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« Ten Tips For Do-It-Yourself PR and Publicity For Bands | Main | Google Music Currently Shuts Out Independent Artists »
Monday
Nov222010

Is the Internet Dead or just Dead to Artists?

Is the internet dead? This has been a question I have been asking myself for a few weeks now. If it’s not dead is it just going through changes like most businesses do? I have read several articles of late that seem to think that it is dead and that the future of the internet will look much different then it does today. So what if it’s dead, how does that impact us? Do we even care?

I’m looking at the internet through the eyes of someone working in the music industry, as a recording artist, a studio owner and a music publisher. What was once the supposed gateway to music business success is closing and its closing fast. In fact it may have never really been open at all.

We have all heard the stories of how a band was found on myspace and then international fame soon followed. I once bought into this, but now I’m not so sure. How true can this be? Success in business has always been built on hard work, time, effort, energy, preparation and education. There are always the stories of overnight successes but even then all of the above things were at some point involved. No one can succeed at anything if they have never put forth any effort to succeed can they?

I have come to conclusion that the artists that have found success from the internet would have found it no matter what. Take for instance Fall Out Boy. They have long been held up as the first band to find success using myspace and the internet. True indeed, they were the first band to one million plays, one million fans and so on and so forth on myspace. They used this virtual hype to gain fans; attendance at their shows grew and increased album sales. All of which caught the attention of record labels that were all too eager to sign them to a record deal.

Would all of this have happened for Fall Out Boy without the internet? I say yes. They used all the same basic principals that any successful business would employ to get their company off the ground. For them it was the new media of the internet that gave them a jump start. Looking back over the past we can see how such new mediums as print, radio and TV also launched stars and their careers. Yet again, how many of those same success stories would have come true without such media? I would argue that all of them would have.

Like Fall Out Boy or not, they were the right band with the right sound at the right time that just happened to catch on. People just liked their music. Girls thought they were cute and guys wanted to emulate their style. In all truth the very same thing can be said about the Beatles or Elvis or any other music act that has seen international fame and success over the last 60 years.

At the heart of all success is good marketing. For the Beatles, Brian Epstein took four rough young lads and put them in suits, and took advantage of their good looks. At the time TV was the new media and they were just the right darlings to capture the imagination of everyone who watched.

For Fall Out Boy it was their use of the internet. Good marketing always knows how to take advantage of unique opportunities when they present themselves. Especially new and unknown opportunities that have yet to be explored and figured out.

I have been told more times then I can count of late that myspace is dead. Ok, so what about facebook and twitter and the plethora of other sites just like them. Are they dead too? How does the next big thing in the music business find success? I believe the answer lies in the past. As some would say, what is old is new again. I think it lies in hard work, time, effort and preparation. The same things that have always made businesses successful. If you have a good business plan, work hard and continue to knock on doors eventually opportunity will lead to reward.

I know some of you are saying, yeah but what about those artists that got discovered and bypassed all of that, what’s your answer for that. My answer is you can’t discover someone that doesn’t at first at least want to be discovered. Is Justin Bieber really an overnight success? He would busk on street corners and posted videos on YouTube. It’s not like he was locked away in his room singing to the walls around him. Maybe YouTube helped draw him attention faster and easier then most, but it was only a matter of time before the recording industry discovered him.

So is the internet dead? After writing this I’m not sure I’m any closer to an answer then I was before I started. I think I am of the mind that the internet never really helped anyone on its own. It was just another tool in a large box, that when used along with other known tools, sped up the process. Did the internet and myspace make Fall Out Boy famous? No, just like TV didn’t make the Beatles famous either. Both the Beatles and Fall Out Boy would have been famous in my opinion had there never been TV or the internet. It may have taken longer, but they would have still reached the same point in their careers.

Reader Comments (14)

Really nice article. I like that you use Fall Out Boy & The Beatles & Justin Bieber as it combines folks with similar levels of success despite most folks not having much respect for at least one of them.

Anyway, I too have had a general feeling like the internet (for music in particular) is getting a little less popular. I want over to Alexa & typed in a few music websites & Pitchfork remains about the same; but Delusions of Adequacy, iTunes.com (I realize that isn't the main way people access iTunes), & All Music Guide all have less traffic over the past three months.

November 18 | Registered CommenterBrian John Mitchell

I've been saying this for as long as I can remember. The internet isn't doing musicians any favors, at least when it comes to distinguishing yourself in the crowd. First and foremost, the internet has presented artists with new challenges that they never had to surmount before, even as it weakened some of the old challenges.

1. Filesharing; forget economics and free music. Filesharing made music ubiquitous. It has guaranteed that no listener will ever pay attention to a band because they couldn't bother to find something else to listen to. There is far less "luck" now in finding fans. The new system has encouraged them to be much more discerning by offering a constant, instantanious, personalized filter for their preferences. Long story short, NOTHING about you can seem mediocre to a future fan, otherwise you get the thumbs down on pandora. Next.

2. Social Networking. It made music marketing ubiquitous. That, and the rise of sites like this one we're reading right here have weeded the music world of artists that don't have business or marketing savy. Used to be you could count on your label or manager to help out with making you look interesting - now, you'll be lucky if your band's facebook page gets more likes from your friends than videos of cats doing stupid things.

