I recently interviewed a good friend about the state of the music industry. Something came up in our chat while recording last nights episode that I wanted to expand upon here – something that affects our livelihoods, and will impact music industry folk more than any other one concept. The thing that makes us all weirdos and deranged rather than just another important part of society. I’m talking of course, about the devaluation of music and the way it may be making our music scene change forever.
This is a trend we’ve seen happening for years, but that has been accelerated in recent times – largely due to the rise of the MP3. Now that music has no real physical format and can’t manifest itself in a physical reality, outside of a concert, it’s a lot harder to make the average person want to buy an album. After all, since most people don’t really care about liner notes, one of the last reasons to buy a CD, there is little to no reason to own a physical product. In a way it makes sense that people don’t value music anymore, it’s something we all have constant access to with Spotify, Youtube and other services of that ilk. And that’s fine, in fact I prefer it that way – I don’t really like going through my CD collection to find an album and I’m sure you don’t either – especially when the internet is so readily available.
Of course, I’m not going to blame the rise of the internet exclusively for the devaluation of music. Why, legendary composer John Phillip Sousa was the Taylor Swift or Lars Ulrich of his day, famous for getting upset and thinking that gramophones were going to devalue live music! Of course – it ended up being quite the opposite and was key to bringing us to where we are in the industry today, but that doesn’t mean his point wasn’t valid. Sousa was predicting a larger trend where music (And art in general) has gradually been losing its value as something special over the last hundred years. As music programs in schools get cut and music becomes increasingly diverse we’re only going to see this breaking down even further.
One thing that my friend Nate Carson, head of Nanotear Booking, brings up is that with rock music is that you are generally marketing to a primarily young white male audience. By being someone who puts on shows for a living he understands the type of people who come to his concerts. Is this his fault? No. It’s the product of our society shaping our musical tastes based on our individual cultures – and again, that’s fine. But you need to be aware of it. Almost any musical movement has, in an objective sense, only a very small potential demographic. It is perhaps because we are marketing to the smallest slice of pie of the smallest slice of pie that music is devalued.
So what does this mean for you as a starving artist? Well asides from proof that you probably don’t need to be selling CD’s anymore, (In the words of the legendary Max Cavalera, “A CD is like a business card these days”) it also suggests that people need to be given new reasons to appreciate your art. That’s what makes a band like Pomplamoose so interesting to me. Rather than just being a mediocre indie rock band, they’ve been able to craft an entire social movement around there band giving them strong brand recognition. In many ways – they have been able to harness the millennial ideology and craft a unique place in the scene.
As bleak as this might sound, it’s no longer about the music. Entertainment has reached a level of multimedia complexity that it now demands more than that. The biggest bands, like Metallica and U2 have started to realize this and are really branching off in new directions, and for good reason! Radio play has no relation to album sales these days, after all, album sales bring you virtually no money, and so we have to ask, holy shit, what’s going on, are we totally lost? Has the whole world gone crazy? It seems to me at least that we need to start rethinking about how we brand bands – because they are no longer musicians, they are artists.
This is both an extremely liberating and extremely intimidating process. There’s a reason that Pink Floyd are considered great and why Roger Waters The Wall tour has been such a success – the band has been able to use multimedia content to appeal to a broader segment of the population. Obviously you’re probably not going to have the production value to pull that kind of thing off, but it’s important to remember that a band like Ghoul have been able to do something truly special and elaborate with a very DIY mindset. Of course – your stage performance doesn’t need to be elaborate – that’s merely an obvious example of how you can make your work cross into a multimedia platform. What I’m trying to say is that we need to be flexible and ready to create art that resonates because it crosses platforms and allows the common fan to connect on multiple levels.
We’re already seeing this start to happen and people are beginning to crack. They see that there is no real way around it – for the common young person being a band alone isn’t going to cut it – and neither will a social media presence, although both of those things help. Instead you need to emulate someone like Ghost, who use a distinct aesthetic and whirlwind of productivity to help to establish themselves as icons. As the music world becomes even more cutthroat you need to stand out more than ever. In an increasingly multimedia world – wouldn’t it thus make a lot of sense to go out and make your art multimedia as well?
So essentially, what I’m trying to say is that the devaluation of music is forcing us all to expand our work. No longer is it okay to just be a musician, you need to be aware that if you want your band to be serious you need to be an artist. As challenging as it may seem we are at a very exciting time when the art we can make has no more boundaries and we can now build up to something epic in scale and truly magical. As hard as things might seem right now, I for one am very excited with the changing state of the industry and as soon as you can accept that music, for better or for worse, has no more value, the sooner we can all grow, together.