Don't Believe the Hype
October 26, 2007 9:48 AM   Subscribe

The Internet Hype Machine Bubble. Idolator has an introspective on the boom and bust cycle of the online indie music scene, focusing on the band Black Kids, who with only one EP under their belt, are already being hyped to an extreme extent. With the conversation taking prominence over the music itself, are we seeing the dark side of the Cluetrain?

Supplementary links:

Pretty Goes with Pretty has a four part series detailing much the same topic. [1, 2, 3, 4]

Another post from the Idolator along the same lines, discussing an Oxford American article.
posted by zabuni (29 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
There was already a cycle like this in music, it just used to take longer.

It went like this

10 -Everyone starts writing about the album in magazines
-Album comes out
-Band Tours
-People blog about either the tour or the album
-People get sick of hearing about the band.

The band takes some time off to work on their next album while people stop talking about them.

If the band is good enough GOTO 10 when the next album is done.

Now, it's possible people are talking so much in, the GOTO 10 doesn't happen.
posted by drezdn at 10:02 AM on October 26, 2007

Now, it's possible people are talking so much in, the GOTO 10 doesn't happen.

I think there's also a bit missing where people listen to the music, enjoy it, and it becomes part of their lives. Oh but that's so 20th century. Who has time for that anymore?
posted by fleetmouse at 10:10 AM on October 26, 2007

drezden: agreed.

I don't think it helps much that the "indy" genre is stylistically empty. Indy isn't a sound - it's a pretense. And once the pretension wears thin, the catchy little rock songs designed not to alarm anyone wear even thinner.
posted by elwoodwiles at 10:12 AM on October 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

it becomes part of their lives.

Part of it, I think, is the ease of building up a giant music collection (and just the act of having a giant music collection). When you have thousands of songs that you can play at any instant, it's harder for any one song or album to build up a huge emotional value.

Think back to when you (depending on your age) owned a few albums, CDs, or cassettes. You probably played the shit out of them and can remember all the words from them.

For me, one of my first records was Bad Religion's "Stranger Than Fiction," I can still sing along with every song (and quote some of them off the top of my head) even though I only listen to it once or twice a year now.
posted by drezdn at 10:20 AM on October 26, 2007

I think maybe this is more about a change in perception than a change in the dynamics of the music scene. When garage bands move from faith in Getting On The Radio to faith in Striking Instant Internet Fame, without doing the footwork necessary to keep in touch with their audience, the result is just as disappointingly ephemeral. Meanwhile, the bands who play on do so in much the same way as ever.
posted by zennie at 10:23 AM on October 26, 2007

I'm not sure what the problem exactly is, but I blame Pitchfork.

(I do love their snarky reviews of major label stuff though)
posted by Dr-Baa at 10:26 AM on October 26, 2007

Yeah, I linked to that OxAm article on my blog a bit ago, and I thought it was really well done.

Even reviewing music for magazines leads to too-quick burnout, frankly. I kinda feel like Cristgau's got the right approach—he often waits on reviewing an album until the hype's died down almost entirely, then rests on his gravitas to deliver "the last word."

But with blogs, everyone's on the tight, socially enforced "deadline," which (I know from print) means that sometimes you start writing the review two songs into the album.

And, frankly, there's so much B-average solid plugger music out there that it's kinda random what people get into when, and that combines with the intentionally amateur aesthetic of blog entries; people read blogs for the profuse excitement and hyperbole, and amateurs often lack the critical breadth of reference as well as the ability to constrain their excitement into a cogent review. It's like a pool player who only knows how to knock balls in hard, so scratches a lot.

Meanwhile, at least for me re: music blogging, I've kinda accepted that I don't have an audience outside of myself and toss something up only when I want to remember it. I've found a couple of places that will pay me to write reviews, and that assures that I get my promos in and don't have to worry about cultivating much of an actual audience, so I can spend more time talking with actual people about music, which I like better than bloviating on a blog about it. (Though I get a little bit of cash & trade to do that on a pal's vinyl blog too, but posting only about vinyl totally keeps me from having to worry about being current).
posted by klangklangston at 10:41 AM on October 26, 2007

It's called payola and it has been around in the music business a long, long time.
posted by sleepy pete at 10:49 AM on October 26, 2007

When you have thousands of songs that you can play at any instant, it's harder for any one song or album to build up a huge emotional value.

Yes, absolutely. The embarrassment of riches on my mp3 partition has greatly impoverished my enjoyment of music. Actually I think I started to enjoy music less when I had an Emusic membership. Checking out and downloading new music started to become a chore, not a pleasure.

Think back to when you (depending on your age) owned a few albums, CDs, or cassettes. You probably played the shit out of them and can remember all the words from them.

