Thank you Elliott Smith
May 10, 2011
Padma Gillen in Independent, music career, music industry

I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about the music industry, and particularly the new independent music industry.

This is partly because I am an independent musician, and partly because I write a blog on music biz stuff. I’ve also got a natural interest in patterns and systems (and the music industry is one). I like watching things emerge, and I like the ideas that people are forced to come out with to try to make a little money in the current climate.

But aside from being interested in all that stuff, first and foremost, I am an artist. From that perspective, I don’t think about the business side of things AT ALL.

If you are a musician trying to make it in music right now, just pause for a moment and try to remember why you got into this in the first place.

For most of us, we got into it because music moves us. There’s something about great music that hits you more directly than pretty much any other artform (and I love most artforms – I am not trying to be a snob here, it’s just how I experience it). You don’t need a degree in music history, you don’t even need to understand the words. When music hits you, it hits you, and that’s magic.

This post was inspired by conversations I’ve had with a couple of people in the music industry recently, who have been around long enough for the internet to feel like a pretty new thing. And also by listening to Elliott Smith the other day for the first time in ages.

The downside of the internet, and of the amazing possibilities these days to record release and distribute your album for sod all quid (trans: practically zero bucks) is that we kind of get caught up in the churn of it all. This constant barrage of tepid new stuff that holds our attention for about 5 seconds. If it holds our attention for more than that, we consider it good, and share it with our facebook and twitter friends.

But great music is worth far more than that, and EVERYONE used to know this. It’s worth hunting out, and cherishing. It’s worth playing again and again and again. For years. And if you make music, it’s worth trying to make it THAT GOOD. Just because you can release it, doesn’t mean you should. Maybe it’s not ready yet. (And maybe it is – don’t listen to me, what do I know? I’ve never even heard your music!)

I’m tired of all the mediocre blah. I want to be moved. What’s great out there? Tell me, please! What music genuinely moves you these days?

In today’s scene (and in fact, always in the past too) if you want a ‘career’ out of music, you have to pay attention to the business stuff. But it’s vital that we keep art as our focus. So that we can produce something worthy of a career.

Being an artist in a market economy is an odd position to be in, in that it’s the one ‘product’ or ’service’ that you need to make without trying to please the customer. Take all market research with a pinch of salt! Do not be swayed by reviews! Do your thing, and maybe you will move us. And if you don’t, maybe you will move the next generation.

Personally I would rather sell no records that are amazing than a million records that are, yawn, fine.

Article originally appeared on Music Think Tank (
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