This Is the Industry, But For How Long?: Thoughts on the State of Music Today

It’s undeniable that the world of music is changing, and along with it, the industry that has accompanied it ever since the music publishing boom and the likes of Tin Pan Alley. The twentieth century made music more of a commodity than it had ever been before, and now the twenty-first century is seemingly tearing all of that down. I feel like discussing all of these thoughts here, so it can serve as a bit of a brain dump for the ideas that have been floating around my head ever since I started my MA thesis on music blogging and music journalism. As sustained arguments and their attendant research tend to do, this thesis has led me well beyond my original hypotheses and topics. And all this expansion into other areas is about to tear my brain into its separate hemispheres.

With the advances of digital technology, the world has seemingly both exploded and imploded in a McLuhanesque way. Privacy and publicity have morphed into “publicy” and the alternative has effectively blurred into the mainstream. So many people have more access to ideas and commodities, and at the same time, many people are putting more of their ideas and products out there. I consciously use “commodity” and “product” differently – to me, commodities are primarily there to be bought and sold for financial gain while products can be creative results produced for the sake of those producing them with or without financial gain. This distinction is significant for me because I feel as though music is moving from being a commodity back into being a product, and those who depend on it being a commodity, are the ones most upset about this shift.

Due to the emergence of the MP3 file and fast Internet connections, music now freely circulates the globe, both legally and illegally. The music industry itself was slow to realize and anticipate this fact, and will probably forever pay the price. As I mentioned in an earlier essay on digital music, the medium does transform the message, and in the case of the Internet and music, the medium is multiplying and fragmenting the message. Because making, promoting and distributing music has become so democratic (technology and software in combination with the Internet has made it quite possible for anyone to create and promote their own music), there is a proliferation of music, bands, and artists out there in cyberspace. So many, in fact, that it would likely cause you brain damage if you tried to listen to them all. You also can’t possibly know about them all. One look at MySpace and you can hear them all screaming for your attention, for their fifteen minutes. MySpace has made Warhol Nostradamus.

With the glut of music, worthy or not, the market for music has both exploded into fragmentation and imploded into solipsistic subcultures and subgenres solidified by the smaller communities who support them. Musicians used to depend on a major label deal to gain global publicity and popularity – even the bastions of DIY, the punks, all ended up selling out to the majors. Now musicians are able to promote themselves globally, but often within a sliver of society – definitely not to the heights of bloated stadium pomposity.

The danger of having so many people claiming to be musicians and claiming that their music is worth listening to and/or buying is that people become overloaded and apathetic. This has already happened in the realm of politics and news. If there’s too much music out there, most people cannot be bothered to care and take the time to figure out which artists they actually like. Mainstream media serves a purpose for those people who are casual music fans by literally telling them who to adore and whose music they should purchase. Mainstream media, which includes television, advertising, and regular Top 40 radio, selects the reality these fans see and hear. In the latter half of the twentieth century, music journalists came into the music scene to help influence those who weren’t as likely to be convinced by mainstream media and the popular music it was flouting. They became more discerning selecters of music reality and those music fans who were more than casual looked to these journalists as their tastemakers.

Now here we are in the twenty-first century, the irony and skepticism of the 1990’s still fresh in our minds, and the big media pundits have only gotten bigger and swallowed up smaller ones, while consumer markets have shattered into thousands of slivers. Casual music fans are being influenced by media conglomerates, passively consuming the next bland music act, while true music fans are being smothered by the choices offered by the Internet. These people who are truly passionate about new, innovative music, have largely abandoned traditional music fan publications. The NME, which used to be the tastemaker for rabid music fans, is now the most maligned piece of music press out there. Because music publications like the NME cannot and/or will not keep up with the explosion of new music that anyone with an Internet connection can find for themselves, they are becoming increasingly obsolete for those who are passionate about music. But even these truly passionate music fans need help in this sea of undiscovered music talent, and so step in music bloggers.

Music bloggers, or MP3 bloggers as they are also known, are the new tastemakers with a word-of-mouth style rather than the official, paid stance of a journalist. These disparate voices in the wilderness of cyberspace have now also been united by music blog aggregators like The Hype Machine and Elbows, making the disparate seem unified. These aggregators can generate little waves of hype for artists as they crawl the Internet for new music blog posts and reveal who has been blogged about the most at that particular moment. Is this hype having an impact in today’s fragmented market? It can be difficult to gauge. In looking at some traditional music publications, it seems music bloggers can have an effect on the music press that they are slowly and quietly subverting. Spin featured Vampire Weekend on their cover before the band even had an album out – instead, their popularity and worth was based primarily on the hype generated by music bloggers. At the same time, I know for a fact that most people I know do not even know what a music blog is, let alone religiously check aggregators and music blogs for information. In effect, music bloggers often seem to be preaching to the converted, and the ostensible unity shown via aggregators is an illusion of solidarity, where music blogs serve various fragments of music fan audiences. If there is a soldiarity amongst all these blogs, it comes from being a solid genre with tacit rules and conventions. And perhaps this sort of solidarity will eventually change the face of music journalism.

