Social media has become such a powerful tool and anyone looking for almost anything they can just about find it anywhere on its platforms. While we may spend hours on end clawing through tons of data and information, we should not be oblivious to the fact that this powerful platform can be as destructive as it is constructive. However, I am happy that more often than not, I always find the material I least expected and it always sets me thinking about what is really going on in the arts space.
A couple of weeks ago I came across a post on Facebook by a veteran and accomplished jazz composer and performer that must have confused many and to a certain extent, scared some aspiring jazz music composers and performing artists. It read something to the effect that;
‘Many of you spend a lifetime busy sharpening your axes and sadly you will never reach the forest!’
The discussion thread that followed raised more questions than answers. It is most unfortunate that he never elaborated any further. But when one thinks about all areas that can be associated with an axe, school or academia come to mind. If that be the case, then the forest can be what happens past educational qualifications. Of course, there is a lot that can be associated with the forest. It is a known fact that it is not easy to penetrate the music and/or arts industry especially as a fresh graduate, unless one made the ‘right’ contacts which may include one being commissioned for a few gigs that gained them popularity.
So, what happens for those who do not make the famous stages? We will never know the whole truth because the statistics is not available for us to analyse. But surely, if the students who just qualified and amongst them only the best are getting gigs and the rest fall by the wayside, there must be a missing link!
Is marketing of the music education by colleges complete or the responsibility stops with the qualification attained? How does education translate or help new graduates to penetrate the industry? Let us share some of the scenarios. Very few music colleges have programmes that extend outside the colleges for students to further develop their skills and actually begin to play professionally before and after they leave college. Which, therefore, means for those who are not in any kind of programme or have not been able to establish themselves before completing their studies; they have no choice but fend for themselves. Sadly, it is not as easy as it may seem and the next best thing is to look for opportunities in shows such as The Voice, Idols, My Star as well as individual country based ‘… Has Got Talent’.
Unfortunately, the majority of these shows seem to be based only on vocals and here and there the accompanying instruments. Jazz festivals are absolutely unforgiving because for the so-called unknown artists it is almost impossible to make the list. Yes, we understand and appreciate the business imperatives. But because of the missing link, we have no way of preparing the next fresh crop of incredible musicians. I suppose for now we will leave this point here.
Based on our research, aspiring musicians go and queue up for auditions at these shows and the majority hardly ever make it past the pre-audition phase. But this is not to say one does not appreciate the effort by show organisers and also the gap they bridge. We have also observed with interest that churches have become a solution for a sizeable number of musicians. Then there are regular markets with pop-up stores that are never without entertainment. Fortunately, these markets run for several hours in a day and allow several musicians space to perform.
The missing link continues to create a number of serious problems and, to a very great extent, it has devastating future implications! Let us for a minute revisit the commissioning of events. One cannot dispute the issue of artist popularity and why each event will continue to commission the same artist(s). On the other hand, this is a myopic approach because as event organisers, you are not catering for the bulk of the market that is looking for new and fresh talent with a difference. Therefore, the event popularity, and possibly its growth, can be stunted as one may not be able to attract a section of customers that are looking for something new. Here is something that may surprise you! During the time we were organising the It Has To Be Jazz® project 2nd Anniversary, we were pleasantly surprised by the number of people who had been following the artists we have recorded and had been looking for their CDs for years. What surprised us even more was the number that purchased 2 to 4 copies of everything for friends who could not make the show or as birthday gifts. The point is that these are artists you would not see in most gigs but have made their mark overseas.
The second aspect of that is when all else failed at home for most artists, they seek greener pastures elsewhere. There is a good number of artists who are popular in other countries by comparison to their own.
So why did this topic make the It Has To Be Jazz® project review? The missing link between music education and the industry needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. The self-taught are not an exception to this problem and they should be catered for in the same way as all others.