3. The resiliency of the music promotion industry. Not the music industry itself, but the relatively small cohort of tastemakers and journalists that get to determine whether that new band is worth a frontpage post or just a lil' weblink STILL wields an immense amount of influence. Yes, less idiots in suits are elevating bands from behind office desks for financial reasons, but its not like the great-democratic-engine-of-the-internet-hivemind is what determines a band's fate. Its still about getting good press, and the press still make their own decisions.

4. The rise of the music middlemen. Its been analogized here and elsewhere that, during the goldrush, it wasn't the gold miners making the money, but rather the merchants who supplied them with mining tools and supplies. Myspace was a supplier, not a producer. Facebook is a supplier, not a producer. Bandcamp and Sonicbids and the Hype Machine and Twitter and freaking Ariell Hyatt (anyone else a little bored with her shtick?) are suppliers - middlemen. They are rationally taking advantage of a huge new class of consumers (aspirant musicians), who are hungry for branding tools and forums in which to present themselves. They have layed the groundwork for a "new music industry", all the while undermining it by thriving on its oversaturation. These aren't bad companies - they are actually quite useful for bands. But it is THEM, not artists, that are the primary beneficiaries of the internet and the changes that it has brought.

But the number 1 reason that "the internet is dead" is because it is the most lonely place ever invented: the place where everyone can communicate with everyone else. It is so easy to join new communities, so easy to use new digital widgets and craft webpages and create media that artists have become unintentionally narcissistic. It has increasingly seemed like every band is an island, and each musician is the king of their own little domain (this is the product that the music middlemen have mastered selling!). What everyone is missing is that it is, and has always been in COLLECTIVE energy that real, lasting musical institutions emerge.

Any hit genre, good or bad, was based on a wave of bands getting big more or less at the same time. Some of this was bandwagoning and opportune marketing. But mostly, it was fan response to ideas that lots of people could digest and get hip to. Grunge. Nu-Metal. The British Invasion. Disco. Thrash Metal. New Wave. Whatever. These are genres today, but when they emerged they were BANDS.

It used to happen organically, because there were fewer media outlets pre-internet. Nowadays, musical movements can't happen on their own, because everyone is their own musical movement. Thats not a bad thing. Its just that artists need to have a little more ambition and vision than to just try and be the next Arcade Fire or Korn. They need to realize that getting and holding an audience's attention is about presenting a consistent, fun story\image. And fewer and fewer bands are going to be able to do that on their own.

So, when we start seeing less myspace pages devoted to single artists, and more devoted to specific collectives, media labels, and musical ideas - then thats when the internet will start getting interesting again for the people who actually make music.

November 22 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

@ Justin

On the tastemakers thing being important & labels not doing as much for a band (both of which I agree with), one of the semi-shady things I see going on is if you look at some of the major mags like Paste or Spin & write down the names of some of the folks reviewing releases by major indies & Google their names, you'll find a surprising amount listed as interns for the label they review. I have yet to know exactly how I feel about things like that or having a set of interns that just call radio stations with requests all day long. Is it part of the modern promotions game or a little underhanded? Both?

On the idea of the internet leading to isolation. I find it an interesting idea that much like the access to infinite amounts of music, cool pictures, & historical facts leads to people not really being interested in any of them that the internet's ability to let us all communicate with anyone causes us to communicate with no one. Hmmm, interesting.

Creativity does need filters & traditionally we had several layers (the artist, the producer, the label, the reviewer, the retailer) & while some artists do have enough self awareness to only unleash good material on the public, it takes a long time to come to that level of self-editing.

November 22 | Registered CommenterBrian John Mitchell

A better question might be: '...and does it matter?"

Totally agree with Justin about this being the loneliest place, about the creeping narcissism of the artists, about the resilience of the PR section of the business.

And Brian's observations that the same names work for the companies whose product they are 'critically reviewing' just point to the obvious: that those with money can buy influence, however open the possibilities of this interweb are to the poor and unsigned.

The same problems are beginning to beset political life, too. The feeling of having done some good in the world with a tweet or an online petition. The googlisation of the world.

If your first experience of a hot new artist is on this thing, how can it affect you more than... oh, look, a dancing puppy! Cute...

I'm beginning to think of the interweb as the nerd's revenge, the place where the least cool kids finally squash the rockers, without even having to grow up and become ad exec's, commissioning Motown tunes to sell jeans.

Honestly, I'm beginning to hate this bright rectangle.

November 22 | Registered CommenterTim London

To clarify, I don't intend to rant about how the internet ruined things, or how we would all be better off if we just turned off our computers. It hink that the new environment is forcing artists to stretch into new forms of media, and becoming more skilled musicians than they used too. Thats a good thing.

I also don't particularly care that getting press and exposure is still basically a game of who you know. I would prefer it to be different, but its a bit idealistic to think that this can be anything more than a business.

