Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Future of Music

From time to time, I blog about music, primarily that of the indie variety. Currently, the music industry has gone through some significant shifts of which I have an opinion.

This guy got me to thinking about how music is and will be distributed. Bands like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have bypassed record labels and traditional distribution outlets by making their latest releases available online for little or no money. Of course, other musicians such as Prince have done this before, but none as current or recognizable as Radiohead have taken on the industry in such a way. It's akin to the Beatles handing out copies of Abbey Road at Piccadilly.

The free music doesn't stop there. Bands are utilizing tools on the internet to get their music to the masses by giving it away. A site like Daytrotter might make exclusive recordings available or Brooklyn Vegan provides MP3 samples of nearly every band it covers. Some bands simply give the music away in the form of free CDs in order to drum up some buzz for their tours where they make their real income.

Of course, the music industry might as well give it away as they continue to lose money. In fact, some have looked at giving it away in various ways to excite consumers enough to buy the records. What they used to call "getting a single played on the radio" is now just flat out giving it away. Will the 99 cent single go the way of the CD? Wait and see.

For me, it doesn't matter whether they give the music away or not. Most of it is crap. And that which is not crap has been done before. Whatever is left is what I buy and am happy to do so.

What has filled this void in music left by all that inferior product put out by an out-of-touch music industry? Indie rock. Band after band have made a living since the mid-nineties (in Sonic Youth's case, longer) by simply recording better music and hitting the road. They may not be selling millions of records, but they are not suffering from the same affliction as the majors have. Never before have independent labels and bands have been so successful. It gives me hope.

What isn't filled with a lot of hope is the state of music journalism, especially in indie circles. As people turn to Pitchfork or Brooklyn Vegan, they turn away from such indie publishing stalwarts like No Depression or Punk Planet. Does it mean that music magazines are dead? No. Does it mean that mediocre rock journalism leads to your magazine folding. No...look at Rolling Stone. What it does mean is that magazines are behind the times. They are not able to keep up with the next "it" band or latest genres. Online magazines and blogs are just better equipped to provide that up-to-the-second information indie fans crave. (As for RS readers...I can't explain it.)

Magazines are even turning to the blogosphere for their tips and news. Take the latest Spin. For the first time in the magazine's history, they featured a band on their cover (Vampire Weekend) that had yet to release its first album. All this was based on the buzz the band had created among the blogging elite. First Tapes 'n Tapes, then Vampire Weekend, now there's Black Kids. (Actually, there's probably someone else, but you get the point.)

The accessibility to new technologies has meant greater access to new music and at faster speeds. For a music junkie like myself, it's meant a nonstop flow of fresh tunes. For the majority, though, it has meant an over saturation of mediocre noise. This will most likely continue until record labels realize that, in the end, good music is actually profitable. And they better keep it coming, because we're reading and listening faster than ever.  The magazines aren't keeping up.  Will the record industry?


comoprozac said...

I can't believe I even published this half-assed post. I must appologize to all my readers.

I totally forgot to write about how concerts will change as well.

I was going to link to an article about a famous Chicago venue dumping Ticketmaster and how so many other venues are doing the same. Additionally, websites like La Blogoteque post videos of performances way more moving than any concert...for free.

Sorry. It won't happen again.

Pizza Cottontail said...

No Depression was the worst magazine I ever subscribed to.

All their advertising was from record labels, so the reviewers never wrote a negative review, for fear of losing advertising revenue.

Also, most of the reviewers (when I subscribed, anyway) were volunteers, so the writing was pretty subpar.

I heard on Morning Edition that No Depression failed because they did rely so heavily on record labels for advertising. And advertising is the first thing to get cut when times get tough, which they (the times) seem to be doing now for record labels.

When I heard ND was going down, it got me hoping that Paste would be next. Paste being the next-to-worst magazine I've ever subscribed to.

You should check out this story about a bizarre crime in Ohio.

Lauren Kilberg said...

Unrelated, sort of, but did you happen to catch Vampire Weekend on SNL last week? Interested if you did, to hear what you thought. I was sadly less impressed than I hoped/thought I'd be.

comoprozac said...

I was really just using No Depression to make a point. You're right about that rag and Paste. My father-in-law's wife bought me a subscription and it's crap. Magnet is my fav rag.

Lauren, I did catch the SNL performance. It was underwhelming to say the least. Check the comments from my review of VW.

Pizza Cottontail said...

Sorry. I just really hate No Depression and take any opportunity I can find to let everyone know about it.

Modest Mouse is touring with REM and the National this summer. I'm giddy!