One of the things I’ve been seeing recently are people saying that music has lost its mystique. I couldn’t agree more. There’s a great line in Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle that applies here I think; to paraphrase, the things that separate celebrities from the rest of us are power and vacations. That was true for musicians, once upon a time, but now that the rock star is dead, how can we still be awestruck by musicians and the music they create?
I started reading Michaelangelo Matos’s Slow Listening Movement blog. I’ve seen variations of the argument for slowing down, like the slow food movement, as a means of changing consumption habits, which in turn contribute to a different way of living one’s life. It’s an interesting idea, but I think the notion of “slow listening” should somehow address the music industry’s instistence on treating a problem with demand as if it were a supply-side problem.
The answer’s easy: it doesn’t work for music. Unless you were living under a rock on Friday, you probably read Techcrunch’s post, “The Sorry State of Music Startups.” Without going into great detail, Arrington’s completely right, and for once, he doesn’t resort to the whole “music just wants to be free” argument so common among Web 2.0 types. Instead, he writes that “free streaming music” is about as sensible as trying to douse a burning pile of money with a gallon of gasoline.
Blender’s print edition is finished. You probably already know this if you spent any time on the Internet yesterday, but it’s just another instance where a music mag completely changes its appearance to remain “relevant” (whatever that means now) and ends up closing shop anyway. As Matos wrote on his blog, “It’s hot, it’s sexy, it’s dead,” which sounds like the sort of thing one might say about the premature death of a rock star.
Part of my music crusade has been to say how impactful events like this are for the music industry. There’s a great comment in the Idolator post on Blender’s closing from the friend of an anonymous flack who doesn’t know which outlets will be left to pitch by year’s end. It’s that bad. That outlook, coupled with the industry’s retreat from promotion in the name of revenue, viz. videos holed up on Youtube with no embedding privileges and the like, music will soon be harder to find than bin Laden!
Heck, even the thing people seem to enjoy most about music online is changing. Last.fm announced this week that they’ll be changing their streaming policies in many parts of the world, setting off a tidal wave of outrage. Powerful music search engine Seeqpod will begin charging developers for its data, too. Ominous noises are coming out of the Imeem camp, too, no matter what they’re telling Michael Arrington at Techcrunch.
Those of us who foresaw the end of Music 2.0 can only shake our heads. Chris Anderson’s “freemium” dream is over. The blue sky mines are collapsing around our ears.
What’s ahead? No one knows. I’m talking to my friend Jason Herskowitz almost daily about the future of music on the web, especially around music discovery. He’s been working on some cool stuff lately, most recently Playdar, an idea I urge you to check out. Nevertheless, he fears that Darknet will soon replace anything remotely legitimate for content sharing online. It’s a frightening proposition for rights holders who have any interest in protecting their properties in this brave new world, and equally scary for those of us who care about music as part of our cultural fabric.
Scott Tennent makes an emotional plea for music fans to ignore leaks over at Pretty Goes with Pretty. We’ve all seen variations of this argument before. The MPAA even made spots that echoed this sentiment. It’s heartfelt, but hopeless. Countless cliches could be used to describe what’s happened, but I’ll use this one: you can’t get the toothpaste back into the tube.