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Death of the majors? or New world order?
June 29, 2006 5:19 AM   Subscribe

Will acts like Gnarls Barkley, promoted by smaller indies with major distribution, signal the end of the music industry as we know it? With stadium rock acts becoming a thing of the past and greater diversity available to the average music fan at a click of a mouse, will the music industry of the future be shaped more and more by online based tastemakers such as Soul Sides or community based sites like Myspace.
posted by triv (37 comments total)

 
No.
posted by reklaw at 5:26 AM on June 29, 2006


That would be nice, but I doubt it. The smaller acts just don't have enough money. I kind of like Myspace (yes, I said it) because it gives all those low budget and no budget musicians a chance to find a new audience, and most of the local musicians I know are on there.
But even with an audience they still don't have the money and the manpower to replace the well financed bands on the big labels. They can make it up there, but not END the success of big budget bands.
posted by easternblot at 5:32 AM on June 29, 2006


i'm confident that we will start to move away from mass audiences for any one artist - the future is niche. so the majors will die not because some one else is hijacking their market - but because their market no longer exists.
posted by ascullion at 5:50 AM on June 29, 2006


Well, it's important to note that the "music industry as we know it" is only a 40 year old phenomenon (at most). Before the Beatles made the album into the central artistic statement, most artists focused on hit singles. Also, you didn't have huge concerts because the PA systems to handle large venues didn't exist.

Since then, there have been three different promotional avenues for musicians - FM radio to MTV to the Internet - as well as different types of media for recorded music - vinyl to CD to digital audio files. We've also gone from a time that most music was sold in small record stores to a era for Big Box stores (Best Buy, Wal-Mart) dominating sales. That all of that should change doesn't surprise me a bit.
posted by borkus at 5:50 AM on June 29, 2006


From the article: "...second- and third-tier rock bands that, despite critics' complete derision, sold zillions of records. ... This type of band no longer exists ..."

Huh?

will the music industry of the future be shaped more and more by online based tastemakers such as ... Myspace

Jesus, I hope not.
posted by dobbs at 5:58 AM on June 29, 2006


WARNING: Community based sites offer little or nothing to the music consumers. Unfortunately most of those low budget and no budget musicians don't deserve any audience. Where's the quality control? I don't have enough years left in my life to surf through every juvenile rambling on myspace. It bores the pants off me. More of an emphasis will be placed on the small labels in future for sure, but then the majors will come and hoover up anything that sells anyway. That particular business model won't change.
posted by Chunky at 6:03 AM on June 29, 2006


I agree that one of the few good things about myspace is that a given band (or performer--Dane Cook anyone?) can get their stuff out relatively easily. But how is myspace itself a tastemaker along the lines of Pitchfork or popmatters? Yes it's online, but a shouting match does not a tastemaker make. Or something. So I kind of agree that these are positive trends for the future, but the framing here is a bit out of whack IMO.
posted by bardic at 6:12 AM on June 29, 2006


Community based sites offer little or nothing to the music consumers.

You mean other than access to thousands of small acts that would have no other reach beyond their local gig if not for these sites?

No one is expecting you listen to every band that throws up an mp3 on myspace--find a blog or friends that share you musical taste and can serve as your quality control. Myspace itself as a "tastemaker" is absurd, of course.
posted by mullacc at 6:18 AM on June 29, 2006


But how is myspace itself a tastemaker along the lines of Pitchfork or popmatters?

The whole concept of 'tastemaking' is what the 'music industry' wants. Make your own taste.
posted by jonmc at 6:20 AM on June 29, 2006


It is easier than ever for someone to discover new bands through music blogs and the like - let the people who trawl for a hobby find stuff for you. I'd only heard of Regina Spektor until last night, when a friend posted this link to a ton of her tracks, posted on blogs.

Now I've gone and ordered an album. Have I heard her on the radio? No. Did I see her perform on a late-night talk show? No. An aggregate group of bloggers sold me her record without the record company or the artist spending a dime.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 6:34 AM on June 29, 2006


I can't be part of this conversation right now. I have taste to make. All over the place.
posted by grubi at 6:40 AM on June 29, 2006 [1 favorite]


What jonmc said.
posted by NationalKato at 6:58 AM on June 29, 2006


Does Danger Mouse have a p.r. team with multiple Mefi accounts?
posted by Alexandros at 7:00 AM on June 29, 2006


I'd have to say that I agree with this. Living in Montreal, I've seen dozens of bands become sustainable, basically from touring and Internet word of mouth. It's actually pretty straight forward and it's so much better than it used to be because it becomes more so about the music; the Washington Post article brought back memories for me of trying to like the new US Maple or Thinking Feller's Union albums so damn much, simply because I'd ordered away for them.

