In 1971 three entrepreneurs, who met at University, decided to start their own business selling coffee beans in Seattle. From these very humble beginnings, in a small store in Pike Place Market, Jerry Baldman, Gordon Bowker and Zev Siegl co-operatively built the foundations of what has become the world’s largest Coffee house. Starbucks’ ubiquity is often staggering, but when these humble beginnings are taken into consideration it becomes even harder to comprehend why there appears to be more of them in our cities than supermarkets.
What this example highlights is that as with most things in life, it often takes a small group of hard-working and dedicated individuals to get things done. However, more often than not these efforts are overshadowed by the forces of big business.
Here in the UK – after 5 years of austerity, alongside concrete plans for further eroding of state aid, funding for the arts, and various public services – we have seen a rapid increase in co-operative projects, pop-up stores, mushrooming business start-ups, and DIY labels. Despite the expected casualties of these sorts of ventures, there are also numerous successes, which are serving to highlight that if something really needs doing, it is still just as good to do it yourself.
Take for example the music industry. Even though we often hear claims about various technological fluctuations in the market and consumer culture, like most other commercial and artistic spheres, the music business is still mostly controlled by major labels owned by conglomerates – who handpick, or create, vanilla artists then push them to the widest audience possible. The consequence of this is that apart from rare national networks (such as BBC Introducing), it has surprisingly become even harder for artists and small labels to actually make an impact.With this in mind, it is amazing to see that some industrious musicians and indie enthusiasts are simply getting things done themselves.. Take Clue Records, from Leeds, for example. Starting only 3 years ago, by Scott Lewis and Steven Langton, the label has maintained its DIY ethos from conception, whilst still managing to garner real success for its acts. From promoting, to pressing CDs, shooting music videos, achieving national radio play, and attaining spots at some of the largest festivals, the team have had a hand in pretty much everything. Quickly attracting attention from Kerrang, the BBC network, and music fans across the country with the frenetic Allusondrugs, the label has continued to achieve – with a most recent success for Narcs, who will be playing this week’s Reading and Leeds Festivals.
At a time when many feared that the internet might kill real quality grass roots music, participation in the arts and business, a success such as this is heart-warming. Yet, according to Co-operative News ‘60% [of these start-ups] are in the creative industries, retail or professional services.’ So, this method of starting something from the ground up, with people who share the same vision, is becoming much more commonplace.Sites such as Kickstarter are now becoming institutions that are establishing themselves as avenues to bring people together in co-operative support. In the past, many may have viewed this as panhandling. But when great artists, like Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, are able to use the site to finance a film, it is clear that we are in times of significant change.
Comfortingly, in a similar way to other DIY ventures, crowd funding is helping those who have a vision to get things done. It also surprisingly goes to show that it only takes a substantial group of people to contribute a small amount for amazing things to be done.
Although it isn’t likely that we will all create something that will dominate the globe, like the aforementioned Starbucks, we should all be comforted by the fact that we can still push the arts, business and culture forward – even in the face of more difficult times ahead.