“If you follow marketing trends, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about “tribes” lately. It’s the idea that our culture is a collection of groups with a shared identity, mission or leader. Seems obvious enough. We’ve all seen Braveheart and have a pretty good idea of what a tribe is. But what does it mean for an artist in the 21st century? I think it provides one model for how an artist can have the freedom to create their art and make a living doing it.” (Joe, at Noisetrade 101)
I don’t intend to pick on Noisetrade, or Joe, or anyone else who is the business of trying to support themselves as artists. I’m well familiar with niche marketing, or even tribe marketing. Find your tribe. Sell to it. Develop a loyal following. Most artists will do well to follow this as a model for trying to get gigs and sell music. But let’s face it --- as a model for the good society, for a culture built around shared values, it’s detrimental. To the extent it builds a following, it does so around consumption, around music, and around a person. That model would seem to contribute to the further balkanization of society, because tribes built around something as innocuous as music (in terms of bringing about societal collapse) may also begin to look alike, think alike, and choose to associate with other tribe members. It’s one step from that to dissing other tribe members and then, at some point, really losing the ability to appreciate and converse with one another. This is not healthy!
Music should be a bridge across “tribes,” something that brings people of different political and social views, of different lifestyles and looks, and of different racial and social classes together. Finding something in common, if only in music, can lead to conversation, and conversation can lead to understanding, and understanding might just lead to some consensus about what is true, good, and beautiful, about what a good society ought to look like. Sometimes I get the sense that no one is much interested in that anymore. It’s more about who looks like me, thinks like me, and (well) buys like me.
In the end, it’s not my tribe that matters. The Apostle Paul said that we are not to seek our own good, but the good of our neighbor (1 Cor. 10:24), and the admonition to do good extends to everyone, not just our immediate neighbor, not just our tribe (Gal. 6:10). Rather than reach our tribe with music, why not reach out to a larger group? Some artists do this quite effectively. For example, I went to a Josh Groban concert with my wife. I saw the requisite swooning women, of course, but I also saw men and women of every age group --- all attracted by his artistry and a music that really transcended the boundaries of language, religion, age, race, and preference. I don’t prefer him, but I came away with a great appreciation of his music and his artistry, and his ability to reach across tribes. Frankly, that should be not just the goal of the artist but of us all.