That's not to say that this 'tastemaker' stuff isn't often complete bullshit. For example, I think that Islands is complete and utter shite, but they have become fairly successful because, for whatever reason, pitchfork writes an article about them every damn week.
posted by dobie at 7:07 AM on June 29, 2006


I think a lot of people simply don't have the time or the compulsion to seek out what they really like. Maybe they don't really know what they like anyway.

Corporate acts like Ashlee Simpson make money from this circumstance, giving mediocre listeners tepid pop within arm's reach at the middle of the dial (payola) or Mtv's TRL.

Sort of like going to the brand new SuperExxon and all the have are the ConAgra line of products.

Distribution, baby.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 7:31 AM on June 29, 2006


There will always be a place for stadium rock. It's just a question of where.
posted by yerfatma at 8:39 AM on June 29, 2006


Your favorite social networking site sucks.

But seriously, as a web application developer, myspace is one of the most horrendous things I have ever laid eyes on. The Medusa of webapps. But as a dude in his 20's with real lifeTM friends, who likes music, myspace is great. Whenever I hear about a band, the first place I go is myspace. You got the bio, the music, and tour info right there. Sure, the interface is clunky, but chances are pretty good that the band has a myspace, even if they're some local indie band.
posted by anomie at 8:39 AM on June 29, 2006


There's so much bollocks in those Business Week articles I don't know where to start.

Okay, so Downtown records is independently owned, but it's backed by the massive marketing machine of a major, and no matter how good people think Gnarls Barkley are, it would have been logistically and financially impossible for a tiny indie label to make them the hit they've been so quickly. This is the way things have always worked – small indie requires financial muscle and marketing power, licences record to major, they pay for distribution etc., everybody has enough money to light their cigars with $50 notes and everyone goes home happy. (And this is before we get to bands signing with different labels – an indie in the UK, say, and a major in the US, as is the case with Franz Ferdinand – in different territories.)

And as dobbbs points out further up this thread, the idea that there no longer exist the "...second- and third-tier rock bands that, despite critics' complete derision, sold zillions of records ... " is frankly rubbish.

If anyone can name me one – one! – band who have gone from having a Myspace page to number one in the space of a year, I'd like to hear it. At the start of this year, people were banging on about how the Arctic Monkeys used Myspace, when they did nothing of the sort. And the latest mediocrity to be foisted on us – the teeth-grindingly pointless Sandi Thom – has pretty much admitted that the whole "webcast from my basement getting audiences of 150,000" was essentially a bold-as-brass scam on the part of her record label.
posted by Len at 9:09 AM on June 29, 2006


Before mp3 weblogs, I listened to very little music, because it was too time consuming to find anything. Now, I can find four or five blogs that have similar tastes, and have an IV drip of fresh music that I enjoy. This method has a much higher discover/hour rate than even something as specialized as Pitchfork.

This morning I heard a band on a blog, went to their MySpace page to find out how to order their CD, and was shocked to find that I should send my money to an address on the same block as my apartment. And this in a small town where I thought I a good handle on the local music scene.
posted by Llama-Lime at 11:09 AM on June 29, 2006


Len, I think it's clear that there's already been an ironic tipping point where hierarchical tastemakers are trying to tap into the idea of the community site (calling MySpace a tastemaker simply reveals a bias in favor of there being tastemakers). When it's label hype, I don't believe it. And again, you reveal your own bias when you call for proof in that a band must go to "number one". Maybe going to number one is important for labels to promote bands, but is it really important for bands who just want to make music? Who needs number one if it comes with strings attached? Isn't that a false standard?

Aimee Mann, for example, was very successful touring minuscule venues and selling her Bachelor No. 2 EP on her website, to the point that she could self-release as an album -- which was then converted to a major-label release that got her into box stores. That was seven years ago already.
posted by dhartung at 11:34 AM on June 29, 2006


jonmc writes "The whole concept of 'tastemaking' is what the 'music industry' wants. Make your own taste."

Man, I don't know about "tastemakers", but I do know that the sheer volume of music out there is just overwhelming. There's no way I could ever listen to even a small fraction of it, even if I just limited myself to genres that I'm already interested in. It really helps to have a few trusted sources who spend all their time filtering through the massive volume of music and pointing out the interesting stuff.

The thing with the internet is that it makes it possible for some kid in his basement or your favorite singer-songwriter to play this role, while in the past it would have been left to record company PR departments and the corporate media.

