Is Tattoo Selling Out? Yesterday morning, I woke up with a song playing in my head.
I got up feeling so down,I got off being sold out, I’ve kept the movie rolling, But the story’s getting old now, oh yeah.
They’re from Outshined from the amazing Badmotorfinger album. I realised that Chris Cornell, lead singer of Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and Audioslave has been dead for over 5 years. I cannot begin to explain how important Chris’s music was to me and countless others. Another voice cut short and lost forever…
Then I remembered that I wrote a piece in my column ‘The Naughty Step’ in Total Tattoo Magazine about his death in 2017. So I dug it out and re-read it. Turns out, my ‘predictions’ from 5 years ago are pretty well spot on. Here it is.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN TOTAL TATTOO IN 2017
I’d just finished a run of three conventions which were all good, well attended but very different affairs when I picked up an injury. An injury severe enough to put me out of work for the next month whilst I recover from the op I’m having next week (I think the cool kids say #fml but I’m not sure what that means;).
So I’m currently typing this column curled up in the foetal position in bed on my phone and trying to concentrate through the painkillers (which isn’t actually as hard as you might think if you spent your 20’s in a Rock and Roll band #tolerancelevelup). As you should be able to imagine my mood is pretty dark from this horribly painful part of The Naughty Step and the news of one of my favourite singers death has served to worsen my mood and mingle my thoughts (via morphine) into – what feels like – something approaching a cohesive thought.
Is Tattoo Selling Out? Strap yourself in this is bat country
Just like the character in the above lyrics that welcomed and revelled in his fame and success only to find himself disenchanted by the fakery and endless bullshit. Tattooing as an industry could well find itself feeling the same way very shortly. Starting as an outsider, lowbrow art form that was largely ignored by the mainstream, tattooing has been thrust into the limelight. No-one ever expected it’s success to the scale that has been enjoyed. Everyone got off being sold out and gave away so much of tattooing for a few cheap toys, some free shit, and social ‘shares’.
Now that we’re all starting to realise that the movie is indeed going to keep on rolling. We’re starting to see that tattooists are no longer in charge of our industry because, guess what, it isn’t our industry anymore.
These days tattooing is owned by manufacturers, merchandise companies, share sites and – in one case – investment bankers. All of whom give not one shit what we think about that. I often make the comparison – as I see it – between where the music business is and where we could be heading if we’re not careful. I’m going to make it again because the two industries are very similar despite what some may think. Trust me I’ve worked in both and I know what I’m talking about.
The musicians in the music biz sold out to big companies in the 50’s. They’ve been walking down ‘a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs’ ever since. When the internet came around they saw it as a chance for freedom.
Finally a democratic distribution medium that anyone can use without needing a record company! They heralded it as a new dawn for music in the 21st century. But guess what? It isn’t. The internet just cheapened music by allowing any ’have a go Harry’ a chance to release his opus ‘lawmower symphonies for the deaf’ using exactly the same tools and distribution medium and the proper musos. To the point where an entire generation now consider music as free and can’t understand why anyone would ever pay for it. No-one gets paid for music anymore? No, just not the musicians. Someone is making money, somewhere…
Is Tattoo Selling Out? And how did we get here?
By exactly the same route as the musicians we sold our secrets and our tools to the lowest bidder. We allowed them to make them available to anyone with a web connection. Now anyone can become a tattooist. Forget apprenticeships, just get the info off Youtube. Once you’ve bought yourself a load of fake followers on instagram (50k will do it) away you go. Next, cosy up to a load of share sites and get them to pimp you out. Don’t worry about the quality of your work – they haven’t a clue what they’re looking at. They’ll just respect you cause you have loads of ‘likes’. Then book your first convention – these days (almost) any convention will have you because they only care about the money.
Finally, win an award by rigging the voting. Anyone who has ever judged a show anywhere in the world will tell you how common that is and bingo! You’re an award winning tattooist! Now it’s time to open a few shops, set up a convention, release a DVD, a book, a machine etc etc.
If we don’t drop the anchor soon we’ll be heading to exactly same reef. But is there anything we can do to steer our ship away from the same rocky shoreline? Thankfully, Yes there is.
Is Tattoo Selling Out? We haven’t gone nearly that far down the road and control could still be returned to it’s rightful place. But it’ll take those of us who care doing something we’re not very good at. We have to work together for a common good. Yeah I know, most of the time we can’t even agree but maybe this is something worth agreeing over, at least if only for a while.