Music’s Mystique Mistake

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?


Music 2.0’s Blue Sky Mines Collapsing

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. 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.


The Sky Is Falling!

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.


They’re Just Not That into You

I know insid­ers claim that peo­ple are lis­ten­ing to music now more than ever before, but what if peo­ple are just not as inter­est­ed in new music as they used to be? Has per­ceived demand for new prod­uct out­stripped con­sumer inter­est?

The answer is easy. Search your heart. Every­thing will be eas­i­er if you can just admit what you know to be true.


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.