A Musician’s Guide to Dystopian Music Scene

Glasxs
7 min readMar 4, 2024

Hello, I’m Glasxs (Melis Uslu). I produce music in the indie-pop genre. Because I love music and sound, after studying Computer Engineering in Ankara, I did my master’s degree in Audio Engineering — Sound and Music Technology in London, University of Hertfordshire. Not content with that, I went to Goldsmiths, University of London for a second master’s degree in Popular Music. I opened my own sound studio in Istanbul. After a few years, taking my sound company, I moved back to London. During this process, I continued my music productions as Glasxs. Although I call it a project, it is nothing but my own space of creating music that I love. I made it a part of my life with people who look at it as dearly as me. Actually, I didn’t do it, it just happened. Since then, while Glasxs has been a part of every moment of my life, I’ve also been managing two radios in London. Working freelance as an audio producer/sound designer under the brand of my studio I moved to London, work with many companies like MUBI and BBC. And I make music as Glasxs. I act as a part of both the Turkish and British music industry, or at least I think I do.

I have had some thoughts on my mind for a long time. I was saying I would write, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. However, a piece of news I heard seems to have triggered my desire to write these thoughts. The news about one of the beloved names of the Turkish alternative music scene, Deniz Tekin with whom I collaborated on my album, announcing that she is quitting performing and stopping making commercial music, accelerated the process. An article emerged discussing the change in the music industry, addressing both musicians’ experiences in the musical production process and their efforts to cope with the demands of the industry. I particularly tried to draw attention to the chaos experienced in adapting to the music industry through digital platforms and social media and the struggle of musicians to maintain their identities.

A September 2020 article in The Guardian mentions data from a survey by the “Musicians Union” indicated that one-third of British musicians could leave the industry. “Help Musicians” documented in a 2021 survey that 83% of professional musicians had not been able to return to full-time work since the pandemic. In an article published in The Guardian on March 1, 2024, by Dave Simpson, while discussing the difficulties faced by live music venues, Mark Davyd, the founder of “Music Venue Trust,” is quoted as saying, “It’s not just venues; artists can’t afford to tour or are slashing their tours in half because they can’t afford to lose that amount of money. The whole ecosystem is collapsing.” We hear news of many musicians/bands around the world deciding to quit music. Of course, there can’t be a single reason for these decisions. However, as Deniz Tekin also mentioned in her statement, there are some fundamental reasons: “What’s desired today is not me being a musician.

So, what is expected of musicians under today’s conditions? Of course, constantly changing and renewing structure of the music industry is never a new phenomenon. Besides, this is not a comparison essay between the old and the new. I rather want to touch on “how the present affects us and how.” As Glasxs, I’m thinking about what I’m doing for the music industry I’m involved in today. What should I do? What haven’t I done? Are there things I haven’t done? This is not only about making music; it also includes the necessity of non-music activities, the use of digital platforms, social media strategies, and even algorithm-driven content production. As I write this, I came across the following words of the Mercury Award-winning, Grammy-nominated James Blake: “If we want quality music somebody is gonna have to pay for it. Streaming services don’t pay properly, labels want a bigger cut than ever and just sit and wait for you to go viral, TikTok doesn’t pay properly, and touring is getting prohibitively expensive for most artists.”, “The brainwashing worked and now people think music is free.” He also shared some messages he received after he mentioned his thoughts, and I’d like to share one of them (Fabio, an Italian producer): “We are not artists anymore. We are content creators for giant platforms, and nobody asked us. We are [involuntary] employees. And I’m scared it’s getting worse.” Couldn’t agree more.

I wonder how people cope with such challenges to devote time to their art. Perhaps what matters is not just seeing music as an industry but also preserving the artist within us? It seems not that simple after all.

When I first started producing music, of course, I didn’t think things would be this complicated. There were more excitement like “I loved this, I wonder if others will too,” or feelings like “We have a gig here, we will play these new songs, I’m very excited.” But the point we’ve been in for a long time develops roughly like this: Share posts and reels on Instagram, regular stories sharing on top of posts. Wait a second, some man said “don’t share too personal.” Oh my… “Should we make you a YouTuber then?”, “Forget about YouTube, open up a TikTok account, pick a concept related to your music and share at least one video every day.” Everyday? Umm ok. “Release a new song at least every two months so that the algorithm doesn’t forget you.”, “Don’t skip YouTube Shorts.”, “It’s said that embedded texts in actual TikTok videos are important, forget hashtags now, even if it takes you ten hours to prepare a video, it’s not a problem, you should do your best after all!”, “Your video uploaded to Instagram shouldn’t be edited on TikTok, do each one separately.” Huh? “You cannot use that effect without downloading a third-party app and uploading the video back to TikTok from there.” Can’t we manage all these applications easily from one place, what the actual hell!

Some of these are internal dialogues, and some are the ideas of some men in the industry who think they know everything. The same people can sometimes write a newspaper article saying “Why do these girls sing like cats” or after Deniz Tekin makes her statement, they can say “the explanation didn’t satisfy me.” Because you need to convince them before quitting music. Or someone else asks questions in an interview that they wouldn’t ask any man, or says, “after you prove yourself like a male producer, you won’t encounter sexism.” Because a man didn’t need to prove himself, we’ve forgotten that.

Sorry, it got a little long… But it’s still not over. It’s endless, they’re all usual anyway. Looking at it, it’s not new either. But hasn’t everyone reached their “limit”?

Illustration by Lora Zombie https://lorazombie.com
Illustration by Lora Zombie https://lorazombie.com/

While the apps we are expected to use regularly spare special effort to make us spend the most time on them, musicians wonder when they turned into content creators. Non-mainstream musicians make a living from other professions or side hustles. Well, who has the time to do everything as desired then? Can they devote time to their art while doing them? Or is struggling with commercial concerns and trying to stay afloat actually managing their entire careers? Or does entering playlists, i.e., determining the fate of that song, determine the monthly listener count, for a newly released song or album? You see a newly released album by an artist, and the next month they release a brand new song, and this is a requirement for all artists, from the ones have just stepped into the industry to the most established ones.

In conclusion, as all sides of the industry, we have evolved to a point where we cannot just dismiss it as a matter of luck, or say “I focus on my art, whatever happens, happens.” Perhaps the greatest reason for maintaining sanity in this tangled routine (hello to those who manage to do so) is that music/art is within us. Because music is not something we can do if we don’t want to. Ultimately, I believe we need to move forward not by struggling to keep ourselves afloat but by making the music we want to make for ourselves, without floundering on the surface. In short, while it seems that the focus of this whole system is on musicians, and without the musician themselves, this industry cannot sustain its existence, perhaps we shouldn’t take this simulation we find ourselves in too seriously.

I would like to conclude my article with a short excerpt from a speech Neil Gaiman made at the Philadelphia University of the Arts in 2012. This speech is one of my great inspirations, and who knows, maybe it will reach more people and have a positive impact on collective consciousness.

“Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be — an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words — was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time.”

Wishing that everyone feeling lost in a vast ocean can take steps toward their mountain!

You can find me via this link: https://linktr.ee/glasxs. You can help it reach more people by sharing this article. Oh, I have a new song called ‘Çilekli Milkshake’ (Strawberry Milkshake) you can listen to! My email address is: glassandtheradiocircus@gmail.com. With love! 💘

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Glasxs

Glasxs (Melis Uslu) is a London based music producer and sound designer mixing robots with nature.