Social media influencers. Micro-influencers. Attention seekers. The Internet seems to collect the detritus of otherwise talentless hangers-on with no discernible skill other than relentless ego and self promotion. A yearning to be involved in something that they’d otherwise have no business being involved in. Thousands upon thousands of websites and profiles, fair-weather, self diagnosed experts, clinging on to a scene or an industry to milk what they can. In the case of a great deal of industries, the cow is already dry.
Towards the end of his career, Lester Bangs could see the dilution of journalism as more and more people chased the dream of being involved in rock and roll.
I regularly complain about the Internet’s knock-on effect on the industry, with more and more of, well, pretty much everything. With this in mind, I’ll avoid covering old ground. There are no barriers to anything anymore, and that goes beyond music. The digital incarnation of the American Dream, anyone, can do anything.
So, where does that leave us? Do we bemoan the march of technology like it’s never happened before? Countless times in history the march of innovation has changed the playing field of pretty much every industry in the world. Lest we forget the first mishandled step of progress in our new digital age, Napster. The rise of the file sharing platform and all that it spawned was mishandled by labels and bands worldwide. It too was time for the industry, by and large, to adapt to changes and challenges that were spewed out before them.
Nineteen years later, there are still musicians blaming file sharing and piracy for their lack of income. The rock and roll dream flounders while ‘bigger’ name acts, seemingly begrudgingly, charge fans $50 for meet and greet sessions they apparently abhor. All the while, blaming piracy. Yes, piracy is still prevalent, streaming services mean you don’t have to spend more than $10 a month to have limitless access to pretty much any music you could want to listen to. You no longer need to physically swap tapes with your friends to save some cash and still be able to listen to the biggest hit, an email from Dave down the road will give you the latest album, pushed through copper wires and invisible airwaves until it inevitably ejaculates out of piss poor phone speakers and detail-less headphones.
At the same time as this is going on, there’s another Dave, across the city with a laptop and a dream, plugin away, milking his limited experience to record a demo. Somewhere else, someone has gotten hold of some mastering software. Further away, in a swanky hipster-startup office with bean bags and a ping pong table, there’s fuckery going on. Someone has worked out how to circumvent the record labels. Direct distribution, albeit digital only, is still distribution. Dave’s mate, inexplicably also called Dave, is a wiz with the old web design, and HIS mate, can knock up some photos and artwork if you buy him a beer and help him move flat.
Missing a Dave? No fucking problem my friend. The Internet will teach you pretty much anything you want to know. Want to re-plumb your leaky crapper? No problem, there’s some one there to teach you how to do that in a 5-minute video. Can’t figure out how to get your vocals to cut through the band saw shriek of your guitarist? No problem. Want to 3D print a gun? Yes sir, there’s that horse shit up there too.
Now, does Jimmy Von Has-Been have to do $50 meet and greets because there is still an abundance of pirates out there? In part, yes. The other reason is that there are so many other bands out there. It’s easier to learn an instrument, in fact, if you want to do what I did, don’t even bother learning, just get yourself a guitar and pray for tolerant neighbours. There are, in my rough and un-researched estimations, far more bands out there now than there were 20 years ago, the same with news outlets, music press, recording engineers, more of everything. I think.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the whole situation. There are so many great bands and artists emerging and making a name for themselves, fair enough not ever again will we see something to the same scale as the Rolling Stones, but there are great acts that have managed to cut through the flaccid mediocrity. The big break doesn’t need to happen any more.
There is a down side to this though. With more mouths to feed, people are getting less of the pie. It’s no longer the big buck business that it used to be, or that a great deal of people want it to be.
So, where does that leave us. Those of us who want to keep trying to make a difference?
If Jimmy Von Has-Been wants to make more money out of music, I really would, with my somewhat limited experience, suggest making better music, or getting a day job. If you want to excel at something, make a full-on living from it, you have no choice, you have to stand up above the rest. Above everyone else that is fighting to make a living from the same thing you are.
Think you can do better? You probably can. There’s probably some trite ‘anything is possible’ mantra that could be applicable here, but I don’t have the stomach for that shit.
Writers, artists, labels, everyone involved, not just in music, but pretty much everything have to do better. There are airheads with 1000 followers on social media begging for free samples they can promote to their ‘fans’, pushing style over substance and their perceived lives, lived photograph by photograph. Carefully curated to exude an air of importance and popularity. To combat this vapid content, what do we do? Complain? Get the begging cup out?
Rise above, stay positive, work hard?
Or complain, exude a comic book air of rock and roll and wait for the pieces to fall in to your lap?