Why The Internet Has Been Awesome For Both Musical Artists and Fans
from the cool-story-bro dept
One phenomenon we often write about on Techdirt is how the internet has completely killed the music industry and how it has turned our world into a culturally barren wasteland, deprived of art and even joy. More accurately, we write about people who say such things and point out the inaccuracies, ignorance or basic flaws in their logic.
Critically acclaimed pop culture critic Simon Reynolds was recently interviewed by Andrew Keen and made a bunch of generalizations and claims that are in seeming contrast with his progressive outlook previously shown in musings about punk and post-punk, as well as rave culture.
The interview starts off as you expect it would:
“It’s much less likely that you’ll be able to make a living doing it.”
And how have you measured that ‘likelihood’? Even if there are less people making a living from making or performing music, a claim for which I have yet to see good proof, is it really less likely that anyone will be able to make a living off of it?
Instead of backing up his claim, Reynolds continues and discusses the way things used to be in a romantic tone which doesn’t change as he compares the old label-centric model to a “lottery“, with artists usually having to get “in the red.” Misplaced nostalgia. What a long way we have come from that – from a world where artists were at the mercy of corporations to a world of empowered artists in which they are at the mercy of their fans, their customers.
In fact, people have a much larger chance to make a living from music these days. This can be witnessed very clearly in electronic genres, where it is the norm for people to start as ‘bedroom producers’ and, if they’re good enough, they’ll get picked up by blogs, then labels and will then be able to build a proper studio and make a living from touring. If they’re good enough, according to fans and curators within their niche – not according to label execs or music journalists. Anyone can become a producer and anyone that manages to find an audience and connects with them properly has the opportunity to start making a living from it. It’s not easy, but at least it’s not a lottery.
“A generation has come along who don’t think they should pay for music.”
Then explain Justin Bieber. Where does the demand for his merchandise come from? Who is attending his tour events? About 30% of all music recordings are still bought by people under 30, the generation that grew up with the internet. Even the RIAA’s numbers show it. That does not take into account live shows or other ways of ‘paying for music’. True, the same group used to be responsible for 45% of the purchases, but that still doesn’t mean they don’t believe in paying for music. Just because only 20% of teenagers will clean up their room out of their own free will, that doesn’t mean an entire generation has come along who don’t think they should clean. Then again, where would music be without people talking about new generations they do not understand.
“I think there’s something about paying for music that makes it more intense; you’ve got to listen harder to music. If you pay for it you’re going to pay attention to the record you bought and get your money’s worth.”
Does music that depends on the psychological phenomenon of cognitive dissonance really deserve to be bought? At the end of the day, music being available in a ‘feels like free’ manner, for instance via YouTube or Spotify, means that your music has to stand out. Either by being really good or by having a unique sound. Preferably both. Quality gets rewarded with attention and attention is what can be monetized down the line. No more lotteries.
Then follows a breakdown of mash-ups. Two lines really stand out:
“A mash-up is not something that you’d really want to listen to more than a few times because it’s like a joke, isn’t it, really?”
“And they’re not adding anything. They’re not adding–they’re not a contribution to the future of music, I don’t think.”
Come on! That’s what my parents said about house music when I first heard it as a kid. Those statements, especially the latter, sound like an echo of the criticisms early rave innovators like Shut Up And Dance and The KLF received from the previous generation that did not understand the new revolution in music.
Perhaps some explanation is needed. Part of the mash-up culture is indeed like an out of control meme – nerd humor at its finest, focused more on the joke than on the art. However that’s definitely not what all mash-ups are. Take a look at this live mash-up by Madeon, which we covered a while back:
Many new, trendsetting genres, such as dubstep or moombahton, rely or have relied heavily on remixing, altering or mashing-up previous works. The outright dismissal of mash-ups as a contribution to the future of music is nothing new though. This dismissal was false when hiphop and house DJs started mashing up disco and funk records in the late 70s and early 80s, and it is false today. Mash-up culture is pop art on steroids.
After Keen notes that “you’re not allowed to be on TechCrunch and be too miserable,” they aim to end the interview on a cheerful note and start talking about radio (yes, really).
“Anything that can take on the role that radio used to have and deliver new things to people that they’re gonna like. It’s gonna prosper.”
I think he’s on to something there. Personally I have very high hopes for something called… the internet. It’s common to see people looking for ways in which ‘new technology X’ can replace ‘old technology Y’, although that’s never the people that grew up using the new technology. The internet’s purpose was never to create a way to replace old technologies with some a single new alternative. What the internet has done is take all the different roles of radio such as curator, broadcaster, gatekeeper, commentator, critic, entertainer and more, and it has separated or perhaps eliminated some. Now anyone can take on one of those roles or any combination thereof. It’s no longer something exclusive.
Hope you don’t mind the sarcasm here and there, Simon. You’ve got a great mind, but I couldn’t let these claims go by unchallenged. If you’d like to retort, please get in touch. We’d be glad to feature it on here.
Personally, I think this is an awesome time for both musical artists and fans right now. There is so much opportunity and freedom. I think it’s a great time for music and perhaps it will take some more years and further disruption for some folks to finally be able to see that — just like the general music industry’s shifted opinion about that De La Soul album mentioned above, which was initially met with plenty of animosity from the traditional industry. Luckily, true pioneers ignore such animosity, move on and set the standards for tomorrow for both musical artists and fans.