James Hendicott: Current issues in the arts come with a deep irony

by James Hendicott

For years I’ve worked as a music journalist, which means a lot of time listening to music, but I’ve never listened to as much as right now.

Nor have I ever spent as much time staring at screens, or reading books, or watching people perform in their own homes as I have during the current crisis.

I know I’m not alone: it’s pretty clear that there’s never been so much demand for basically anything that entertains at home, which is a fact absolutely laden with irony, because, of course, life has never been harder for most of the people who produce this stuff.

You’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard about the issues facing musicians, filmmakers, and a heap of peripheral roles around the entertainment industry.

As the industry has made a habit of telling us recently – and they’re right – how dull would life be without arts and entertainment? Who wants a world devoid of beautiful things, atmospheric music, and professional storytelling? Who goes a single day without relating to these things in one way or another, be it as background noise or a pulsating soundtrack to your weekend?

In fact, for those of us who work in media, we can’t help noticing a parallel. Never has the world needed decent media more, and yet never has the public valued it, fiscally speaking, less. Both industries have ‘free’ as a standard cost of consumption, and don’t reward anyone but the most elite well.

Both are essential to quality of life in modern society, but systematically considered to be of value, but not financial worth. I recognise another irony in this being published in a free paper, of course, but the free paper model at least offers solid income from advertisers. By consuming free online media, the public guarantee a clickbait-heavy game.

Is that kind of scenario, in music, film, and media, fixable? Honestly, I’m not sure. It’s difficult to go from providing something for free, to demanding it provides a living commensurate with the value it brings to people’s lives.

Perhaps, when this is all over, though, we might remember how the arts helped carry us through some dark times, because I know forcing musicians and media to compete in a race to the bottom is not the way for either industry to flourish.

And we need them to flourish.

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