Sarah McRuvie hears from folk singer King Creosote why the disappearance of record stores is a tragedy for music lovers and why some music festivals are more worthy of our hard earned cash than others.
First published in Clash Magazine – 08.04.13
Loosening off with a bust ankle in his hometown of Crail, Kenny, known to most as King Creosote, expresses his views on festivals, record shops and the general bleakness of the music industry. An annual event for Kenny comes in the form of a decent sized rant. The passionate, and loveably down-to-earth, Scottish folk singer laments the current state of the music industry stating that “we have the money and desire to buy records, but nowhere to go for them. It’s a travesty, and immeasurably sad.”
With the rise in availability of free music online, and various methods of ownership, there has been an inevitable change in the structure and profitability within the music industry. Free music has become easily accessible to a new, younger generation, which has created the attitude of expecting music for free. This progression towards both free and digital music has changed how music is consumed and created a generation of clicking reamed with instantaneous joy. The effect of shop closures, such as the biggest entertainment retailer, HMV, and independent stores such as Aberdeen’s One-Up, impacts more than just artists. Everyone involved from music production, media, and manufacturing; the surrounding network is affected. “Sales of records supported recording studios, music shops, venues, rehearsal rooms, sound equipment hire, lighting hire, staging, tee shirts, badges, van hire, music magazines, photographers, journalists … quite a few casualties in there, ” Kenny lists off the numbers illustrating the snowball effect of loosing music retailers. He is clearly pained by a lot more than the bones knitting in his ankle.
This shift also reflects a cultural change in the expectation of free information and free music. A grim reality but one we must acknowledge. As Kenny remarks, “Phone texting addiction, social networking, youtube and video games seem to have replaced music altogether.” If record stores have closed then the experience and notion of physical browsing goes out the window altogether. Kenny describes the old school routine as an immersive experience where “a record shop was a meeting place for local bands and a supporter of local music scenes.” The record shop was not merely a source to consume new music but an entire culture in itself. To Kenny, and other veterans of the old ways, the record store is almost an idyllic notion in this ramshackle of a music industry. No laptop in sight, Kenny admits to no longer shopping online for music at all, confessing there are few like him. He recommends to “support your local shows above all else, and buy records and CDs from the bands you like right there and then.”
If you want to support independent artists and the music industry in general Kenny advises to “delete the Spotify and Itunes accounts from your PC or Mac, forget Ipods and poor sound quality gadgets – dig out your old turntable and hi-fi amp & speakers instead, crank it all up.” No it’s not the Tramadol talking, he really means it, and a wee jab of Scottish cynicism and tradition never hurt anyone. He explains that the production of records is expensive and that to help artists make a sustainable enterprise we need to be spending a realistic amount on fewer records.
Should we be supporting smaller festivals then?
Thinking rationally, “a festival field isn’t really the place to concentrate on music,” Kenny comments, gazing out into his luscious green backdrop. He points out the differences between the live musical experience and the inner, more intimate connection with music listening. “To generate a captive live audience for original songs I think having the records to immerse yourself in at home is absolutely essential, otherwise bands might as well become covers bands.” Kenny is absolute that you need the personal experience with music from the beginning. If there is an underlying problem of decreasing music sales, supporting smaller festivals is like soaking the leaves of a dying plant rather than feeding the root. “A festival atmosphere is all about big well loved songs being pumped out by big known bands. I know there are smaller tents for smaller acts, but if you’re a complete unknown at a festival you play to whomever is sheltering from the rain.”
Some larger festivals might seem like big corporate money-making machines these days, but Kenny suggests this is probably out of necessity than anything else. Meaning that recession-friendly festivals are ones that boast a smaller price tag.
Kenny recommends Festival No. 6, recalling it as his favourite summer festival of last year. Focussing on a gorgeous setting (Port Meirion in Wales), Festival No. 6 includes “a diversity of stages, hidden away woodland platforms, sea view pavilions, garden terraces, to the mud swamped mosh pit of a marquee tent,” Kenny reminisces.
Festival No. 6
Dates: 13th, 14th, 15th September
Tickets: From £170
As a performer, Kenny recommends Glasgow’s West End Festival as the one to play at. “The West End Festival is held in indoor venues – what luxury! No camping nor toilet woes, no wallowing through mud, none of the festival horrors at all. Just good sounding music in a warm and dry room.” He adds that there are “certainly no queues for plastic tumblers of generic lagers.”
Glasgow’s West End Festival
Date: 23rd June
Tickets: £15 earlybird, £18 advance, £20 on the day
Kenny reveals plans for an upcoming album later in the year explaining his lack of festival appearances this year. “I’m not playing too many festivals this summer for I hope to release an album in autumn, and the current thinking is that you avoid the festival circuit until AFTER the album tour, thus maximising your tour attendance.”
Festivals are full of highs and lows, and Kenny is no stranger to this, sharing his best and worst festival memories. His best memory is surprisingly nothing to do with sound but rather “watching my new label A&R man ‘fighting’ my old label A&R man at 7am on an August sunday morning, piling over sleeping folks’ tents and tangling up guy ropes – better than any music that was.” And god love the Scottish countryside; Kenny unearths his worst memory as “trudging what felt like 5 miles with all our gear through the midge-infested Argyll countryside in search of artist camping only to be told on arrival that there was no such thing as artist camping.” Even with over forty albums under his belt, Kenny is just like the rest of us, minus the cynical exterior, and his hippy-esque, multicoloured dream-coat.
Kenny has given a glimpse of a genuine sadness for the music industry; a lost generation of record shops, entertainment stores, and a dying culture in the physical browsing and buying of music. He has recommended to support independent labels and artists by investing in their music. It is great to support mini festivals and smaller events but this will not help the root of the problem. Festivals, generally, are more relevant for already established artists. The cultural change and the methods of how the young are now listening have made it even harder for artists to make any money. If people only want to stream, listen for free, steal, or download, music buying will become irrelevant. Ultimately, if no one cares anymore, it is a lost cause. As Kenny says, “Without record sales, live tours are in trouble. Without live tours a career in music is in trouble, and without professional bands an entire music culture is in trouble.”