Tragic Tuesdays

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.

He writes:

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.

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