And yeah, I linked to Pitchfork. They're an amazing internet success story, built from the ground up, and I've got nothing but respect for how they've done it.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:13 PM on June 29, 2006


Len, the emo-punk band Hawthorne Heights pretty much rode their MySpace fame to regular rotation on MTV. But you've probably never heard if you're not a teenager. I think it's rather telling Hawthorne Heights, one of MySpaces' biggest success stories are considered by many (esp. those in the emo-punk community) as not bad, but not great either. It's almost as if their mediocrity was their saving grace.
posted by Kronoss at 12:15 PM on June 29, 2006


And yeah, I linked to Pitchfork. They're an amazing internet success story, built from the ground up, and I've got nothing but respect for how they've done it.

We'll agree to disagree on that. I still think they're a bunch of panderers.

I may read some magazines but I never let them dictate what I 'must hear.' I usually just take a weird zen approach whether I'm crate digging or p2p'ing. I wait for something to call out to me and if it does, I give it a shot. It rarely fails me.
posted by jonmc at 12:17 PM on June 29, 2006


jonmc writes "I may read some magazines but I never let them dictate what I 'must hear.' I usually just take a weird zen approach whether I'm crate digging or p2p'ing. I wait for something to call out to me and if it does, I give it a shot. It rarely fails me."

See, I'm always worried I'm going to miss something. It's like this constant anxiety, gnawing at me. I mean what if there's some really, really good music out there, but I never get the chance to hear it! A bit neurotic, I suppose.

And say what you will about Pitchfork's style and content; that kid built himself an impressive internet presence from the ground up with no dotcom hype, no venture capital, and no backing from the established music media. I respect that.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:24 PM on June 29, 2006


Yeah, I'll respect his business acumen. I just can't stand what he produces. And don't worry about missing anything. Trust your own ears.
posted by jonmc at 12:28 PM on June 29, 2006


I say right on to C-Lo and Danger Mouse (especially with DM riding a fairly big PR wave right now) for going with a smaller label but by no means is this leading to some sort of indie music revolution. They still have tons of "street cred" and it would be near impossible for them not to get picked up by radio stations and MTV which, like it or not, generally drive music sales in this country. Basically, what Len said in his first paragraph after re-reading.

On the PitchFork side of the debate, I'm preferential to Llama-Lime's method of "crate-digging." But, yeah, Soul-Sides is pretty fresh, too.
posted by redsnare at 12:55 PM on June 29, 2006


What mr_roboto said. Even a 20 year-old with a trust fund and all the free time in the world could never scratch the surface of all the music out there--let alone stuff that's worth listening to. And I'm not trying to slag on myspace (although it would be easy to), because it offers a band the ultimate reach--you curious? Check out one of my/our songs. I like that a lot. I just wouldn't call it a tastemaker along the lines of pitchfork or (the sadly defunct) splendidezine. Actually, I think the onion does a consistent, if not the best job, when it comes to online reviewing. They just don't get to all that much stuff, unfortunately.

But there's always metacritic.com.
posted by bardic at 1:26 PM on June 29, 2006


Trusting your own ears is good but there is a whole shit load of music and any given person is unlikely to like the vast majority of it. The question then is how to find music that you are more likely to like to expose yourself in the first place. The top 40, your friends older brother who listened to the replacements all the time, and pitchfork all do the same thing.

If I listen to the radio it might be something like 14 songs that I am negative to indifferent on for every one song that I like enough to want to hear again on purpose. Different sources get different ratios. I do pretty well with pitchfork really liking about half of the stuff they pick for best new music. That's pretty solid especially dealing with whole albums as opposed to singles.

What is your weird zen approach to finding music. What are the inputs, what are the filters? Until you hear music you can't trust your ears. I'm not baiting you or anything I'm just curious.
posted by I Foody at 1:35 PM on June 29, 2006


I guess a lot of it is accumulated experience from years of poring through old rock reference books as a kid and poring through record stores (full disclosure: I also work at a music database company as a clerk, although I'm being laid off) and picking up cues as to what I might like. Sometimes it's an album cover, or a member of the personel I recognize or song title I find witty or intriguing. When I p2p I usually search a relatively obscure artist that I know I like and then browse the collections of people who have them. It works really well for me and keeps my mind unclogged with trends.
posted by jonmc at 1:41 PM on June 29, 2006


I find new music the same way I find new books: read the liner notes (footnotes) and interviews with bands/authors I like, and look for things they like or influenced them.

Works great.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:45 PM on June 29, 2006


Mentioning myspace gets you nowhere here. Try namechecking Pandora or Last.fm or stuff like that, for a better pop from the crowd.

And read Len's comment. It's pretty much spot on. He even gets the Sandi Thom debacle in there.

