There are some things worth dragging yourself out of a sick bed for. Unconvention is one of them. Hosted in the warrens of the Roundhouse, Unconvention 17 (or #Uncon17 for those twitter addicts amongst us) might have been hosted in a venue resembling the crystal maze, but ensured the question marks about the music world were ultimately removed. As muso’s, journalist and industry gurus came together with those pondering how to make their way in the music world lively discussion, hands on events and live performance fused together the varied dynamic that keeps the music world ticking over and dispelled the myth that the only way to make it is to get a record deal. In fact, it’s fair to say that the overwhelming theme of the day was that success is what you make it, not what others define it as.
As I seated myself ready for a panel discussion on ‘Women in Music’ I have to admit mixed feelings about what ensued. Though I was encouraged by the number of males seated in the audience, and the diverse women which made up the panel, I can’t help but feel allowing a man to moderate the debate almost missed the point. Though John Robb lead the panel through a series of interesting ponderings, looking at whether women in music should even be a debate and how women in music need to learn to support each other, I can’t help but feel this subtle oversight seemed to highlight the issue.
Journalist Hattie Collins highlighted how as a female journalist her career started having to prove a point about her capability and radio DJ Jo Good suggested that girls have to be a good 4 times better than their male counterparts in order to succeed. Even Viv Albertine, an artist who has been described as a ‘legend’ during her time in The Slits, still outlined how difficult the battle is for her to make it as a solo artist despite her earlier success. Questions from the floor came thick and fast, including a question about whether or not there was an attempt to separate feminism out of the debate since the ‘f word’ had been missing from the entire panel discussion. Suffice to say the response was that the whole notion is inherently feminist and I can’t help but agree.
Following on from the theme of inequality, I then ventured to a discussion on ‘Music As a Tool For Social Change’ listening to how music is changing people’s lives. As speakers from across the world came together, it’s clear to see that the language of music transcends a persons mother tongue, transforming lives. It’s here that the decision to host the event at the Roundhouse seems pertinent, it’s central hub area doubling as rehearsal and recording studios for young people across London. Yet, whilst there is a sense of joy that music is readily improving lives, there’s a subtle shadow hanging over the debate, as reality that Government funding for such worthy projects is drying up around the country.
This leads in some way then, to thinking ‘Outside The Box’, and a firsthand look at how many artists are redefining success from their own view point, reaching their audiences in new and imaginative ways. Whilst for some there’s a clear thought process that success is about getting the ever elusive deal, for the other 95% of musicians it’s clear the DIY ethos is the avenue they’d rather follow. For those like Laura Kidd (of She Makes War) who have had their brush with a deal and been pigeon holed into boxes, it’s clear that going it alone and making music which is credible to the artist is the driving force.
Thanks to the likes of BBC’s 6 Music, Tom Robinson and the internet, the panel discussed the ability to bypass the rather archaic notions of the industry using self promotion via twitter and social media. But equally there’s a rather interesting point about defining your own success and whilst for some this might be performing at the O2 Arena, for many it’s simply about being able to sustain a passion, without needing to compromise. Looking at the notion of 1000 true fans (quickly dismissed as not being required to sustain a career), Pledge Music and unorthodox ways of making live music pay (for example house parties) I think it’s fair to say that there are two very different ways to both make and engage with music. Whilst the somewhat spoon fed traditional methods might dictate what music to make or listen to it’s clear that there’s another route, with its central hub floating somewhere online.
Suffice to say the overarching notion of the day is that there’s a different way to do things and that whilst the industry at large may well be collapsing, there is a whole emergence of people ready to create and engage with music in a different way. In short the unconventional might well be about to reach it’s pinnacle, carrying music forward.