Echo Chamber 01 – The New Independents (or the scourge of social technology)
In the first of what we hope will become a series of pieces on the state of the music industry and associated topics from our team, Martyn Coppack gives us his view on how the advent of social media has changed music; both for better and for worse. Please feel free to join the debate in the comments section.
How times have changed! That’s a phrase you’ll often hear from the older music fan…how about another? It’s not like it used to be! There you go, ring any bells? If you’re as old as me (and I’m only 38) these questions will surely have come into conversation on a drunken night down at the Slug and Partridge or some other sticking waterhole where we go to while away our Friday nights talking about…yep, usually the old days after a few pints.
I guess where I’m going with this is the advent (or attack!) of social technology in recent years. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace…hey the whole goddamn internet for goodness sake! All of a sudden we have the world at our fingertips and access to any music we like. We are now in a world which truly is small. I would like to take this belated opportunity to look at whether this is a good thing and most of all, if it has taken the fun out of the one thing we love…music.
Let’s start with social networking sites. I suppose the daddy of these was MySpace. Oh how I miss the days I spent updating my background and blogging about my nights out on the town. Other people took it from a different perspective though. The ease in which you could upload your music meant you could now reach out to people with your poorly recorded demos (generally, there were exceptions) and gain more fans. This was a cool thing….bands could turn round and say “look how many friends we’ve got, we must be popular!”. In the real world it wasn’t quite like this though. Those bands who bragged that they had 1000 followers/fans were usually playing some crappy pub to an audience of 3 and some casual listeners who’d dropped by for a pint. Trust me, I worked in a pub and witnessed it.
Hype had a lot to do with it…and maybe Lily Allen and Arctic Monkeys. What we have to realise is that whilst MySpace no doubt helped their claim to fame, they already had in place a network which was making it inevitable. As much as I love the Arctic Monkeys, those early MySpace songs were nothing special. It was only when you seen them live that you could see the promise. The be all and end all is that they worked their arses off and struck lucky. Same with Lily Allen (although remember her dad was in the business…it is who you know!). Lily Allen did have a great sideline in blogs but you know what…for someone who advocated social networking so much, she never bleedin’ answered my question all those years ago! Goddamn bought her album as well!
MySpace has gone now, replaced by the mass corporation which is FaceBook. I used to have a FB but got rid of it. Couldn’t hack hearing what people had for dinner anymore! This has now become a premier place for bands to peddle their wares but being a neophyte I don’t know how this works. I do know that I certainly would not press the Like button until I’ve heard their music. A cunning plan to rise up the popularity charts maybe….just remember that next time you press that button those poor souls are probably entertaining one man and his dog down the local.
It’s not the bands fault. You have to make the most of what is available to you. I am a Twitter whore and through that comes the means in which I can write about the music I love and hopefully entertain a few of you (thanks Echoes and Dust…you really are the best!). To stay ahead of the game you need to be on every available platform to get noticed. The problem is, that platform is now saturated and once again you are fighting to be noticed. You may as well go old school and hand flyers out on the street…I promise you’ll get more people to your gig (this really works by the way, how do you think dance music took off in such a big way?). There needs to be a rethink in strategy rather than following the herd.
I heard an argument the other week that record companies existed to sift through the crap to bring us the good. Whilst I don’t wholly believe this to be true there is a certain ring to it. With record companies dying out or struggling to make ends (pity the poor executive who can’t make enough money from the new Coldplay tour!) platforms such as SoundCloud have become the place for bands to place their new music. Cutting out the middle man this offers “true” band/fan interaction with the fan safe in the knowledge that all money is going to the artist. This is not just the unsigned band though; many popular artists use this to sell their stuff. I quite like the idea but one look at SoundCloud is enough to drive you crazy. That’s before you try to navigate the bleeding thing. Maybe this is just me…?
Placing your music on the internet for sale is possibly the greatest advance in musical history since….well, since the birth of the internet. The idea of selling direct to fans is certainly not a new thing. I suppose punk exploded this idea by selling 7”s at their gigs. This is an ethos that has been taking up, funnily enough, by the progressive rock generation with gig only releases by Porcupine Tree or Shearwater gathering acclaim for bringing music back to the fans. For an independent band this is a fantastic way of saying thanks and giving the fans something special…long may this reign.
This leads me on to album streaming. Now, I use this a lot…it’s the scourge of a music writer. Once upon a time you would get free CD’s, now you have to look at a line crossing the screen while a new album plays (really exciting innit!). This is similar in some respects to SoundCloud which I talked about earlier. It is a necessity for my “job” but as with all good things, it was soon taken over by everyone. Think about it….an artist places his new release up on the internet a week before release to stir up enthusiasm. People listen and think “hmmm I like that” then go and order it off Amazon (please use your local record shop next time!). The artist sells more records, the fans get a sort of try before you buy option. In these days where only Simon Cowell fodder and the Black Eyed Peas get radio airplay this is the only way for an artist to get noticed.
A sound argument…yes. Then why the fuck have the giants of the music business taken to doing this? Guess what…you can hear the new Coldplay release a week before it comes out….well, OK if you’re a Coldplay fan but surely you would buy the album anyway. On the flipside of that, is there really anyone out there who is going to listen and think “my god, this Coldplay band are good”. An artist will always be looking to build on their fanbase, it’s an inbuilt thing that they want to reach as many people as possible. One of my heroes did it with his latest album (I didn’t listen. I bought it on day of release instead). Maybe this is a reflection of the state of the music business. Album sales are at an all time low (or so they tell us) so any extra revenue is welcomed. I bet it isn’t the bands doing this though, it will be the suited executive once again stressing about his bonus. We all know bands don’t make money from their releases…why do you think touring was invented!
Technology…there’s no escaping it. We use it every day, we love it, we’re addicted to it. Next time you turn on your laptop and sign into MySpace, YourSpace or SomeonesElsesFuckingSpace just spare a thought for the old days. The days when you used to stand on street corners handing out flyers, days spent designing posters which never turned out like you thought they would, discovering music through REAL interaction at a party , in a pub or just round your friends house. Yes there was more work to put in, but wasn’t it worth it in the end? I think so. There needs to be a middle ground where technology and real interaction can take place. There are pros and cons on both sides but surely we can bring some of the romance back. Yes, that’s the word…romance…because that is what we have with music, a lifelong one (a certain one?).
Over and Out….
(you may reach me on Twitter at @partypirate…I do not do FB but I used to have a MySpace site. As for SoundCloud and album streaming…I’m not a musician, I just write about it)
Tags: Echo Chamber, Facebook, Martyn Coppack, music, MySpace, Opinion, Social Media, Soundcloud