The digital age has brought about many changes within the music industry in both how we receive and how we consume music. It has been well documented that the music industry has had a hard time trying to keep up. In this article I will be looking at the way in which new media channels have opened up opportunities for popular music artists to convey themselves and capture an audience through some the new channels that have opened up from the creation of the Internet.
THE CONCEPT OF COMPROMISE WITHIN THE ARTIST/COMMERCE RELATIONSHIP
Artists and commercial brands can benefit from having a working relationship with each other. It has been commonly used throughout popular music’s history, but has often come with the artist being branded as ‘selling out’. The term ‘selling out’ relates to the initial ideals of the artist being compromised and the audiences of the music are seemingly very receptive to this kind of deceit. But can this be avoided? If the brand and the artist have the same ideals then what would be the problem? For instance, if an art rock band with ideals of innovation and creativity co-joined with a commercial brand such as Diesel, who has a deep underpinning of innovation and creativity, the mindset is the same and therefore no compromise of the eithers ideal’s are needed.
However, unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world where there is one brand that would be perfect for every artist, and so compromising on some ideals and creativity may be needed. But this can go too far and resort to the artist being branded the term ‘selling out’ and so artists must think deeply about how their audience perceives them and if it will cause tension.
Being co-joined with a brand can also open up creativity and free up the artist. For instance, the bassist from Franz Ferdinand, Bob Hardy, co-joined with Diesel Radio and was able to host a show playing ‘Italian Disco’ music. He wasn’t able to show his love of this before, as he had the association with indie music and Franz Ferdinand. Conversely, it can stifle creativity where some of the artists whacky ideas being dismissed by the co-joined brand and stunting the artists self-expression.
CURRENT DEBATES SURROUNDING COMMUNICATION THEORY
The digital age has opened up many new channels that a message can be conveyed through. This ranges from social media sites to blogs, that can all be found on the Internet. ‘The Hypodermic Needle’ model approach to advertising and communication, commonly found in the 1950’s advertising industry, seems to no longer be the basis as a model for communication, as there seems to be other factors like environment and emotions, that can affect the understanding of the message, which the model didn’t take into account. The Shannon-Weaver mathematical model (fig.1) includes these factors and can be described as the most plausible way in which messages are sent and received.
This model has also led to ‘experiential marketing’, where there is marketing across different channels and not as harsh as the 1950’s approach. It can include an event, which then appeals to the five senses, where say a clothing brand tries to associate themselves with a certain lifestyle or message being conveyed, and build up an association with the experience from the event. Often artists and brands can work together in experiential marketing and can build a brand association with the ideals and lifestyle of said artist.
The new channels of communication brought on by the digital age, have a larger scope for marketing and advertising than previous platforms. It allows real-time information and a participatory factor, which allow the consumer to feel closer and part of the product, in a musician’s case, themselves. This makes the encoder and the decoder in the Shannon-Weaver model (fig.1) operate on a similar and closer level and thus the message can be more clearly understood. The noise in this model relating to the new channels, can be other bits of information on the Internet, like competing adverts or other influential opinions, which can disrupt or distort the message initially intended. This can cause a misunderstanding and thus consumers can turn away or reject the project because of it.
The Internet has also opened up participatory culture. According to a 2005 study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life project, more than one-half of all American teens, and 57 percent of teens that use the Internet, could be considered media creators. This no longer means that there are set groups of creators and consumers but they are now combined into almost a community. Henry Jenkins defines participatory culture as:
‘Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement/Not every member must contribute, but all must believe they are free to contribute when ready and that what they contribute will be appropriately valued’ – Henry Jenkins 2006.
THE ROLE PLAYED BY OPINION LEADERS IN DIFFUSING MEDIA MESSAGES TO AUDIENCES
The Internet brought about the democratisation of taste and how there was no need for opinion leaders or journalists when everything is accessible. This began with people blogging and writing about different artists that would have been considered throwaway by the old era journalists. Everyone could be an opinion leader and therefore had the means to express that opinion.
