If your work is great, then I’ll happily pay – An opinion on the synthwave scene and artists who need supporting.

Feb 13, 2021 | Music, Specials

Followers or customers? Friends or target market? 

This seems to be an apparent issue that plagues the synthwave scene. And I cannot understand why…

It doesn’t take a Chief Medical Officer to tell us that the live music industry is on its knees. COVID has taken away, albeit temporarily, the livelihoods of millions of people and there is little suggestion from Governments that this group of people and the associated professions are getting any form of support and financial relief that will actually make a difference in the lives of people who rely on this income to live. Those heros you pay to see all over the world have children, responsibilities, a mortgage. They wake up with the same anxieties and stresses that we all do.. Often these very issues are perfect fodder for their craft – fuelling their writing, production and end products that we enjoy from the comfort of our homes.

To focus on synthwave for a moment.. The last 12 months has seen a shift in the very culture of the scene. What was a fledgling live scene that was bordering on selling out mainstream venues (particularly in London and New York) has bottomed out entirely. This is nothing special or unique to synthwave but there is a small difference.. The scene is tiny and so becomes quite friendly. Artists would take the time after a gig to come and talk to fans. The frequency of gigs often meant you would meet and become friendly with artists and fellow fans on a regular basis. Friendships form and often did. Normal people. Children, responsibilities, a mortgage. People love the community feel, including me. To a certain extent synthwave and the friendliness of the scene has supported me in many ways that I have not had in life up to 10 years ago. So I understand and recognise the intensity that sits with fans.. Again, its not unique to the scene – but it’s there. 

Fast forward to March 2020. COVID hits and this IRL community ceases to exist. Now for synthwave fans, that’s fine – People simply went back to the very thing that allowed them to explore the scene in the first place – The internet. Live streams started popping up.. Radio shows built an even stronger following… Artists, bloggers and fans were doing all that they could to entertain each other and support themselves and other humans during a truly awful time for the world. But one thing was missing. Income.

Artists by their very nature are expressive. They want to create, they want to entertain. Their on-stage personas are one thing.. but at the core it is that need to connect to people with their creations that drives them… Lockdown has seen so many of them taking time out of their schedules and lives to prepare and deliver online gigs and streams to make us smile. There are no management behind the camera making a deal with the venue owner.. there are no accountants helping artists understand how much of their own money they need to invest to support this tour. It’s their home studio, their newly purchased streaming hardware, and them. With their children, their responsibilities, their mortgage. 

There comes a time when the financial disconnect between pre-2020 and now starts to pinch. So we see artists suggesting fees for their performances. This has ranged from live streams with no pressure donate buttons and merch options to Patreon accounts with levels of financial support. In return you receive certain perks from the artist. We’ve also seen ticketing for online events or exclusive streaming rights for certain companies, pushing fans to those platforms in return for what I imagine is a nice fee to the artist. Bandcamp Friday’s have also offered artists the chance to release new music and pay no fees to Bandcamp for the platform access.. And yet through all these income generating actions from struggling artists we get the usual voices.

‘Why are they charging for this?’

When can I get this on Spotify?’

‘Will this get uploaded to YouTube?’

At this point, the friendliness of the scene starts to clash with those pillars of serious music artistry – Quality, content that is true to the artist and market

Some fans will embrace this and do what they can to support artists. That added level of friendliness adding to their want to support.. Others seem to feel that it gives them the right to question artists on what they should and should not be charging for. The Midnight’s recent remix competition announcement this past week is a great example of this.. One of the scene’s most successful acts whom have elevated above and beyond the scene have asked fans to pay for the stems as part of the competition entry.. Now I have no idea on Tim and Tyler’s financial situation, and frankly it’s none of my fucking business. And if you are reading this and you aren’t either one of them, it’s none of your business either. What I do know is that the very producers who love the band and would gain significant exposure by being successful in the competition complain about wanting the stems for free. Then there are the fans who also shit on the band for their decision suggesting that it’s not fair and the world needs some financial relief at the moment – Yeah.. But so do Tim and Tyler! They tour half the year selling out venues all over the world – and that has fallen on its arse.. That income is not there and the money tree they harvest twice a year to entertain you doesn’t exist. 

Lets also not forget that many of these artists whom are asking you to support them are providing you, in return with amazingly professional and creative content that deserves a price mark attached to it. Live streams with days of preparation, a Bandcamp-only release that has their heart and soul poured into it and deserves you spending a few clams to hear it. Many of them aren’t going to just take your money. 

Now there is a flip side to all of this which has also been evident during the last 12 months.. 

I am more than happy to part with money for something quality, entertaining and worth my spends. That has always been my view, COVID or otherwise.. What I do hold issue with is when people are asked to part with money to support causes or access to entertainment that is sub par or does not exist. We are all aware of a certain couple of artists who have made quite a lot of money from fans through merch sales that did not exist. This has impacted their brand in ways that may well be unrepairable for them. The Patreon bug has also been as prolific as COVID and many artists, bloggers, organisers and people in the scene asking for payments from fans for content that is questionable or does not exist at all.. My point here is that the friendliness of the scene should also not be exploited and people being asked to part with their money because it’s comfortable to ask. Come to me with your skill and talent and I will support you. have done this with people I consider friends and people I have never met… People for whom is it clear their artistry is their life and passion and there is a lot of it out there. Ask me to fund your ego or poorly executed project and I am going to decline. 

At the end of the day.. We are all humans. We miss the engagement and human interactions that existed 12 months ago. We have a responsibility to each other.. To remember that each of us is living their own life with its own needs, comforts and stresses. It is no one’s place to question someone offering a quality product for a price.. especially in this tiny scene. There is also a responsibility for us all to not exploit others. Music is passion and music is life. Music is also a transaction. Fans deserve quality in exchange for money and artists deserve money for their time and energy that soundtracks your life. 

If you are an artist who is struggling.. and I know there are many of you.. Keep plugging away – The world needs you now more than ever.. The good hearted amongst you who choose to charge will always produce something worth our money and that should never be doubted.

Now you’ll need to excuse me, I have to return some videotapes.