But is that about about cherishing your albums because they're scarce or about being young? I don't know. I'll let the 13 to 21 crowd answer that one. If teenagers and college kids no longer read and reflect on silly lyric sheets and listen to the same silly album obsessively over and over, then these are sad times indeed.
posted by fleetmouse at 10:51 AM on October 26, 2007

"When you have thousands of songs that you can play at any instant, it's harder for any one song or album to build up a huge emotional value."

Eh, no, not really. I find myself still returning to different things. It's just maybe not as noticeable because I have a lot more chaff inbetween things I find and really love.

"Think back to when you (depending on your age) owned a few albums, CDs, or cassettes. You probably played the shit out of them and can remember all the words from them."

Not really. I always had a lot of music around as a kid; my dad had a huge collection. I returned to things more often because I had a less sophisticated ear for music, and tended to overplay a few things out of that massive library.

Oh, and I can only think of about five pop songs that I ever learned all the words for, no matter the time period.
posted by klangklangston at 10:58 AM on October 26, 2007

Think back to when you (depending on your age) owned a few albums, CDs, or cassettes. You probably played the shit out of them and can remember all the words from them.

I've never been without access to a large amount of music. However, this doesn't seem to be true, at least not for me.

Scarcity's never had any impact on whether or not something catches on with me and I end up obssessing about that album, that band, whatever.
posted by sparkletone at 11:10 AM on October 26, 2007

But is that about about cherishing your albums because they're scarce or about being young?

I think it's a bit of both.

If I'm taking a long drive (say hours on hours), I might only have a few CDs with me, and notice things that I hadn't before in the songs. However, I haven't sat down with a lyric sheet in a long time.

Indy isn't a sound - it's a pretense.

From my perspective, there is what I would call the "Indie sound" and then there's the pretense. Often bands with the former also have the later.

I was in a band from 2001- 2004 that self-identified as playing indie rock. At the time, we took things like Sebadoh's "Gimme Indie" rock as our blueprint for what the indie sound was. Where I lived at the time, hardcore was the overwhelming sound, and there were only a few bands that cared about indie rock (maybe this wasn't the case nationally).

When we would try to call ourselves an indie rock band, club owners/booking agents/friends/nearly everyone wouldn't know what we were talking about. There were bands that shared the language though and usually would be pulling from similar influences to use.

Now the word indie seems to be used far more generically and has become seemingly far more popular.
posted by drezdn at 11:17 AM on October 26, 2007

(drezdn, on a somewhat related note--i'll never forget the day my father in law, a bass-player himself, pulled me aside and asked: "so what's this indianapolis music about?")
posted by saulgoodman at 11:22 AM on October 26, 2007

as someone who recently shelled out a small but not insignificant chunk of dough for web PR services for one of the bands on my label, i have to disagree with the title of this fpp:

No, Please Do Believe the Hype!
posted by saulgoodman at 11:26 AM on October 26, 2007

I agree about the mp3 revolution taking some of the magic out of music. Some of my fondest memories as a youth were of buying my two CDs a month. This was at the cusp of the Internet's popularity, when information was plentiful but the technology didn't quite exist to share full length tracks. I heavily researched each and every music purchase and obsessively studied the influences, musical and otherwise, of all my favorite bands. From Nine Inch Nails I went to Coil to Foetus to Cop Shoot Cop to Firewater to the Legendary Pink Dots to Killing Joke to Catherine Wheel to Elliot Goldenthal to Current 93 to watching The Reflecting Skin and reading Will Self and Maldoror.

Until my life slowed down a bit recently and I got into a committed relationship, my eMusic purchases (and music from, er, other sources) simply lingered on my hard drive. I obsessively listened to what was catchy and familiar to me. Music lost its mystery and I took everything creative for granted. A great big "so what" lingered over even the most strange recording. I stopped seeing the point in Nurse With Wound (no great loss, some might say).

But I have to say: now that I've stabilized my music-sharing, and now that I no longer have the time or interest to download things for the sake of simply acquiring them, I've relearned to appreciate music both old and new. It's just a matter of training yourself and not getting distracted by the instant gratification and information overload that the Internet that throw over your head. I've never been more involved with my choice of music, let alone creatively excited, since I've learned to stop combing over music blogs and trying to stay on top of every single little trend. By taking it slow, actually listening, and plumbing what I'm interested in, I'm somewhere near that early experience of being 13 and picking up Foetus CDs sound unheard.

