Surviving the music industry – Iggy Pop

On Sunday 19 October, 2014, BBC televised the John Peel Lecture by Iggy Pop. He had some very interesting things to say about being a creative artist and  how to navigate the music industry. He also spoke eloquently about how the corporate world cheated and exploited artists, and how this has been replaced in our day by the public who “thieve” and “steal” from musicians. “The new electronic devices which estrange people from their morals also make it easier to steal music than to pay for it.” Here are my favourite quotes that I transcribed from the programme …

  • “To tell you the truth, when it comes to art, money is an unimportant detail. It just happens to be a huge unimportant detail. To all of us. But a good LP is a being. It is not a product. It has a life force, a personality, and a history just like you and me. It can be your friend. You try and explain that to a weasel [music industry corporate person].”
  • “The new electronic devices which estrange people from their morals also make it easier to steal music than to pay for it.”
  • “Not everybody is meant to be big. And not everything big is any good. I only wanted the money because it was symbolic of love, and the best thing I ever did was to make a lifetime commitment to continue playing music no matter what. Which is what I resolved to do at 18. If you are who you are, that is really hard to steal. And it can lead you in all sorts of useful directions where the road ahead of you is blocked. And it will get blocked. Now I’m older and I need all the dough I can get so I too am concerned about losing those lovely royalties, now that they’ve finally arrived in the maze of the internet. But I’m also diversifying my income, because a stream will dry up. I’m not here to complain about that. I’m here to survive it.”
  • “So how do you engage society as an artist and get them to pay you? Well, that’s a matter of art and endurance. To start with, I cannot stress enough the importance of study.”
  • “The best way to survive the death or change of an industry is to transcend its form. You’re better off with an identity of your own, or maybe a few of them, something special.”
  • “It’s not surprising that all the greatest singers and players come from parts of the world where everybody is broke and the old ways are getting paved over. So it’s crucial for everyone that these treasures not be lost.”
  • “There are so many ways to screw an artist that it’s unbelievable.”
  • “A … kind of freedom that is important to me is … just the idea of giving freely. When you feel or sense that someone is giving you something not necessarily with hope of profit, but maybe out of self respect, Christian charity, whatever it is, that has a very powerful energy.”
  • “Part of the process, when you buy from an artist, it’s a kind of anointing. You’re giving that person love. It’s your choice to give or withhold. You’re giving a lot of yourself besides the money.”
  • “But now, everybody’s a bootlegger, and not so cute as before, and now there are just people out there saying, “Don’t try to force me to pay!” And that act of thieving will become a habit. And that’s bad for everything. So we are exchanging the corporate ripoff [by the music industry moguls] with the public one, aided by power-nerds, kind of computer-potentates. They just want to get rich and powerful. And now the biggest bands are charging insane ticket prices or giving away music before it can flop in an effort to stay huge. And there’s something in this ‘huge’ thing that kind of sucks.”
  • “So is the thieving that big a deal? Ethically yes. And it destroys people because it is a bad road you take. But I don’t think that’s the biggest problem for the music biz. I think people are just a little bit bored, and more than a little bit broke. No money. Especially simple working people, who have been totally left out, screwed, and abandoned. If had to depend on what I actually get from sales, I’d be tending bar between sets.”
  • “There is a general atmosphere of resentment, pressure, a kind of strange, perpetual war dripping on all the time.”
  • “It’s more important to do something important, or just make people feel something and then just trust in God. If you’re an entertainer, your God is the public. They’ll take care of you somehow. I want them to hear my music any old which way. Period. There is an unseen hand. It turns the pages of existence in ways no one can predict. For while you’re waiting for God to show up, try to find a good entertainment lawyer. It’s good to remember that this is a dream job, whether you’re performing, or working in broadcasting, or writing or the biz, so dream! Dream! Be generous. Don’t be stingy. Please.”
  • “Life is a hurly burly. So try hard to diversify, your skills, and your interests. Stay away from drugs [laughs] and talent judges! Get organized; big or little, that helps a lot. I’d like you to do better than I did. Keep your dreams out of the stinky business, or you’ll go crazy. The money won’t help you. Be careful to maintain a spiritual exit. Don’t live by this game, because it’s not worth dying for. Hang on to your hopes. You know what those are. They’re private. Because that’s who you really are. And if you can hang around long enough, you should get paid. It’s the ending that counts, and the best things in life really are free. There, I’m done.”
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