Soundin Serious : The Business Of Making Music

Soundin Serious : The Business Of Making Music

Why so serious? Well it’s about bloody time.

Image : Natalie Soysa : Shehara Jayathilaka 2015

Our music scene is nearly 20 years old. We are all trying to make it. We do in small spurts – but none of us are consistent successes. We aren’t booked on big tours; our albums don’t sell by the millions. Our fans don’t number in those leagues either. So, what is it that’s holding us back?

I can guarantee you, its not the music. Having had the pleasure of being old enough to have seen this scene rise from infancy to what it is today means I have heard every single musician grow up in their craft and I have heard their music evolve into finely honed, near-masterpieces. We got good product – so why not big appeal to compliment that talent? I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot lately.

I am sure every one of us read India’s big news a few months ago. Less about the music and more about the fundamental rights of a group of citizens who didn’t give up the good fight. After decades of activism, the supreme court of India abandoned the colonial section 377 of the country’s penal code, simultaneously decriminalizing the homosexuality and apologising to the LGBT community for endless years discrimination.  What do gay rights in India have to do with rock and roll? I think it would do all of us a dose of good to realize that rock and roll’s identity was borrowed from a gay, S&M subculture: The Leather Daddy. And some of the biggest names in rock and roll, have not only embraced the Leather Daddy look, but have also been gay superstars. Rob Halford was gay. Melissa Etheridge identified as lesbian. Freddie Mercury was bisexual. Many others, gender fluid (like David Bowie) or pansexual (Pete Townsend).

Image : Natalie Soysa : Mirshad Buckman, PE (Oct 2018)

In the 377 case, I think the lesson is resilience. Thousands of activists, rights groups, academics, lawyers and advocates worked together and continued their efforts for decades, never ceasing until they achieved their goal.

The music business in India is no different, having produced fine bands and musical outfits that have stood the test of time and talent, the country is so many echelons ahead of us that we should be either ashamed or take a lesson from India’s page. Parikrama, Motherjane, Indian Ocean – all great bands with international appeal. For all the negativity I know that Sri Lankans hurl in India’s direction, we can’t deny that it is a nation of progress and far ahead of us in too many ways. We are still debating bras at Enrique concerts and a woman’s ability to purchase alcohol. And the only one to make headlines in Billboard magazine was our misogynist president.

In my utopia, the only facet India should have over us are numbers. India is a billion strong, but we are millions too. And we are not doing enough to get the sound out there. Just like it took several fortes working together to repeal 377, it will take many disciplines to make our music business work. Musicians maybe the core creators of the product, but other areas from music production to sound engineering, and from music journalism to management – all need to work in symbiosis.

I cringe as I use the word ‘business’, but a business it must be called unless we continue to work day jobs and play gigs for fun. What a bloody waste of great talent! Music is an industry, no different to the movie business or banking for that matter. Only, its cooler to be a rock star. So, lets keep it cool – but let’s also make it our business to make it. Stigmata recently won the Asian Music Awards. A combination of not one, but many disciplines, including artist, filmmaker and band to bring it all together. It took a team. And we are an army.

Image : Natalie Soysa : Suresh de Silva (April 2018)

Music managers aren’t hangers on who chill with bands and post the occasional social media number – they are the people who get the bands out there, email a thousand band profiles and recordings out there each week. Sounds guys aren’t people with expensive equipment, they need to make a band sound right when they perform instead of the cacophony we are served at most gigs today. Producers need to do the same – understand a sound and learn to produce and engineer that uniqueness to perfection. Journalists aren’t those of us who call our favourite bands brutal one-too-many-times and scatter a plethora of euphemisms we found scanning through a thesaurus. Music journalists are critics, dissecting and dictating the scene fearlessly.

And I think musicians must also demand more from the peripheral specialties they work with. I know the sound guy is your friend – but he isn’t your friend when you’re on stage. Yes, the photographer is also your buddy, but can’t be one when your next album cover is being shot. If this is a business, then we are all called on to be professionals. With nearly 20 years of experience behind us, how can we let ourselves be anything less? I would like to think we can all be bigger than what we are permitting ourselves to be right now.

Image : Natalie Soysa : Dave Roberts (Jan 2018)

I believe also, that to be bigger, we must have a bigger perspective. If we want more fans we need to understand what binds us as cities, as countries – even as a planet.  And if history has taught us anything, it is that music brings us together. Be it Woodstock in 1969 or the more recent RATM protest concert across the road from the Democratic National Convention, the lessons are the same. 18 years later, the problems haven’t disappeared. A rapist is Supreme Court Justice of the USA.  Serena Williams lost a grand slam title for a meltdown when tennis has witnessed bigger meltdowns by male players. At home we have our own unique complexities to contend with; we are discussing the potential to medicalize female genital mutilation. And we stood by and let a little girl be mistreated by CIS for choosing to wear pants to school. And we still don’t let little boys know that its ok to cry. Why am I being political? Because music is the most powerful form of politics there has ever been.  While we work together to rise as an underground, let us also have purpose in that journey.

Peace Out.

Article by the very cool Natalie Soysa 

photographer/writer/sith lord


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