THE BUSINESS' DECLINE AND THE CHANGE OF PEOPLE´S APPROACH TO MUSIC – WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A MUSICIAN NOWADAYS?
Our roundtable talk about modern musicianship continues.
What has happened so far? Well, quite a promising exchange of ideas. After talking about our participants' musical backgrounds and self-images, the first huge controversial issue was touched: Casting shows and their artistic value. However, regardless of how much one might have agreed or disagreed with our guests, one thing is sure: No one who read the first part with open eyes and an open mind left this place bored or without things to reflect about.
Let's continue then with the considerate Pagan Metal icon Ville Sorvali (MOONSORROW), the tart-tongued media expert and Indie drummer Tommi Forsström (VIOLA, ECHO IS YOUR LOVE), the sophisticated yet pragmatic Prog Rock guitarist Kimmo (THE CHANT), the open-hearted Death Metal girl Laura (MEDEIA), and vocalist Tommi Suomala (RAIN DIARY) who gave us a bit of an airy, philosophic feel last time!
Generally speaking, image has been a huge part of a Metal bands' appeal ever since. For many many acts it has never been about the music only. Carefully arranged promo pictures are one of the central tools to create an image for a band. Most of these photographs carry a very serious, sometimes even an epic vibe that paints the people in them greater and more heroic than they actually are. What is your attitude towards promo photograpy and you being in them?
VILLE: As I said, (almost) every band has some sort of an image, but mostly it has just developed alongside the actual music. In other words, most bands look like they sound - not vice versa. To me, it has never been ONLY about the music. Music comes first, but for example in the case of Moonsorrow, we are aiming to make a complete package in which music, lyrics and the visuals complement each other. Being in promo shoots can sometimes feel a bit silly, but hey, aren't grown-ups also allowed to play at times?
TOMMI F: I love well designed promo pictures! I'd love to look better in them but some people are more photogenic than others. That said, there's nothing I hate more than unimaginative cliche pictures that bear all the signs of trying too hard. You need to play with the cliches, communicate your brand visually and figure out what makes you different. I really love Moonsorrow's pictures and how they instantly paint a picture of what they're about as a band.
KIMMO: I believe that people enjoy aesthetically balanced, holistic concepts. If the music's not about waiting for a bus, neither should the promo pictures look like it. The musicians role in the end is somewhere between an everyday person and an actor. I personally am an advocate for going way beyond reality what comes to promo material. Some of the coolest promo pics for me are totally out there, like the Uusi Fantasia and Ulver band photos.
I also understand that getting to this level is extremely difficult, expensive and takes a really skilled photographer and subjects who feel comfortable in front of the camera to achieve. Not many of us are fortunate enough to know people like that. Posing for a photo is something I'm not very good at. Also, you can't really use this approach in every case. For a singer-songwriter it's perhaps better to stand in a corn field with a guitar on their shoulder, or sit at a bus stop.
TOMMI S: It's a neutral thing for me. I don't hate it, but don't enjoy it either. It also depends on the location and the weather, of course. I don't know if it's even a necessary thing for us to have promo photos, but we seem to do it anyway. For us, image-wise, it's more like "put on something you'd wear when you go and have a night out, not something you'd wear when you go jogging".
LAURA: Promotional photography is a part of promotion itself and as such is crucial to getting your product out there. Through pictures, a band puts a face to the name and attempts to distinguish themselves from other acts. It's not just limited to bands, either: films, plays, musicals, even many consumer products will also have them; almost everything that requires promotion will be accompanied by a picture because it helps the consumer form the desired associations with the product. However, if they're going to stand out from the vast crowd of competitors at all then the photos need to be top-notch – nobody pays attention to average, mundane snapshots. This is why so much thought often goes into these promo pictures. They are necessary, they offer multiple functions (e.g. a good, fairly simple way to freshen up one's image for the release of a new record) and they're mostly fun to shoot, even though I''m super awkward in front of a camera. Honestly, those lenses and I just do not get on.
Music gives meaning to many people, it's a universal language, one of the few magical things still left in the world. Especially teenagers often pick certain acts whose music and lyrics they completely identify with. It almost serves a religious purpose and the people on stage are regarded as icons, the least they are role models (which is of course supported by image and promotional photographs). What are your thoughts about this cult of personality connected to making music and to being on stage? Have people ever put you higher because of you being in a band – and how do you deal with it?
KIMMO: I think this phenomenon is not just about music, but it's more general. Everyone has role models and idols, people who they look up to and wish they could be like in the future. I think that behaviour should always lead to becoming a better person yourself. If you're idolising someone but not letting it change you, it's kind of silly. If you think Manowar's the coolest, go to the gym and buy a motorcycle, but be careful, they're also misogynistic pigs, so you got to be smart about that. I myself haven't had the experience of being put on a pedestal just because I play guitar so I haven't really had to think about how to deal with it, and I'm really happy about that.
VILLE: In my own small world any idolatry feels a bit pointless, but I can understand it in the bigger picture. I actually used to look up to some certain individuals - before meeting them and realizing they are just regular people like us. I don't think there's anything wrong in picking some people as role models, even from within the metal scene, but I would still also encourage a slightly critical approach to what any role models do or say. Ultimately people need to build their own views of the world themselves. I can definitely sense that some people are holding me in a higher regard because of what I (supposedly) am, and I can't help it but it always feels slightly awkward. Of course it's nice if people listen to what I say, but I'd like them to acknowledge that it's not necessarily any more important than what someone else would have to say.
TOMMI S: I think it's part of growing up to have idols other than your parents. When everything else seems to fall apart (a normal feeling for every teenager), you always have your idol to rely on. Music can take you away for a while, just like a good book or movie. And that image of the suicidal frontman is just part of it. But I can't remember anyone ever putting me higher because of me being in a band. And it's not something I go telling everyone I meet. It's usually like "Oh, what kind of music do you play?". I usually try to avoid the whole topic or even lie, when someone asks if I'm in a band.
LAURA: I'm pretty sure everyone chooses to listen to music they identify with, albeit non-exclusively. I also disagree with music universally serving an almost religious purpose - religion itself is a method of control whereas music is supposed to set you free! Or something like that. Seriously though, if you were referring to acts that garner themselves a "religious following" then the fact remains that, whether the act in question offers a genuinely fresh idea or is simply hijacking an already trending scene, this status is pretty much always accompanied by the substantial aid of clever promotion. As for "cults of personality", well, I suppose some artists prefer to disconnect their act from themselves to the extent of offering a whole different character to their audience, others prefer to bring their own selves out in their music and on the stage, warts and all. Sure, I've run into people who have given me "special" treatment or looked up to me because of being in a band and I always feel a little embarrassed when it happens, a bit like "Who, me? But I'm nothing special!". If they like my band(s) then more often than not I feel chuffed that they like our stuff and just end up having a good chat with them, even made a couple of friends that way. Not a single band would be anywhere near successful without the people who support them and it's wise to bear that in mind.People tend to appreciate whatever produces
TOMMI F: Having idols is a universal need especially for young people and music artists have traditionally provided a great target for this. However this need can in the age of global digital communications be fulfilled in more various ways. For some the idol can be an entrepreneur like Steve Jobs, for some a dude that makes cat videos in his garage. The age of mass media and thus of the mass icon are more or less gone.
The Englishman Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), one of these iconic, auratic people who come from an entirely different generation and background than all these trend bands and one-hit-wonders (like Swedish Metalcore boys Sonic Syndicate), is well-known for his hate for iPods. In some clips he is even destroying them with different tools. The background of this: To him mp3s are killing good music as much as they're devaluating people's listening experience. He's in favor of physical records, of the artwork corresponding with the music he has written – simply of the "whole package" as an art form. What are your feelings about the fragmentation of music nowadays? Is a booklet and a multi-dimensional, visual image of music a luxury nowadays? And do you still aim at the above mentioned "whole package" nevertheless?