Slowly people have begun to get bored of searching the Internet to try and find something worth listening to, as with the democratisation of opinion, the digital age also gave way to the democratisation of creating music. People are turning back to opinion leaders with informed opinions to direct them to good music. Gill Mills and Bill Brewster, both opinion leaders themselves, have reflected this standpoint through conversations and lectures that they have given.
Even though people are turning back to opinion leaders, it has taken a different format as is seen with the decline in readerships of print media. Opinion leaders mainly express their views through blogs, which are easily accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. This channel allows discussions to take place and operates like a forum, and thus relating back to the participatory culture Henry Jenkins writes about. The opinion leader can help amplify and partially help the decoding process to the receiver/audience.
USE OF CURRENT THINKING TO INFORM A STRATEGY ON THE POSITION OF MY OWN WORK
As I am a popular musician myself, I must incorporate new ways of thinking and strategies to position my own work within the current state of the music industry. Below are a few points that I would put into a strategy of my own work:
- The use of anonymity would be a statement and reaction against everything personal being displayed on the Internet. This would entail building a project where the main attraction is the mystery and it becomes its own entity. It would still have to produce lots of material and social media to keep people interested, but taking the human edge out. Setting up a puzzle to find out the identities of the project would be a good use of experiential marketing to build more worth and satisfaction of finding out, relating to the consumer/project relationship and participatory culture. Daft Punk has used this before to great effect.
- Experiential marketing with brands would increase the exposure of the project as commercial brands often have a larger budget to spend than if one was doing it solely on their own. The event behind the marketing project would be able to expose the artist to a larger audience when identified with a well-known brand. Although, this is a tricky tightrope to walk as I have said earlier in my article and must be thought about very deeply and carefully as so not to affect the message and ideals of the artist.
- I would include a tribal/cult sensibility in the project, which covers the participatory aspect that gets people interested and retain consumers. This would mean more interactivity between the project and consumer, which would keep them involved. A good example of this is the ‘Blessing Force’ in Oxford, which is a very DIY culture of a collective of people creating music. This idea could take place through Internet forums and blogs, where possible remixes could occur or suggestions for artwork from consumers.
Overall the whole way in which people are communicating has changed with the development of the digital age. Consumers now interact through social media and debatably have a more direct line with their interests. Artists have had to take this into account and use them to their advantage in capturing an audience. The participation of consumers in the projects themselves and their constant longing for new material and features means it has become harder for projects to develop but means that they can get constant feedback and even input.
The digital age is still developing and changing with every new idea and program. There is no use trying to stonewall the progression, but embrace it and think of new and inventive ways to reach and interact with consumers. It can also be said that the most inventive and creative part of being a popular musician, outside of music making, is the marketing.
Jenkins, H. (2006). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Chicago: The MacArthur Foundation.
Jenkins, H. (2011). Critical Information Studies For a Participatory Culture. Available:http://www.henryjenkins.org/2009/04/what_went_wrong_with_web_20_cr_1.html. Last accessed 19th March 2011.
Jenkins, H (2006). Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Essays on Participatory Culture. New York: New York University Press.
DEEFIVE. (2010). 105 key concepts – seminar and lecture notes write up. Available:http://deefive.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/105-key-concepts-seminar-and-lecture-notes-write-up/. Last accessed 19th March 2011.
Three Billion Reports. (2007). Daft Punk: Marketing Genius or Capitalising on the Viral-Factor?. Available:http://www.threebillion.com/?p=11. Last accessed 19th March 2011.
Univeristy of Twente. (n.d.). Hypodermic needle theory. Available:http://www.utwente.nl/cw/theorieenoverzicht/Theory%20clusters/Mass%20Media/Hypodermic_Needle_Theory.doc/. Last accessed 19th March 2011.
Powell, J (2008). 33 Million People in the Room: How to Create, Influence, and Run a Successful Business with Social Networking. New York: Financial Times/ Prentice Hall. 200.