As more of the mainstream public become aware of music blogs, maybe they will serve a larger purpose than they currently do. In a world wary of advertising and continual corporatization of the Internet’s freedom, music blogs provide a way for music to exist outside of a commodity-driven framework. Most music bloggers use a distinct discourse about music, a discourse which puts love and passion about music above all other goals. They want to share music that has touched them or meant something to them with their friends, and because of the blog medium they use, they also end up sharing that music with the world.

And they do literally share this music with their audiences. Music blogs feature a few tracks for free download with every post, allowing their audiences to sample music before making a decision to purchase and/or support live gigs. This practice points to a new way of consuming music – it is no longer the commodity it once was. Because of the onslaught of new music available, much of it not terribly good, true music fans have become more selective than before, they have had to become more selective in this current explosion of bands and artists. This provision of free music, legal and often not, has been one of the contentious issues surrounding the music blogosphere, but in light of other filesharing issues like torrents, they are hardly worth the RIAA’s batting of an eyelash.

The fuss about illegal sharing of music and copyright violations just leads me to another question about whether music should even be the commodity it once was. It isn’t a coincidence that the first law about copyright and intellectual property came about in the eighteenth century when capitalism was moving into full swing. Music itself, whether it is an intangible file stored on a computer or a groove on a record, has rarely been particularly lucrative for the artists themselves. Most of the money made on album sales is sucked up by the record label. If a musician was going to make any significant amount of money, touring live shows would be the most effective way of doing so. Of course the arguments put forth by music labels and the RIAA always conveniently sidestep these facts.

It has also been pointed out before that many artists, including writers and visual artists, cannot support themselves by their art alone, so any musicians who believe millionaire stardom is their birthright need to re-think things. Perhaps music itself shouldn’t be viewed as a commodity anymore. Perhaps it needs to be seen as art once again in order for it to make sense in this brave new world. I, myself, am a firm believer in abolishing the whole middleman music industry. Those musical artists who can grasp and hold onto fans’ attention will continue to do so without interference from bottom-lines and media blitzes.

Music blogs are just an increasingly more visible portion of a seachange in the way music is created, promoted and consumed. There are so many other Web sites and platforms out there that are promoting a democratization of music tastemaking. Sites like MOG, Last.fm, muxtape, and The Sixty-One, are all ways to share your impeccable music taste with the world, and in cases like The Sixty-One, the concept of choosing who the best artists are becomes entertainment itself. Ordinary fans are increasingly taking the place of A&R people, and even festival promoters are taking note of this.

With the proliferation of music-makers, corporate-sponsored events are becoming just as ubiquitous and overwhelming as the waves of new bands on MySpace. It seems every mobile phone provider hosts a music festival, and looking at many of the line-ups, very few of them deviate from the same roster. However, more and more are attempting to get fans involved in choosing those bands who get to participate, including the Green Man Music Festival and their Green Poll (http://www.thegreenmanfestival.co.uk/greenpoll) and Benicassim Festival and their contest via Supajam (http://www.supajam.com/contests/fasttrack/home.html), yet another music social networking site. Whether all this A&R frenzy at being the first to discover a new band is actually productive or not, time will tell. Yet another danger of music blogs and their online offshoots is the hyper-speed of music discovery, where finding obscure music and being the first to post about it becomes the sole goal, barring any actual commentary or connection to the music being promoted. And in the end, posts like these disrupt the music discourse set up by music bloggers in the firstplace, making them less of an alternative to and subversion of the traditional music press.

Where is all this heading? I don’t have a clue. And that’s probably why I find it so fascinating and chose it all as a topic for my thesis. For the most part, music bloggers don’t promote music for money, nor do they do it at the behest of record labels (unless they feel the music warrants it), and they don’t have editors to please and/or contend with. These facts about music blogs can very likely change in the future as each new medium topples the next, and for some music blogs maybe these facts have already changed. But as it currently stands, music blogs are at the frontlines of music, wading through the mind-boggling masses of music out there and separating the wheat from the chaff for the benefit of those who have otherwise grown completely apathetic in the face of such choice. Too much choice can end up eroding any interest at all and weakening people’s passions. Music blogs will hopefully continue to make sure this doesn’t happen. Music is a special, affective art form (the most affective one for me, personally), and it deserves a promotional medium that matches that. Not another commodity-driven “industry.”

Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll – The Killers

This is Industry – Calvin Harris


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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave


So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun


Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head


Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away


Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners


Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away


You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender


I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding


You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black


Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side


Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb


Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape


Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah


And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning


My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it


Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love


We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's


Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south


Running on


As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different


LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell


Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are


You must let her go

She's not crying



Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times



Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone


Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't


So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need


The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest


Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know


No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more


All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids


Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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