KIMMO: In this respect Steven Wilson is a dinosaur. He's fighting a war that cannot be won instead of going forward and finding new ways of defining "the package". I'd absolutely love to collaborate with smart people to figuring it out. If we look back in history we can easily see that physical records as a form of consuming music has been just one phase. Everything evolves and so will this. Who's he to argue that mp3s and streamed music arent good enough when that's the experience of everyone else? As an example, I remember hearing about some poet doing his poems as a series of sms messages. If the people reading them got a good experience out of it why should anyone insist that it should have been done with ink on papyrus? It's not about the medium. It's about the message and how it's experienced.
TOMMI F: I love it when the old school cats are pissing and moaning about how this or that ruined music. Just like all the advocates of old music tradition prophecied the end of music upon the invention of the phonograph. They said it'd erase our ability to interpret music forward. 100 years ahead and we think we've reached the pinnacle of music and any deviation from it is negative? Fuck Steven Wilson. In 50 or so years his generation (and ours) will be pretty much dead but the kids of 2060 will keep on making new music that we can't even think of today.
TOMMI S: As much as I admire Mr. Wilson, I couldn't disagree with him more. I see the digital age in music as a natural transition from one medium to other. And that process is still ongoing. I think digital world in general offers a lot of possibilities when it comes to creating artwork around the music. I'd really love to see bands focus more on creating an audio-visual experience for listeners, as digital booklets could be filled with not just images, but also with video and animation. We've had some discussions with Rain Diary on how we could develop our package into this direction, but we have a bit of a lack of means.
LAURA: Heh, I do like a bit of Porcupine Tree. The song "Sound of Muzak" springs to mind. I agree with his apprecition of physical records and the "whole package" - there's nothing quite like holding the finished product in your hand. It's the physical manifestation of months, sometimes years of hard work, temper tantrums and revelations; it's the result of the continued combined efforts of many to bring you this little disc and its casings and its artwork and its message and yeah, of course that's awesome and of course we aim for the same. Thankfully we don't live in an age where this sort of thing is a luxury yet. However, some things change. The powers that be developed Walkmans and personal CD players because people have lives to live and they like listening to their favourite music while they're out and about doing just that. Now we have iPods and other mp3 players which facilitate the portability of your entire music collection without having to lug a whole bunch of your CDs around with you. That's awesome too! I can copy my records to my iPod and go about my day. Well, I could until I left it on a tour bus. At least my records are safe. I used to hate finding grime and cracks on my CD cases after digging them out from the bottom of my bag anyway. Any major change in music format requires adaptation and I feel we're in the middle of that adaptation at the moment. Perhaps in future the amount of any CD printed will be smaller and online music sales might be accompanied by other perks such as merchandise or concert tickets? I don't believe the physical format is quite being replaced though; mp3s themselves aren't what's "killing" good music. In fact, I don't believe good music is being killed at all. It's merely changing as it always has. Rock was dismissed as atrocious by the older generations when it first hit the scene, as was Disco, as was Blues. See a pattern? Every genre has its bollocks and its brilliance. Good music is alive and well, you just have to keep an unprejudiced ear out for it.
VILLE: Funny that you mentioned Sonic Syndicate, hehe. Anyway. I definitely do favor physical records with the artwork and all that, but we also have to realize that the world indeed has changed and we would have to change with it. Physical records will always be collectors items for those who cherish them, no matter what, but mp3 just is closer to the future of music than CD or LP. And, as a format, it doesn't really prevent anyone from listening to a complete album from the beginning to the end (as I would prefer). I would personally never like to do anything else than whole albums instead of just "songs", but ultimately it's the listeners' decision how to listen to them. Obviously they will lose something essential if they just listen to the "songs".
PART 3: ADAPT OR LAY STILL AND DIE!
Hendrik Behnisch – 26.01.2012
http://www.violamusicclub.com/ (TOMMI F)
http://www.raindiary.com/ (TOMMI S)
Photos: Forssto (1), Allan Smithee (2) AKFF (3), Manowar promo 2011 (4), Ultra-Vixen (5), Lasse Hoile (6), Rain Diary (7), Tomi Palsa (8)
Last Updated (Tuesday, 08 January 2013 16:59)
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