – who thought, a year ago, ‘I know what will really sell: A silent, black and white comedy with no well known actors‘? In particular, the internet allows geographically separated people to clump into communities large enough to support relatively niche art forms.
That said, paying no attention to your audience whatsoever seems more than a little self-indulgent. In particular, I find it difficult to rationalise it being done at public expense.
Whilst I’m not opposed to arts funding in general, I find the defeatist attitude too often present in arts organisations depressing. The other week, the music faculty had a visiting speaker who flat out told a bunch of aspiring composers and music organisers: ‘You can’t make money out of modern classical music’.
Well, bollocks to that. I think she’s wrong. And I’d rather fail trying to prove her wrong than have never attempted it in the first place.