instead share: thinking about ‘submission’ in the no-audience underground

May 14, 2021 at 8:41 pm | Posted in musings, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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During lockdown, largely for the sake of my mental health, I took a lengthy break from the ‘creative’ to concentrate on family life, paid employment and efforts not to go batshit with gloom.  This self-imposed exile came to an end a couple of months ago and I have returned in a measured and careful way.  So far, my main contribution has been rekindling the radiofreemidwich show.  Putting it together dressed in its original fit (six tracks, half an hour, weeklyish) has proved an absolute joy and the comments I’ve had in response have been very nourishing.  However, it has provoked a little soul-searching on my part, so I’d like to poke some related thoughts with a stick.


Aside from in certain, let’s say, ‘private’ contexts, I hate the words ‘submission’ and ‘submit’.  They carry notions of hierarchy, demand – the relationship between the cowed and the bully.  I don’t want that shit in my life in general and it isn’t coming within a mile of my major leisure pursuit.  One of the great pleasures of existing within what I’ve called the ‘no-audience underground’ is its non-hierarchical nature, where work and the promotion of that work (for what that is worth – insert cry/laugh emoji) is undertaken with a spirit of enthusiasm and non-binding mutual uplift.  Introduce ‘submission’ into this and an unwelcome power-dynamic is re-established, previously fluid relationships calcify, and the interaction becomes far too transactional.


This last aspect is a key example of how it corrodes in the other direction too, even if the person (or radio show, zine, label etc.) submitted to is acting with the best intentions.  Some will abuse the power this affords in obvious, miserable ways but thankfully there is very little of that ‘down here’ where bullshit is called out pretty sharply or noted and ignored.  More likely is the opposite – that the process of submission starts weighing down the submitted-to with a crushing sense of obligation.  Piles of stuff teeter as the more friendly, enthusiastic and accommodating you are the more pressure is put on you by well-meaning friends who just want to give you excellent art for free in the hope that you will accommodate it and express your friendly enthusiasm.  Anyone familiar with organising or publishing within a DIY scene will be painfully aware of how this forest fire of loveliness can lead to burn out, with guilt pouring petrol on the embers.


The usual process of submission also reinforces the political status quo, particularly regarding identity.  Ask anyone who invites submissions – to play, review or release – and they will tell you that unless they are very explicit in their requirements, submissions from cishet white men will swamp every other voice.  This is because those with the most privilege have been taught to have a confidence that marginalized voices have not.  I am white, male, middle-aged, middle class (more or less), cishet and for me and my brethren it is easy to pass off shockingly half-arsed nonsense because we are used to the world taking notice.  Hence expressing an interest in hearing from marginalized groups, whose work is as good but who don’t have the same means of presenting it, is a meagre attempt to level a fucking shonky playing field.  After expressing thoughts like this before I’ve had a few reactions from men along the lines of “surely, it should just be about the quality of the music!” To which I am always tempted to reply, “Yes, exactly, thank you for agreeing with me, that is why I am asking to hear from marginalized voices only today.”  The dudes rarely get the point though.


So, bollocks to ‘submission’ in its current form – let’s talk about what we can have instead.  The first option is, I guess, reform.  Keeping a similar system but with a watchful eye on the dynamics would mean those wanting material to play, review or release would have to be more active and specific when inviting it.  Actually asking artists they admire from less well represented groups if they would like to be involved, for example, and boosting the practice of those that do likewise.  Efforts such as these would hopefully encourage those groups to be more forward, making them more visible to invite and so on – the virtuous circle being widened and strengthened with each go around.  Not a seesaw of submission/acceptance but a sharing of the process.


The second option, a rejection or circumvention of submission, is more radical.  This involves people such as me, who run podcasts or write reviews or run labels, doing the research.  That is, following up on Twitter recommendations, getting lost wandering around the rabbit warren that is Bandcamp, listening to others doing the same thing, talking to artists about other artists etc., making notes then downloading and/or buying the stuff yourself.  I’m trying to do it this way as much as possible.  Not only is it great fun and a terrific way to absorb what’s going on but it neatly swerves most of the feelings of being over-obligated.  When I was regularly writing reviews for this blog, for example, I might find myself in receipt of 20 submissions a week, could only listen to 10 and write about 2.  It was physically and mentally unsustainable for me.  Now, I politely decline submissions (mostly) and have rejigged my time.  For the podcast, I am in receipt of (almost) no submissions, spend the time saved researching instead, play six of my finds, two or three of which I pay for and the rest blag for nowt if they are name your price downloads (or gifts).  It feels a lot healthier, like the notion of sharing the process has widened, has become more manageable and less stressful.


So here’s a conclusion in two parts.  Firstly, none of the above is meant to refer to the mainstream or professional media.  They have related and more intractable issues of their own, of course, but it is outside of my remit to comment here.  My suspicions as to the continued relevance of these institutions is documented but I do genuinely wish all comers the best in these grisly times.


Secondly, some caveats were bracketed above to indicate that in this, as in most things, I do not have the resources or inclination to be a purist.  Despite being lucky enough to have a stable household income, money for hobbies is accounted for and I know finances will be a lot tighter for many reading this.  As such, the price I will sometimes name is ‘zero’.  Indeed, whole episodes of the RFM show have been constructed this way, with me deeming my careful attention and the playing of a track on a hugely popular podcast (RFM can attract upwards of ONE HUNDRED listeners in clear weather.  Big time, eh?) as payment in goodwill rather than currency.  I appreciate this may sound like a self-serving, moral workaround because, well, it is, but it is also a mutually beneficial, enthusiastic and respectful arrangement between creators of a kind that keeps the blood of these interlocking scenes oxygenated and circulating.  Likewise, if someone offers me a DL code for an intriguing release, especially if there are tracks I can hear before committing to using it, then why not?  I see it as being given a gift by a fellow traveller.  The submission dynamic is not (as) present because expectations are shared and thus obligations are looser or, ideally, not a concern at all.


Reading back over this I worry that the topic might seem niche, a bit of clever-clever overthinking, but I think the semantic point is worth making.  In summary, consider the vocabulary that could be used to ask a common question: “how do I submit my music to you?” or “how can I share my music with you?” The former, through no fault of the artist of course, feels like sand blown into a beach picnic.  The latter is lit by a defining feature of the no-audience underground.


—ooOoo—


Postscript:

Please send me your recommendations for things I may enjoy featuring on the radiofreemidwich show.  If you are not a regular then please listen to a couple and read a few of the track listings below to get a feel for what I like and what I may be missing.  Work from marginalized groups preferred.  Contact via twitter DM (@radiomidwich) or comment on this post.

2 Comments »

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  1. Hi Rob, how are you?
    I’ve got a recommendation for you, The Neo-Infantiles.
    I’m not sure he fits your spec. but life’s dealt him a bad hand and he’s still managing to make his own idiosyncratic form of drole ozzy rock.
    I’ve featured him a couple of times recently on my own Mixcloud posts.

    Cheers.
    Trev.

    • Cheers Trev – appreciated. Interesting looking SC page! Prolific too. I’ll listen to a bunch of tracks to get the measure of it. love, Rob x


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