I'd similarly overloaded on movies. I went to film school and hung out obsessively with film geeks like myself. We devoured everything in our path, and for the first few years out of college, movies began losing their shine for me and I had stopped giving a shit. I felt like nothing new was under the sun and that all I'd have left would be my old favorites and blank thrills from flashy stuff which no longer moved me. Once again, rejecting the acquisitive I-must-know-everything-and-be-on-top-of-all-trends mindset improved everything dramatically. I'm getting back into enjoying movies of all sizes as simply their own weird little things, and not as marks on a punch card. It was just a matter of relaxing and changing my mindset.

It also helps that my girlfriend doesn't really share a whole lot of my taste. It's easier to carve out your own appreciation for things when, instead of spending your time 24/7 with similarly minded film geeks, you get close to people who have a different perspective. It also helps me appreciate my film geek friends more, too. Nobody likes an echo chamber, whether face to face with your friends or when you're obsessively reading the same websites over and over. Put yourself out of the hype. Everyone wins!

Sorry for the ramble.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:50 AM on October 26, 2007

Poor Saul, you may get more mileage out of things like what just happened— I saw that you mentioned having a record label, and since I was typing something else up, I decided to see if you had free samples up so I could listen to 'em. My boss's boss came by while I was playing it and asked me what it was (The Grand Canyons' "Secret Trans") and where he could get it. He's both a) the kind of person to buy something that he likes even if he only listens to it once, and b) the type of person to take credit for discovering something and introducing it to others (whether or not he discovered it). That he's the editorial director of a national magazine may or may not help.

So, um, good luck with that web pr man.
posted by klangklangston at 11:50 AM on October 26, 2007

"Markets are conversations" is a pretty fantastic proposition. I can only imagine the conversations produced by people who seriously believe such drivel. But then it's exactly the sort of bland pseudo-communication that is the hallmark of markets, governments, and the media. These are institutions fundamentally opposed to any notion of human individuality; if "conversations" are happening then these are conversations between nobodies. And if any kind of truth, any kind of particularity, any kind of real change does emerges in a market place it is immediately relentlessly copied and commodified. Markets don't produce diversity, it's the opposite: they produce enormous, never-ending volumes of homogeneity. And at this point it's pretty clear that the internet will follow this age old pattern. Who can look at conformity machines like MySpace and believe the internet is going to engender cultural fragmentation rather than homogenization? It's a marketer's dream. But it is a bit humorous to hear professional consumers talk of "fatigue" and "burnout" -- as if producing and consuming novelty was actually exhausting. Oh, for the life of cats. If it was difficult in any meaningful sense of the word then everybody wouldn't be doing it.
posted by nixerman at 12:07 PM on October 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

This general topic is something I've been thinking about for a while. It initially grew out of wondering about whether you needed traditional promotion structures when you could 1) tour your ass off and 2) use Intarwebz.

Watching the cycle of churn and turnover speed up and up and up has been somewhat disheartening. It feels ridiculous to have their be this OMG-backlash-reconciliation cycle that results in people being burned out by bands that are just getting started.

the catchy little rock songs designed not to alarm anyone

Come on! Everyone knows if you want to alarm people these days, you listen to the most vile misogynistic rap you can find!

I mildly object to this sort of statement if only because it implies that everyone should be out trying to offend their parents or something. I get your point, and don't really agree, but really. Rock music has been around for 50 years. There's not much shock left in it, so why expect every single band to go around trying to cause the sort of scandal that the Stones did.

Sure, that's not an excuse for being bland, or a defense of blandness, but there are many, many worse things a band could be doing than writing "catchy little rock songs."
posted by sparkletone at 12:22 PM on October 26, 2007

Pretty Goes With Pretty calling it the NME-ization of the music blogosphere is pretty spot on, complete with bringing with it everything I loathe about that waste of paper and ink.
posted by sparkletone at 12:33 PM on October 26, 2007

I saw Black Kids play CMJ last week. While I love that one song, their set was sloppy (and from what I'm told, 110% improved over what the crowd endured the night before).

Comparisons to the Annuals is apt. Annuals also had one really killer song, but little else to validate them. Hell, I'm listening to "Brother" right now for the first time since October 6, 2006, and remembering how much I loved it last year. Perhaps still do.

Knowing all this doesn't mean I'll overplay "I'm Not Gonna Teach..." any less.

Getting it out of my freaking head is a whole 'nother story.
posted by yeti at 12:39 PM on October 26, 2007

Also, apropos of the Oink closure. It sounds like Oink was susceptible to this sort of thing as much as any source of music would be (the hot new thing is very popular, has lots of people on the torrent). But I wonder if an ad-free space for discussion where people are only going to hype things they're genuinely interested in, along with the "people who downloaded this, also downloaded this" feature, obviated this sort of churn-of-hype thing, or if nothing was different.

I have no idea. I'm just wondering aloud about whether or not having that sort of source for new music available to you helps dampen the impact of Press Release Blogging.

