It’s definitely an exciting time to be active in music, for a host of reasons. The industry is in flux, and it’s fascinating to watch its convulsions as the market works out what sort of distribution mechanisms it’s going to support. There are new technologies for musicians springing up on a daily basis that are useful, accessible and easy, in both production and marketing/ distribution. The channels of communication are open: artists are now at liberty to make their pitch on their own terms, and millions of people are listening. The DIY route has yielded dividends for many bands from the 1970s to the present, particularly in underground styles, but now it’s a very real possibility for acts who for one reason or another would have found it impractical in the past. Things are changing, fast and fundamentally.
Of course there are a ton of new pitfalls to go with the new opportunities. With universal access to recording technologies that very recently required a huge financial investment, it seems all too easy for bands to reproduce the sounds of their heroes, or of the bands that are shifting units. There is a huge wave of slickly produced, interchangeable generic product in a variety of popular styles, the majority of which will never go anywhere, but could perfectly well stand in for any of the bands that are making serious money. Many of the new technologies are rubbish, and it’s easy to overstretch yourself trying to stay on top of several too many social networking/ profile hosting solutions. With the channels of communication so wide open, the millions of listening music fans are hearing a million voices, and it’s very hard to get enough attention to make people appreciate your unique gifts. In some ways it’s more possible to earn a crust as a musician, and in some ways it’s harder than ever.
For me the most exciting thing about the times is the possibility of bypassing the music ‘industry’ altogether. There was a time when this vast global conspiracy served a useful purpose: it enabled you to hear music that wasn’t being performed by bands in your local small venues. No more. I can now hear music from a virtually unknown band in Kuala Lumpur at a moment’s notice, thanks to the new, less interfering, industry giants like Bandcamp or Soundcloud. The arrogant shits that used to think they knew something about music because they prospered in a monopoly, have seen their certainties crumble, and are now running very scared. I could get into a philosophical discussion about the whole basis of intellectual property, and the practical feasibility of ‘owning’ a sound, but that’s a topic for another day. The fact is that we are still right in the middle of the storm, and what the landscape will look like when the pace of technological change slackens off is anyone’s guess. But it will likely be a far more democratic and open environment than before everything went haywire, and I’m pretty sure that the authors of original, creative music will be far more able to make a living from it. And if people find it harder to make millions off of a release? Fuck ‘em. No one needs to make that much money.
- http://www.littlewhiteearbuds.com/feature/everything-popular-is-wrong-making-it-in-electronic-music-despite-democratization/ This is an extremely interesting and articulate article on just these factors, looking at dance music in Germany. I take issue with its apparent assumption that we’ve arrived at the endpoint, but it has to be said that electronic dance music leads the field in its engagement with the new technological context. I especially like the conclusion, that you may as well be creative and original.
- http://randrworld.com/news/2713/ http://techcrunch.com/2011/04/12/exclusive-the-bleak-financial-numbers-from-the-myspace-sale-pitch-book/ MySpace is being sold because it’s toxic, and isn’t going to make any money. The last line of the first story is priceless: it should be obvious to anyone who visits MySpace why it’s in trouble, because it offers a totally crap user experience.
- http://www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2011/04/amazon-tells-labels-cloud-launch-boosted-mp3-sales-not-looking-for-licenses.html It seems that Amazon are claiming that their cloud based music storage and playback service is no different than a local storage based solution, and that they don’t need licenses. I agree.
- http://www.culturebully.com/music-bloggers-are-nice-people-if-you-give-us-a-chance An interesting article on the role of bloggers in music marketing, that ties in with a short piece I’m thinking of writing on how to avoid annoying us.
- http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/gallery/2011/apr/16/record-store-day-gallery#/?picture=373582639&index=2 Here’s some nice pictures of special editions that were released for Record Store Day.
- http://www.mojo4music.com/blog/2011/04/mojos_music_biz_employment_bur.html An amusing account of the changes so far, told via the changing job descriptions of music industry insiders.
My heavy rotation albums at the time of writing are:
Fernando’s Kitchen – Calle Compás
Konono Nº1 – Congotronics
Russ Sargeant – The Last And The First
Superspirit – Permission To Come Aboard
VA – The 405 Heroes of January & February
Nice post Oli, and something I’ve been writing about a fair bit recently from an academic standpoint. Here’s a couple of bits on the MA Music Industries blog on…
The Democratisation of Music Distribution … And…
Everyone Else is Doing it So Why Can’t We? (or… The Democratisation of Music Production)
Keep fighting the good fight Oli.
I honestly haven’t felt as politically motivated, or righteously angry, for years, as I have since I started paying some detailed attention to the music industry!