Finding a place in the heap

(March 21, 2007)

The top people performing in the wider arena ‘folk music’ are the tip of an iceberg – beneath the surface is a morass of bands and singers who form the backbone of folk music. Each one of them is in their own way, helping to support those who’ve reached the peak of success.

However, for those well-known singers and bands to arrive at the surface, sell thousands of albums and become festival favourites it’s necessary to have that mass of people doing the same below them to varying levels of competence.
Every singer, band and songwriter is striving to find his or her place in the structure. Some may never rise above the foundations, but a structure needs its foundations to stay up.

Today the world is different

Perhaps it’s the need to find their place that made many bands in their early days dish out covers of artists and bands that were popular at the time. That course allowed them to be reasonably certain that would get a hearing (unless of course they were crap musicians). They were playing songs that everyone knew, understood and could possibly relate to – an easier route than risking their own songs. Not too ago that was the cue for a million covers of ‘Streets of London’ and a thousand Ralph McTell sound-alikes; today the world is different.

Today, technological advances such as Podcasts and the Internet enable songwriters and bands to place their music in open forum without ever having to play a note in front of a live audience. They can beaver away, finding their place, developing their own niche audience and build a loyal following. They have never played at a club or travelled miles to perform a two-song floor spot. They have achieved (in some people’s eyes) success without having ‘served their time’ as a struggling artist. Is this good? Well yes or no – it depends on your view. For a start, the Internet and such services as MySpace have allowed far more songwriters to gain quicker and wider exposure to potential audiences. It’s also enabled performers to put their own material in front of an audience without the chance of open rejection.

Of course, singers and bands still struggle to find their sound or style. Ask a cross-section of well-known performers to describe their style and some tell you that they’re still searching for it. However, many that began by living on a diet of ‘covers’ do go on to build a career and preserve it through the changes of fashion by finding their own niche and presenting their own songs.

Find your audience, know your audience and keep it

The mantra is ‘find your audience, know your audience and keep it’. The only issue then is - how big is that audience? Are they enough to sustain your career and if not what steps do you take to do something about it? Change the style of your music or seek another audience. Bob Dylan changed style successfully, although at the expense of alienating much solid support along the way. However, if a young Bob had access to the Internet would he have posted his new music ahead of his tours of folk clubs, where half the audience left after two songs?

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