The main thing the majors have left is hype and promotional power. They used to have a lock on distribution, but that's been gone for a while. Now their weapons are the mass media and the ability to strategically place music in things like movies, TV shows, and video games. EA just announced the lineup of music that will be featured in the new Madden game, for example. That's big business.

Anything "indie" these days that gets popular will be quickly assimilated by the majors, who will then put their muscle behind it but not necessarily their brand (so you can continue to think they're not "corporate sellouts").
posted by First Post at 2:01 PM on June 29, 2006


jonmc's got the right idea. It's fruitless to worry about what music you're hearing, because you can't possibly hear everything anyway. You're worrying about maximizing something that can't be maximized (and probably can't even be quantified). Just make sure that you're exposed to music, enjoy what you enjoy, and don't sweat the stuff you're missing.
posted by COBRA! at 2:11 PM on June 29, 2006


It really helps to have a few trusted sources who spend all their time filtering through the massive volume of music and pointing out the interesting stuff.

That was kind of the impetus for this, although it's really just barely getting started (warning: this is kind of self-promotional, but definitely on-topic). But then, it really all seems to come down to personal preference, as far as what constitutes "interesting stuff," and it'll be quite a while before I'd worry about mom and pop operations like ours even coming close to competing with the majors (but then, slow and steady wins the race, right?).
posted by saulgoodman at 2:20 PM on June 29, 2006


I take recommendations from friends really seriously, which is why I'm pretty hesitant to tell someone they have to listen to or read something. I wish they'd be as circumspect sometimes.
posted by bardic at 3:25 PM on June 29, 2006


[Sorry, I would have answered earlier, but I've been out for dinner]

dhartung: Len, I think it's clear that there's already been an ironic tipping point where hierarchical tastemakers are trying to tap into the idea of the community site (calling MySpace a tastemaker simply reveals a bias in favor of there being tastemakers). When it's label hype, I don't believe it. And again, you reveal your own bias when you call for proof in that a band must go to "number one". Maybe going to number one is important for labels to promote bands, but is it really important for bands who just want to make music?

The only reason I was calling for "proof", as it were, was that I was discussing this in terms of a band becoming a hit, rather than discussing bands who were actually any good or not, which is a different thing entirtely, as I'm sure you know.* If sites like Myspace etc. are suddenly so important, where are the commercial results, the bottom line which is so important to major (and some indie, for that matter) labels? [With the exception of Hawthorne Heights, whom Kronoss mentioned, and whom I hadn't heard of (they don't seem to have made many inroads into the UK market ...yet).]

To an extent, Myspace is only a tastemaker in the sense that it's become another avenue for labels, big or small, to find new talent. It's still the same people at record labels making the decisions as to who they wish to sign/promote; the same goes for Pitchfork, or the unsigned bands pages of the NME, or the support slots at your local indie dive. Yes, the spread is bigger, and the chance to roam far and wide through the musical spectrum increases, but ultimately it still comes down to the same A&R folks trawling through demos, whether they come in the form of CDs sent to them, gigs they manage to catch or mp3s they hear on a band's Myspace page. Some other format which allows bands to plug themselves will be along soon enough, and then people will be talking about how great a resource that is for finding new bands.

In the end, it comes down to finding the quickest route for labels to recoup their investment. The shorter that time period is, the better, as far as the label is concerned. If they can cut out all the assorted middlemen, the trawling through local gig listings, the botched attempts at star-making which involve spending inordinate amounts of money with no guaranteed return, then they will.

To be honest, the fact that in some cases they do it via the internet is almost neither here nor there: if they do it via the internet, it's not because of some great flash of web 2.0 insight, or because they truly believe that the 'net offers a democratic forum for every musician to reach their own audience. It's because it's going to make them more money, and make it quicker than they might have done otherwise. It's as simple as that.

*And yes, I've read that Courtney Love article, and the Steve Albini piece it was cribbed from, and agree with both of them. Yes, it's completely a false standard, but the reasons for that are a debate for another day in which you and I will, unless I'm very much mistaken, be arguing on the same side
posted by Len at 5:26 PM on June 29, 2006


Oh, and just to add:

Kronoss: It's almost as if their mediocrity was their saving grace.

Which is exactly the point. They wouldn't be getting rotation on MTV otherwise, and they probably would have managed it without Myspace or not; it just might have taken them a little longer ...
posted by Len at 5:33 PM on June 29, 2006


Yes, it's completely a false standard, but the reasons for that are a debate for another day in which you and I will, unless I'm very much mistaken, be arguing on the same side
posted by kaytwo at 12:13 AM on June 30, 2006


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