Graham Reid | | 3 min read
Above my desk I have a photo taken in a market town in central Vietnam. It's of a woman singer and her brother. They wear the tatterings of their peasantry. He is blind and plays a battered guitar of no fixed origin, powered by portable battery.
She is leading him by a cord.
This poor, itinerant couple would come to perform in the village, the woman so impassioned that she and many of her audience would be in tears.
I don't know what she sang of, but it touched people, and her, deeply.
I keep the photo close to remind me that in our world, where music is most often merchandise, this stuff can still be born from the heart. And that it is often not from extraordinary people but the most ordinary of the ordinary. A poor woman and her blind brother.
Music for many people today, however, is just another consumer commodity, something to be hyped and sold, just like any other "product," the word favoured by many in the hydra-headed recording industry. And note, no one recoils from that word "industry" any more.
It is seen as a good thing, that the world of music is integrated from the artist to the stylist to the accountant, and to the media which often adds its own spin to try to sell products around the product.
TikTok stars and those basking in acclaim for their first break-out banger (perhaps described by threadbare words like "iconic") are cases in point: whether their music is any good is a matter of opinion.
Often its seems the music is just incidental to a career where the product placement is as important as the song.
I mostly don't listen to it, but then it isn't "made" for me. It is made for kids, not for its own sake, I suspect, but to sell the package of tie-in products such as the clip and the designer clothes they wears. The star becomes the product, infinitely malleable.
The odd thing with such people is the bigger they get, the easier they are to avoid.
They telegraph their arrival so much you can simply sidestep it. You just change the channel when their live concert comes on, walk past the bins of their albums in shop doors, and tune your radio to another station.
That said, we delude ourselves about the marketing of music in our Western world.
There's no moral superiority in the so-called "alternative" over that which comes from major record companies and their media outlets such as international magazines, movie companies and television stations. One is just more naked, obvious and clumsy about it. The others might do it differently, but they do it, too.
Their avenues of promotion -- small magazines, social media, indie labels and alternative stores -- are purportedly more "credible", but I've seen little evidence to support that contention. It's still the money-go-round, just lower down the totem pole.
By the way, that couple in Vietnam?
They didn't have an album to sell or promote, just a shabby bag made of string and flax into which I saw many poor people put money.
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