Putting Ragged Music Into Action

The Ragged project has been formed of the people who have got involved, bringing their ideas, wants and needs to be realised over time, in and through a like-minded community.

At one point four musicians asked where music fitted with the project and they were told that it would fit wherever and however they made it fit.  The result was the groundwork of Ragged Music which was particularly headed up by Dan Zambas and Gary Boast.

stop pay to play

Over the years there have been lots of conversations with people in the music world in an attempt to define and understand the barriers which musicians are encountering, and also discover what they want to achieve.  Lots of bands have shared their music through the events and festivals which Ragged Uni has been involved with, and every word which they said has been taken onboard to try and take forward plans to practically support those who make music. After all, it is something which makes our lives better and carries us through.
Something which has become obvious is that musicians and those trying to make a living out of music are not feeling appreciated.  This is putting it politely.  Many musicians feel taken advantage of, undervalued, underpaid, used.  It is fine when we want creativity in our moment to bring about the thoughtful moods or elated feelings, but then when it comes to shelling out for the time, energy and effort – all too often the money stays firmly in pockets…
Not only this but it seems that the music industry is archaic in its organisation (as with most super industries) and there are many musicians which feel there is monopoly at play and impoverished opportunities where there should be plenty to go around.  This is a sentiment which is common in the creative industries, and indeed, not unique to this age.  What we can say is that there is a major change going on where technology has moved the goalposts and the pitch, disrupting the status quo and forcing a re-evaluation of how this industry (the bread and butter which feeds people and families) is distributed. There is also change to push us to re-evaluate our roles as consumer – for those on the other side of the performance.
The internet and silicon technology acts for music like the Guttenburg press acted for the printed word. First there was the doomsaying of the end of music which happened several times before in history.  If we look back at creative waves of destruction – as these big sea changes are called by some economists – we find that when the first musical notation was developed people were predicting the end of the musical craft.  Then we zoom forward centuries and we find the recording of music being hailed as the apocalypse to end all musical livelihood and creation; and then after that it was radio – which was suppressed successfully by the music industry of the time until it was declassified as a military technology – and lo and behold, it only served to increase people’s desires and tastes for music.

The number of times I have heard stories where musicians are sore about pay-to-play situations does not bear counting.  The opportunities for musicians have been squeezed and the supercompanies have not facilitated the circular flow of money (often truncated to ‘trickledown’).

Ragged Music is a part of the Ragged Project which has been rehearsing the issues and building practical knowledge with the aim to make pragmatic gains for musicians (without taking a cut).  In developing the ideas, experiences, perspectives, and honest criticisms are needed to make anything which is worth it’s salt.  The most practical starting point was about simply putting on music events to become aware of the logistics of a music performance.  These are more significant than audiences realise.
Musicians, sound technicians, band promoters and venues have to coordinate themselves to put on a single hour of entertainment.  Not only this, but it must be done over months (and often years) to get significant quality results.  A performance takes all the learning, all the practicing, all the dialogues and decisions, all the materials bought and transport costs, all the negotiating and advertising; and for what ?  Mostly for the love of it, sometimes for a beer or two, but most pitifully for being charged to play (and often whilst a room full of people will talk over the years of sweat and toil which made the composition). Pay to pay is a mercenary undervaluing of music and the people who make it.

music engineer

I feel that there is something to be done and it needs to be done in the mode of facilitator, not one in which profits are to be skimmed before the talent gets paid.  The neglect of cultural economics is startling when we consider just how important it is for local economies, the social spaces which keep a society ticking healthily, and for the tourism it generates (to name but a few).  The short term vision of fast payoffs has undermined the long term future of abundance and steady income societies.  This myopia is something which will be examined more fully in time through the Ragged project, but meantime the focus is to generate practical support.

In 2012 Ragged Music programmed up two stages in the Edinburgh International Festival opening up opportunities to play in an internationally reputed arts festival which usually costs a fortune for artists to be involved in.  It was done without budget, with a lot of brazen honesty, and some good will from venue owners.  This year the work Ragged Music started will be taken forward through a collaboration with Edinburgh Fringe Live and The Peartree.  During the month of July bands and musicians will be given the opportunity to play, and hot housed in technology terms to get them on the internet with their own internet presence for free. We are going to train them in social media and basic web design so they have greater control and the ability to showcase their work.
Also we are exploring how to highlight all the different roles of the music industry, revealing the ground level people who make the music happen year in, year out in Edinburgh.  From the musicians to the promoters to the venue managers, we will be trying to join the dots and knit some of the connections which will enable a better, more vibrant music scene.

To leave you with a taste of an experiment, you can listen to this short podcast of an experimental collaboration with Pressure Valve music promotions where they staged some of the local talent during a Ragged University event: