Opinion: I agree with Sandi Thom. Except I don't. Wait, do I?
Music Editor Kirstyn Smith and News Editor Rebecca Monks debate the singer's video 'meltdown'
This article is from 2015.
Sandi Thom may have once sung about how she wishes she was a punk rocker with flowers in her hair, but after watching her emotive, (and now infamous) video online, it's safe to conclude that in reality, she wishes Radio 2 would just playlist her 'fucking music'.
In the video she talks about how difficult it is when the big dogs don't give her music airtime, and how it feels to be, in essence, underappreciated as an artist. She cries a lot, and this had led to a lot of online debate. Now, one day later, we are still talking about it. Is what she did right? Pulling the music industry up on some major flaws? Or is what she did self-indulgent and frankly, bratty? We decided to hash it out over email, once and for all.
Rebecca: Listen, man. We need to talk about Sandi Thom.
Kirstyn: I feel sorry for her, tbh. Everyone's jumping all over her – my first thought was that nobody in their right mind would do that.
Rebecca: I do, and I don't. At first I thought it was Storm AbiGALE (amirite) keeping me up at night, but actually, I think it's that video. I kept thinking about how hard it is to share something you've worked hard on and care about only to have people knock it. After my play got its first lukewarm review, I drank three pints of cider and scowled for two hours. But then again, I knew that in a creative industry, you are putting something out there, and people will either engage with or not. If they don't, you just have to deal with it.
Kirstyn: Exactly. It's not as though she's had no experience with the music industry – she knows exactly how it works. It's like comedians slagging reviewers when they read a poor review (or even a good review they perceive as bad) – part of me empathises and part of me thinks they should grow up.
My worry is that a lot of people have been saying it's a breakdown (like a poor mental health breakdown) which I have problems with – it could be a very convenient breakdown, given that she's now all over the place, and it would be a poor move if she was faking it for profit.
Rebecca: I will say this: I haven't thought about Sandi Thom this much before, and I doubt I would have known she had a new song out if it weren't for this. Have you given the song ('Earthquake') a listen? I have, I don't like it. Will she send me a video for saying that?
I think it can be dangerous to call any emotional reaction a breakdown: emotively expressing an opinion is not conducive to poor mental health, but then again, I don't know anything about her mental health. It feels equally dangerous to dismiss it as just 'emotions' without knowing any more. Right?
I read this piece yesterday which explores how a lot of artists go through this internally and don't let it out. I kind of agree. But then again, isn't that what life is? Coming up against rejection, and just, well, dealing with it? What if every time one of my articles didn't do well I cried? What if every person that didn't succeed in a job interview posted an emotive video to Facebook?
Kirstyn: I just listened to most of it. It's not a particularly good song (the lyrics are awful), but it is remarkably Radio 2. Her main complaint is that she tailored it exactly to their specifications and they still wouldn't play it. I'm not sure why you would do that.
Back to mental health – I agree. Are you talking about the Song by Toad article? I think he made some good points, but I'm with you on it being dangerous to label every emotion as mental health problems, obviously. The point that every artist feels like this when their work is rejected is good, but what about people who've been laid off and are applying to every job they can and hearing nothing back? Is that more or less demoralising than Radio 2 not playing your song? You just get up and get on.
It's interesting, I think, that if I made a video about my current job, swearing at my boss and telling him to stick it up his arse, I'd probably get fired. By rights, she should have burned a lot of bridges. Sure, she's pregnant and she's probably worried about supporting her family, but why not get a more stable job? There are people out there who'll argue that artists shouldn't feel forced into getting ''proper'' (for lack of a better word) jobs – why should they if this is the career they've chosen. But then you remember that, actually, that's how most of them support themselves. Like, it's possible to do both.
Like I said, she's everywhere now and the more cynical parts of me are rearing their heads.
Rebecca: Well, that's a key conflict I have: on the one hand, here I am going on about the value of art, and how it's hard to put something out there that means something to you and that you care about just to have it slated. But then again, the Radio 2 thing gets me. Art for art's sake should never be tailored towards a specific outlet, especially if that outlet is commercial. It should exist only because the artist feels like they have to create it, regardless of how much exposure it gets.
I've been re-reading Amanda Palmer's book (The Art of Asking) recently which deals a lot with this kind of thing, whether artists should support themselves with other jobs. I think being a creative is a 'proper job' – art is necessary. As Amanda herself sings, 'people for millennia have needed music to survive', and I agree with that. On the other hand, if it matters to you as an artist but it's not financially viable, you have to do everything you can to support yourself until it is. When it boils down to it, isn't that what Sandi Thom is doing here – anything she can to make her creative work financially viable? In this case, that's standing up for herself, her music, and saying 'listen to it? You should listen to it, because this is my living and it deserves to be heard.'
Here's my cynical side rearing it's head though: I personally don't think her music is good (although undoubtedly, some people do). At what point should someone in a creative field step back and say, 'actually, the public don't like this. I'm not creating something that will make me money, but I am creating something that feels important and necessary to me, at least, so I will make it for myself?' In other, less pretentious words: at what point should people who are not garnering the commercial success they crave step back and just play music for music's sake?
Kirstyn: I suppose the whole 'proper job' debate leads into a discussion about why it is that it's so difficult to have a career in music (or any arty job). I was writing articles for five or six years before I got paid for one. I just put up with it because 'that's just how the industry is', but when do you stand up and say 'no, I'm not going to write for you if you're not going to pay me'? That's a tough one, because there'll always be hundreds of eager writers/artists/musicians willing to work for free – artists are not indispensable. That could be where Sandi Thom's fears are coming from – the realisation that she's not needed (in the sense that, in this line of work, nobody is needed) – that'd be enough to make anyone upset.
Your point about creating music for your own enjoyment feeds into this, as, that's all very fair and well, but how financially viable is that? You could argue that she was doing the right thing by trying to make music as mainstream and as populist as possible because that might be the only way she could make a living out of it.
Rebecca: I guess the point I was making about music for your own enjoyment is that, if you choose that route, it can't be financially viable. Find another line of work to feed the financial side of things, but make music because you feel you should in your spare time.
That's not what I am advocating here, though. I think if you believe that your art is important and essential enough to be your livelihood, then you should never stop. But if you reach a point where you realise that it's just not good enough (or commercial enough) to make a living off, then you have to find another way to support yourself.
This doesn't just apply to creative fields. It's common sense, isn't it? If I suddenly decided to work as a freelance dog groomer, but I couldn't successfully beautify a poodle, eventually I would have to take a step back and say: 'listen, Rebecca, others in this world simply have more talent with a flea comb than you. The world does not accept you and your corgi clippers. Why not try working in a pet store, instead, and simply brush your pet Alsatian for the love of it'.
Kirstyn: I agree – I can't get my head around it, because it's all grey areas. Do people have 'the right' to create art, even to the point where they end up in a financially detrimental situation? Does this right decrease when you've got dependants?
The whole tortured artist cliché is a cliché for a reason, but is Thom really a tortured genius? Or does she fall into that (admittedly rare) group of artists who are convinced of how much they ''love their art'', but who can't stand the thought of working at a stable, boring ''real'' job and being 'ordinary'?
Rebecca: I don't know, and I don't think we'll ever know. I guess what we can take away from this is that she has stimulated an essential debate, and probably given herself a much-needed PR boost.
I kind of agree with her and I kind of don't, but at least she's made me think.