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?
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.
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.
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.
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.