What I am ranting against is the complicity of artists in digging their own irrelevance graves. How many new "music networking" sites is it going to take until everyone wakes up to the fact that barely anyone who actually succeeds in music owes it to these services? Artists are buying the BS that it can be "easier" to get a music career off the ground by getting things online. They are neglecting the internet's true potential (collaboration) for its siren song of commodified vanity.

November 23 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

For the purposes of this site, it's a shop. The internet is a shop. If you're selling your music online, you're working in a shop. If you're adding value, gaining SEO, creating a community, building a fan base - you're working in a shop.

Did you pick up a guitar in order to work in a shop?

I like that phrase you get in mafia movies: 'you're dead to me now', when someone in the family has done something so heinous, so unforgivable that the culprit ceases to exist.

What has the internet done for you? It's stolen your music, opened the door to everyone with a home organ to compete with you, deluded you into thinking that you finally have a way to get your art to the masses; stolen your time, confused your head with a load of useless site operations, uploads and passwords; made you communicate with people you would normally ignore for good reason; made you consider yourself as a brand, made you worry about the amount of friends and likes and fans you have; made you spend money on multipliers, getting your music appraised by dubious business professionals, joining premium sections, website designers; introduced you to hundreds of people just like you, instead of people who can help; taken years off your life while you trawl through Hype and Elbos and wait for google mentions of your latest release, al the while knowing that, even if you get maximum blog coverage that none of it matters if Pitchfork don't feature you... and even if they do, your music is available for free, somewhere...

So that finally, like Wilco, you consider moving into coffee, not music. Adding coffee value. Reaching the coffee community.

Internet, yes you are dead to artists and worse, artists are dead to it.

November 23 | Registered CommenterTim London

Musicians do need to move beyond music. Kinda sad, but kinda cool too. The thing is to find stuff more exciting than coffee to add value to.

In ancient times, few people could write, and those that did became scribes. Just being the guy in the room who could write stuff down was impressive and valuable enough. Writing was "music." For quite some time now, writing ain't been no big thang, but its still valued as an art. Its just not valued in-and-of-itself in the way it used to. But thats ok, because there are plenty of things to write about and plenty of reasons to write, and good writing is still valued more than bad writing.

An imperfect analogy to be sure, but I firmly believe that its ok too let go of the old belief that music needs to be valued and monetized as a thing in-and-of-itself. The problem with the internet isn't that its facilitating this shift - the internet is working AGAINST this shift by sprouting the aforementioned charlatans who are trying to convince you, Mr. Scribe, that if you too can be valued just for your singular skill if you upgrade to the premium version....

The internet is dead because it is perpetuating the dead ideal that all artists are just artists. It worked in the past, but not anymore. Nobody wants to be told that they have to roll up their sleeves and learn anything more than how to use social networks. But we do, and in a better world, more people would realize that the internet could, in fact, be a very useful medium for making the shift from old-fashioned musician to the media-portfolio managers that we should embrace becoming.

November 23 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

'media-portfolio managers' ? That's very good.

Media Portfolio Think Tank.

November 24 | Registered CommenterTim London

Good post and comments. It's interesting to read how you guys are thinking. Thanks.

-Bruce

November 24 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Warila

Great article and comments gentlemen!

This collaborative idea with other musicians, why has it not been blatently obvious before that better things can be done together. Some real clout in that thought!

Can't agree more with the 'media-portfolio managers', just never termed it as that.

Must get to work on that website i been thinking of.

I shall sleep much happier tonight after scanning this page.

November 26 | Unregistered CommenterMartinT

I do wish there was some standardized way to type out a big, juicy raspberry.

This article assumes that all musicians still want that "major label deal" (i.e. to get screwed over by a corporation) and nothing else will do.

For the vast majority of us earning a decent living without having to constantly say "would you like fries with that, sir?" is success. We have no desire to chase the (more and more impossible) dream of limos, groupies and too much cocaine lifestyle of that dying breed, the huge pop star. Not to mention the fact that most of the current crop of huge pop stars are turning out crap that I would be ashamed to be associated with.

The way to do it (with or without the internet) is to develop a fanbase in your niche. The internet facilitates that beautifully. I won't repeat the list of the folks who've done this, not only because you've all heard this before, but also because you're obviously not paying attention.

If you can establish a relationship, a conversation with your fans, and nurture and continue it, you can have a very nice life from making the kind of music you and your fans like. It doesn't even take a lot of fans. I agree that it does take some effort. But anything worth having takes some effort.

So go ahead and ignore the internet. It's dead after all. I'm sure I'll see your faces in every "top of the pops" list in the future.

Not.

December 7 | Unregistered CommenterHowlin' Hobbit

The internet is obviously not dead as a sounding board for speculative journalism. Or should I have written "meandering," or "pointless" blogging masquerading as journalism? In all other respects it is dead. The bands here mentioned are all terrible and not deserving of mention. Now, as in times past, people will have to work a bit harder finding worth-while music. The author of this article knows not what this means.

N2 It.

December 13 | Unregistered Commentergnomonclast

Loved your comments Justin - right on.

I'm starting to hate my computer too.

December 13 | Unregistered CommenterBob

If the Internet is dead, then why all this fuzz about Wikileaks?

Cheers
M

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