Tobias Carroll and I have been having a spirited back and forth over at his blog, the Scowl, where we’ve been discussing how best to incorporate leaks into the editorial calendar. I argue that leaks are an industry norm that need to be treated as such, rather than an aberrant behavior better ignored.
And given that release dates still have an effect — their relationship to touring comes to mind — I don’t know that there’s an easy way to make this work. Also worrisome is the fact that it essentially hands over control of the process to participants in what could at best be called an ethically grey activity, which, while arguably pragmatic, doesn’t necessarily seem like something to be encouraged.
As far as I’m concerned, so-called pirates have hijacked the discourse surrounding the music industry for over ten years. This “ethically grey activity” threatens to sunder an industry that failed to accept technology into its business model, and a consumer base that doesn’t seem to care one way or the other what happens to it.
We’ve been mired in this ethical quandary for more than a decade, but moral victories are driving both the music industry and press to the poorhouse, and the music industry isn’t known for morals. Since my argument is for editorial to reclaim its relevance from the technologists who believed in better living through circuitry, I’m sure the industry wouldn’t mind if we reframed the conversation about their artists and releases, instead of focusing on the tragedy of yet another leak. Adhering to the old way of doing things may be more convenient, but everyone will have to relearn their jobs to face the new realities of the music industry.
But most importantly, I can’t state strongly enough how little release dates matter to the consumer. As I think back through time, I can think of exactly one Tuesday morning when I found myself waiting outside of a record store, and it was to buy a mediocre Pavement DVD. Tuesdays don’t generate the same excitement for the music business that Fridays do for Hollywood. The traffic simply isn’t there.
Music is shrinking from the public consciousness in both space and time. As record stores close and big box stores cut back on music inventory, music isn’t a tangible feature of consumer’s regular routine. Music is at once everywhere and nowhere. MTV and big publications like Rolling Stone and Spin once played a crucial role in promoting music, but either they changed, or their audiences did. Nothing has stepped up to replace them, certainly not on the scale of those once venerable institutions.
Music is in full retreat. Ask anyone who’s trying to drive traffic to music-specific websites. The metrics don’t lie. So how can we rally people to the cause? We need to make music relevant to consumers again. Only writers can breathe life back into it. We need a new mythology!
The alternative? Ruin. Fleeing into niche ghettos won’t work. Anyone who collected checks from Paper Thin Walls should know that. That’s not meant as a zing, but rather a commentary on how music performs at the margins. We need to bring the story to an audience in a way no one else can. The industry needs to allow us access to artists again, let us get close enough to tell these stories, help us build a bridge between the artist and audience over the fragmentation that characterizes media consumption.
The music press reads like a stream-of-consciousness novel with no punctuation. Coverage has been democratized to a fault. A critic’s value is in his or her ability to separate the wheat from chaff. We’re failing in that regard. It’s time to step up and reframe music in a way that helps consumers make decisions about what’s worthwhile, without resorting to rockism. It can be done. We can reduce the noise!
Don’t despair: tomorrow I’ll share a dirty little secret about how to program a music website that works.