After the Gold Rush

Call me crazy, but I think the music indus­try is bro­ken. Sure, it’s still pos­si­ble for bands and man­agers and labels to make mon­ey, but it’s get­ting increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to do so. The con­tribut­ing fac­tors are too numer­ous to men­tion, so I’m only going to address the one I can con­trol in my pro­fes­sion­al life: the pro­duc­tion of edi­to­r­i­al con­tent.When I read Lucas Jensen’s anony­mous inter­view with some­one work­ing in pub­lic­i­ty over on, I thought my head might explode. On the one hand the inter­vie­wee bemoans the now indus­try-stan­dard prac­tice of com­plete­ly spam­ming edi­tors with press releas­es all too often ignored, only to turn around and gripe that the blog­gers who’ve duti­ful­ly fall­en in line in the past sud­den­ly want too much from them.

I wrote the fol­low­ing in the com­ments:

I want­ed to note that I think pub­li­cists made this bed. It was easy when blog­gers just want­ed to have con­tact with the music indus­try which meant they cut and past­ed and just obe­di­ent­ly post­ed mp3s. It was sim­pler then.

Once blog­gers had expec­ta­tions and demands, the job got tougher, but PR is very slow to adapt. I rarely find myself agree­ing with Arring­ton over @ Techcrunch, but I think it’s time that pub­li­cists eval­u­at­ed the dimin­ish­ing mar­gin­al val­ue of shoot­ing off a mil­lion emails a day that free­lancers and edi­tors auto­mat­i­cal­ly delete.

Last­ly, I think the best way for pub­li­cists to suc­ceed in cre­at­ing val­ue for their clients is to find cre­ative ways to slow the hype cycle down by work­ing with edi­tors more to fig­ure out what works now.

It’s my firm belief that the prac­tice of feed­ing blogs tid­bits of use­less con­tent, whether it’s an mp3 or tour dates, con­tributed direct­ly to the sense of enti­tle­ment blog­gers feel today. I lament­ed it over two years ago when I coined the phrase “gold rush blog­ging” over at One Loud­er. I still believe that when blog­gers fell in line with the expec­ta­tions of PR, it start­ed a race to the bot­tom that no one would win. I feel like we’re get­ting close to the fin­ish line and I want­ed to try to do some­thing about it.

Sto­ry­telling got lost some­where in the pub­lish-or-per­ish fren­zy that typ­i­fies today’s music press. It turns out that Rupert Mur­doch’s first instinct — that the Inter­net will destroy more busi­ness­es than it cre­ates — was right. We watched help­less­ly as great alt week­lies became zom­bie con­glom­er­ates drained of their lifeblood by Fast for­ward and you’ll see the same bands, mp3s, and news rat­tling around in your feed read­er of choice, cre­at­ing the echo cham­ber that pass­es for music news today.

If that’s not a PR vic­to­ry, then I don’t know what is. But if you blog­gers and edi­tors think there’s noth­ing you can do about it, then you’re wrong.

One of my fore­most goals in 2009 is to work as hard as I can to dis­rupt the hype cycle as we know it. It’s not going to be easy. It’s prob­a­bly some­thing akin to try­ing to turn an air­craft car­ri­er around, but it needs to be done. We writ­ers can’t just sit idly by as the music indus­try becomes a dog and pony show star­ring the labels and the tech­nolo­gies that bring music to mar­ket.

It does­n’t have to be us ver­sus them. It can’t be if we have any inter­est in being suc­cess­ful. Hacks and flacks both have a stake in this. I think we can open a dia­logue with pub­lic rela­tions and labels that will help us bet­ter meet the needs of today’s music con­sumer. We can think con­struc­tive­ly about what works and what does­n’t. It’s time for a change, don’t you think?

If you want to know what got me start­ed on this, read Robert Scoble’s analy­sis of the tech news cri­sis. He gets a lot of flack for his videos, but I think he’s real­ly onto some­thing here that can be direct­ly applied to the way the music indus­try con­ducts busi­ness today.

3 replies on “After the Gold Rush”

Great piece. I run a music blog that focus­es on inde­pen­dent music in India and right now, our scene here is pret­ty small. In fact, mine is the only blog that has dai­ly updates on the grow­ing Indi­an indie scene. And our sit­u­a­tion is com­plete­ly the oppo­site. Bands bare­ly make mon­ey, and as a result, cant hire PR. They (the ones proac­tive enough) do all their press work on their own, but giv­en that indie music is a grow­ing sub­cul­ture here, main­stream media in India sees it as a nov­el­ty and are hap­py to pub­lish inter­views with bands. In a week I usu­al­ly get about 3–5 emails (all most­ly per­son­alised) from Indi­an bands with requests to lis­ten to their tunes or pub­lish gig dates, etc.

How­ev­er, I get a tonne of email from inter­na­tion­al pro­mot­ers ask­ing me to post their bands MP3 which are on every oth­er blog as it is. And it sur­pris­es me that my blog, which pre­dom­i­nant­ly caters to Indi­an read­ers, would be in their con­sid­er­a­tion set of rel­e­vant media. None of these bands play here and very few indie labels sell their music in stores (Cook­ing Vinyl, XL and a few oth­ers have only now start­ed dis­trib­ut­ing via EMI), so its hard to under­stand what tar­get­ing these com­pa­nies are doing. I do make it a point to post an inter­na­tion­al MP3 or two a week, but those are songs that I per­son­al­ly believe are rel­e­vant and inter­est­ing.

Still, I do believe blog­gers are becom­ing lazy. Very few peo­ple are actu­al­ly out there look­ing for new bands that they watch live or get in touch with on the basis of some great piece of music that they believe in. In India, I see it with our main­stream media as well. Bands send in their adjec­tive heavy releas­es and they get pub­lished almost word for word. I agree with you about PR peo­ple work­ing with edi­tors more, but I feel that very few edi­tors are will­ing to go that extra mile them­selves.

So what­ev­er the strat­e­gy, I think the biggest seat at the table, in terms of respon­si­bil­i­ty, has to be the edi­to­r­i­al.

I think you’re absolute­ly right about edi­to­r­i­al need­ing to step up with new ideas. It’s the only way to demon­strate how edi­to­r­i­al can still be valu­able for labels look­ing to pro­mote their artists.

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