by MATT BACON >
So I write this whilst on a plane flight from New York to the Netherlands for a music festival, drinking what is my first of what is apparently infinite free beers. So I’ve come to the logical thing to discuss in such a situation. That is to say – how the US is just so much worse than Europe and how embracing a European way of thinking can deeply impact and enhance your budding music career. It’s the sort of thing that is apparent, even from chatting with friendly strangers at the gate, just how much easier life can be in Europe and how much more willing people are to look at things from different standpoints and worldviews. I think the beauty of the European continent, especially in the West and North is that a mish mash of cultures and a socialistic governmental structure has created cultures full of joie de vivre and a certain willingness to embrace the moment and really give everything up from the art, something seen on many levels of the industry. Maybe I’m just romanticizing but I feel like there are concrete proofs of superiority across the pond.
I think the most obvious way in which Europe rules over the US is in concert attendance and merch sales. People are a lot more willing to spend money on music industry stuff on this side of the world and that makes touring like night and day with he US. Where in the US a local bill is likely to only have a few dozen attendees if that, the European countries frequently will see over a hundred attendees to local bills. Sure it’s frequently fairly limited because costs to run concerts etc are higher over here but at least there’s a crowd! There’s a certain beauty to touring in Europe – a lack of the common nihilism that so often plagues the Americans. People turn up and actually care, and while that can certainly make for hard conversations when folks come to the US for the first time, it’s nice to have that base going on. The reason for the base is manifold, but asides from socialism I would make the argument that public transit is a huge reason why more people are able to access live music. This ties into one of the most important factors in the European scene… government investment.
This is, I think, one of the things that makes it that all your favorite bands come from Europe.
I mean it’s not just that after all – but so do all of your favorite songwriters. Outside of the obvious example of ABBA, a lot of the worlds biggest pop songwriters come from Sweden. By the same token student pensions and guaranteed health insurance mean that young people have a much greater vested interest in investing in their quality of life. Where in the US you often find yourself dealing with totally uneducated musicians, even kids in punk bands in Germany will have a solid understanding of fantastic chords and where to find them. The willingness of governments to invest in the arts directly is also a boon. Just look at Norways fantastic cultural programs which give thousands of dollars to even black metal bands. It’s a worthwhile investment though as black metal tourism is common enough in Norway for these dedicated fans to have earned their own nickname, “blackpackers”!
Beyond this I think that a lot of Americans dismiss the power of culture in Europe.
In Europe you routinely stumble into buildings that are pre-Columbus. You find cultures that have maintained strict ties to their ancestors whether they admit it or not, you still have royalty and some of that royalty still have some measure of power. There are ties to the past everywhere you look, much more so than America a nation that really only started to form its identity after the Second World War and whose foundational myths barely stretch back beyond the foundation of some of the newer buildings in many European cities. Think about that. Think about the effect it will have on the art to be perpetually couched in so much history. This is a huge part of why Europe has so often churned out more refined bands there is a sort of pressure there and it allows the scene to continue to flourish.
This all being said – the US certainly does have its advantages.
First and moremost things in the US are much more democratic especially on the indie level. There are so many more options in terms of music industry careers and if you are sufficiently dedicated then becoming a financially successful band, agent, manager or whatever, is far easier. People in the US are much more willing to just fucking go for it, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and see what they can make happen. The underground is a lot more welcoming, and quite frankly Americans are less likely to fuck you over. It’s easy to fall in love with the United States because you get a sense of freedom in everything you do and his freedom informs a lot of the scene and the development therein. When I moved to America I saw my career explode simply because the system allows for a lot more options, and at the end of the day, having these options in front of you can be incredibly helpful.
At the end of the day – perhaps Europe isn’t better but it certainly is appealing after an extended exile on these blasted American shores. There is something reassuring to being in a room with 15 other people and having 20 languages represented. The sense of security and hope that a lot of Europeans have is exciting and the willingness to invest time and money into their art is the sort of thing that makes this industry so rewarding. While it is probably best to have a balanced approach I think there is a distinct appeal to looking beyond any cultural divides and determining what is best for you at a given point. Borrow from both sides, hell borrow from the smaller markets of Australia and Asia if you gotta, but find a path and keep the power of the continents in mind.