I have been on tour in Japan. I played 6 shows with my friend Naoto, who used to be in the band Mahar Shalal Hash Baz. He organised the shows. Three of them were in Cafes, one in a bookshop, one in a noodle shop and one in a pottery shop. Here are the differences between touring Japan and touring in the UK (based on my limited experience of both).
In Japan I played to small audiences of between 4 and 12 people. Although this happens in the UK too, in the UK it is a stressful thing that makes people feel uncomfortable, whereas in Japan it seemed perfectly acceptable, even nice to play to just a few people. In Japan the audiences listened incredibly attentively when I played. Also, I played for about 40 minutes I think, which is much much much longer than the kind of set I would play in the UK. The charge to get in was much higher than a UK show so even though I felt disbelief that people could want to sit and listen to such quiet music for so long, I also felt that they paid for it so I guess they should have it. The cost of travelling around Japan is very high so I think that is why the entrance fee is so much.
It is nice that people are prepared to pay it. It is also nice that people are keen to buy cds in Japan – this is not so evident in the UK. It is possible that in Japan, where nobody understands my lyrics, my music is more appealing. I think that when they listened to me sing, they could just close their eyes and imagine that I was signing about – well whatever they wanted me to be singing about. Trees, nuclear power, boyfriends, airports, the cost of living. I will maybe try and tour other non-english speaking countries.
It has been interesting to tour in a financially viable way (by which I mean, getting enough money to cover travel) – this is something I haven’t done for a while and never as a solo artist. As with The World Is Not Flat, my feelings towards money and music are complicated. Although I do believe music is something worth spending money on, both as a consumer and as a creator, I also believe that money has no place anywhere near the business of creation. When I write a song, it is not relevant whether that song, and me singing it are something people would pay to consume, and I mean this both specifically, as in whether the song itself is worth paying for, and in a more general way, as in whether people are prepared to pay for music. I think it is difficult to remember this sometimes when you are traveling around, spending money on train tickets and getting money for cds you made. But I think it is the truth and cannot be forgotten.
This is probably one of the many reasons I could never be a professional musician (talent and popular appeal aside). I could never be sensible enough about the money side of things to ensure that I had enough to live on. But it is hopefully the reason why I will be able to make music for the rest of my life. Because I will never equate making music with making money – I will only ever equate it with expressing the thoughts on the inside of me and pushing them into the outside. The path that the music takes on the outside will always be complicated and require lots of thought and decision – but it will be made easier by knowing that money is no part of that.
Something that is part of touring and music that I also find difficult however is community. The places we played in in Japan were all run by friends of Naoto, made through music or through other channels. My relationship with music in the UK has similarly always been based on this kind of community – friends putting on shows, making music, friends coming to watch. However, I can’t deny that this is something I find very difficult and draining. I don’t like guilt tripping my friends in to coming to my shows. I don’t like thinking that friends feel obliged to listen to my music. I don’t like realising that you don’t know anyone who puts on shows any more cos they all got tired because no body comes. In the UK I feel part of a disintegrating community of musicians. And I don’t know what it would take to make me feel better about this. Would it be better if everyone paid £10 to get into a show and bought cds? Would it be better if everyone understood the concept of DIY music and went looking for it? Would it be better if we all agreed to do it for free? I don’t know. These are the thoughts I have been left with. Although they are not incredibly positive they are very helpful for me. The more I remind myself that making music is something I choose to do, something I am lucky to be part of , something I control and something that is not dependent on the money that rules so many aspects of my life, the better I feel about it.