With so much talk about the role of ‘Disruption’ in the modern world, I was looking forward to the debut Virgin Disruptors session. The panel consisted of artists Amanda Palmer, Zoe Keating, Will.I.Am and Imogen Heap, along with Scooter Braun (Justin Bieber’s manager), Trevor Skeet (Spotify), Nic Jones (Vevo) and Ian Hogarth (Songkick). The session produced some interesting perspectives on the current state of the music business, highlighting the need for musicians to have a “voice” in the commercial digital world and, perhaps most importantly, for them to be allowed some influence on the advertising that accompanies the streaming of their music.
However, while the ‘Virgin Disruptors’ packed some real punch on paper, (Amanda Palmer is the great success story of crowd-sourced funding, and Vevo, Songkick and Spotify are potentially valuable new revenue streams) I found it rather telling that the panel seemed so pre-occupied with issues of technology, artist control and monetisation, with scant mention of originality, artistic freedom or indeed artistry itself.
By contrast, this morning I heard Grayson Perry’s 2nd Reith lecture, “Nice Rebellion, Welcome In”, on Radio 4 and, perhaps surprisingly, found what he had to say rather more prescient.
What struck me was what Grayson said about the contemporary art world more or less mirrored my recent experience of music culture: As a young student, he evidently wanted to be part of the next art ‘movement’, only to find art in a state of pluralism, having lost relevance and the ability to shock. Correspondingly, young people today are more definable by life-style ‘tribes’ than by music-influenced fashion trends, and they appear to eschew any notion of rebellion or protest.
Grayson, whilst uncompromising about the seriousness with which he considers art, was relaxed enough to talk about art’s value sometimes ‘just about being beautiful’, and went on to suggest that, “If Michaelangelo was alive today he wouldn’t be painting ceilings but making CGI movies.” Then, unlike any of the ‘Virgin Disruptors’, he proceeded to encourage young artists to try not to follow the money, rather to just follow their muses.
Perhaps ‘Virgin Disruptors Vs Grayson Perry’ is a mis-match, and what the former lacked was simply the fault of the pre-set agenda. But surely, for music to regain any semblance of vibrant cultural relevance, (and presumably a greater income potential to boot) we need ‘disruptors’ that will succeed on their own terms, artistically.
Admittedly the past few years have been dominated by regular and dramatic advances in technology, but there’s a danger that our continuing obsession with tech precludes much-needed talk about the need for creativity and originality. Music blogger Bob Lefsetz wrote this week, “There’s no tech breakthrough on the horizon, no new website paradigm.” Who knows, if this incredible period of rapid innovation comes to an end, content could, once again, be king.
If so, are we ready for the change? After all, Grayson wasn’t trying to trivialise Michaelangelo in his CGI quip, he was merely emphasising the need to recognise and adapt to opportunities as they present themselves, rather than harp on about the past.
LISTEN HERE to Grayson Perry’s 2nd Reith Lecture
Read the Virgin Disruptors transcript courtesy of MusicAlly HERE or watch the whole Virgin Disruptor session HERE or read a review of the event by Stuart Dredge in The Guardian.