I have no way of knowing, but I guarantee such an environment doesn't lend itself to longer critical pieces (as 99.99999% of internets forums do not).
posted by sparkletone at 12:41 PM on October 26, 2007

This phenomenon doesn't surprise me. Here's why: PR companies have recognized since the beginning of mass media that, hey, there's a LOT of airtime, column inches, and pixels to fill, even for overindulgent self-absorbed blogger types. Eventually you wear down. There are a special few people who can find a band every day to get genuinely excited about, because they've got tendrils everywhere and like everything. But that leaves a ton of people (myself included) who decided one day to start a music blog, only to realize that no, your provincial tastes can't fill the content of a blog for very long, no matter how many neat personal anecdotes or well-researched stories you might have. After a while, you discover that you need help writing new content day in and day out.

I am not a great music writer. I rely far too much on easy clichés and obvious hooks because I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music today; very few people do. PR companies prey on people like me. They offer easy outs. "Hey, need something to run next week? How about doing a story on this band? They're coming to your town next week, we can get you tickets! And here's tons of info on them!" The bread and butter of the PR industry is all about making the lives of content providers easier. Need photos? Whatever size you like, sir! Need a bio? Several lengths to choose from! MP3s? Here's a stream of the full album and some bonus MP3s we might put on an EP! Tour dates? Thought you'd never ask. Easy stork hook? We've got all sorts of inane trivia you might be interested in!

I've been wondering for the past couple of months what direction I should take with my blog, which is just interesting enough that I could possibly take it bigger and maybe gain a supplementary income from it or something, or at least provide more content than a post every three days or so. Should I delve into the massive backlog of PR e-mails and desperate pleas from bands to listen to their MySpace tracks, and make the blog a definite ongoing concern-slash-job? Or should I just stop entirely, admitting that I honestly don't know that much about music and I'm just not as interested and passionate as I used to be?

Having seen how horribly cliché my writing can get on a bad day, I know what would happen if I open the floodgates and start mining those press releases for carefully planted pieces of quirky trivia about a shiny new band that'll enter limited rotation on VH1 come next month. This is why most mp3 blogs look the way they do.
posted by chrominance at 1:20 PM on October 26, 2007

There are a number of fascinating observations here. Wasn't the internet going to lengthen the tail of our collective music listening habits? Instead, this particular sub-culture's tastes are being adopted by its participants even more quickly. Are we becoming even more uniform?

As a sidenote, who are these web PR companies that everyone is referring to. I know a number of traditional radio promo companies that are doing web promo work. Can anyone share links to other blog promoters?

Aside from Clell, of course.
posted by Pinwheel at 1:38 PM on October 26, 2007

As a sidenote, who are these web PR companies that everyone is referring to. I know a number of traditional radio promo companies that are doing web promo work.

these are the ones i know of. they're all traditional radio/print PR companies that also offer "new media" or online campaigns. these guys are all very finicky about the bands they'll promote, though:

Fanatic Promotion
Force Field PR
Terror Bird

i think i know a couple of others, but my memory's slipping. i'll post 'em later if i can think of them.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:14 PM on October 26, 2007

Team Clermont

But yeah, these are all old school radio promo companies. I wonder who's marketing themselves as company that can claim sway over the bloggers alone.
posted by Pinwheel at 2:20 PM on October 26, 2007

I found this list on a quick google search. Team Clermont is really nice (it's been awhile since I worked with them) and I've heard good things about Fanatic from a couple of people, but, yeah, they're both pretty much straight radio. You can always just write mp3 people to let them know about new releases.
posted by sleepy pete at 2:23 PM on October 26, 2007

Sorry, should be

mp3 bloggers and internet radio people...
posted by sleepy pete at 2:24 PM on October 26, 2007

Places like Pitchfork and sites to download music from (and see what other people are downloading) have definitely expanded the amount of bands (and new bands) I am able to listen to.

But, in the end, it is still only a small amount of artists and cds that I still want to listen to 6 months later. Remember Lily Allen? I downloaded the cd, listened to it a few times, really liked it, and now I couldn't care less.

The question is, is this any different than when I was in high school, was obsessed with ska music and ska bands, went to shows every weekend, had tons of ska cds. That phase lasted about 2 years, and then I and most other people grew out of it.

I think the internet has just allowed it to go to a bigger level and reach out to a larger group of people.
posted by hazyspring at 2:31 PM on October 26, 2007

"Remember Lily Allen? I downloaded the cd, listened to it a few times, really liked it, and now I couldn't care less."

Ah, see, that's the difference—Usually I can tell that I won't care about an artist pretty quickly. So I axe that shit right off.
posted by klangklangston at 3:20 PM on October 26, 2007

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