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?
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.
Last year I attended my first South by Southwest Music Festival. It was a big deal! It was on the company dime! I lead a team of four people on a musical journey that took us from Rachael Ray to 2 Live Crew. We met a ton of interesting artists and talked to as many as we could on camera for comcast.net. I was really proud of what we accomplished in our first time out. Before we left for Austin, I fully expected that SXSW would be an annual event on my editorial calendar.
What a difference a year makes.
Here’s my absurd, reductionist viewpoint on why editorial will survive the demise of the music industry: just because big conglomerates won’t make money selling music doesn’t mean people will stop making it. Artists will keep doing all sorts of beautiful, irrational things, often at considerable personal expense, even if there’s no one to buy it. Someone still needs to dig around to find what’s great, right?
If we as critics concentrate solely on solving the music industry’s problems, we won’t be able to adequately address our own. Jason Gross and I have been going back and forth quite a bit about this on Twitter. He wrote, “Music biz = our bread/butter (& our love). As for saving criticism, do you mean the whole scribe trade or our just our own turf?” Conflating the music business with music itself is silly. (I’m sure Jason agrees, but his tweet is illustrative nonetheless.)
If criticism survives it will be as a cultural filter. It sounds impersonal, but it’s of crucial importance to an audience. We have to stop thinking of ourselves as servants of the music industry and concentrate on being of value to an audience with precious little time to spend thinking about our passion. Remember, critics have always been cultural curators, so it’s not a radical change in job description. We just have to think of our role in broader terms.
Our love is writing about music. Let’s not forget that.