It’s kind of funny to think of it that way but social media does have deep seated roots dating back to the days of the Neanderthal. We’ve obviously come a long way since then. Radio and television have had a huge impact on society at large. And new technologies, coupled with the internet, are dredging deeper trenches into our lives making sure we stay dependent on the newest trends.
Like all other art forms, music has played a vital role in shaping our culture, the way we think and often times, the way we remember things. And if you’re like me, music is a pretty big part of life.
But I have to ask; What affect is social media, yet another element that has a huge impact in shaping our culture, having on musicians and music today?
When MTV first aired in 1981, the very first music video it played was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Bungles. (Yes, at one point MTV did play music videos.) I’m not sure if this was an extremely clever prediction of what was to come but there is a certain irony in that title when you consider the profound impact the station had on music and its unrelenting effects on culture. This came at a time when there was absolutely nothing new on the social media radar and it seemed like the only way to connect with your favorite band/musician was to listen to the radio, buy some cassettes and pray that they made it into the next issue of your favorite music magazine. (BTW, from my perspective listening to mainstream radio is a crime worthy of cruel and unusual punishment.)
The bottom line? Musicians were forced to make major changes to the way they interacted with fans. If you didn’t have a video that was being played on MTV, you had no chance of getting noticed. Period. While this proved to be a positive thing for musicians, it set the stage for what would ultimately become the biggest failure of large scale social media outlets.
Today we have the privilege of watching shows like American Idol or The X Factor. While there is no doubt that there are a few really talented people that have performed on these shows, those watching certainly seem to be inflicted with musical vacuity. Let’s face it. The only reason people watch reality shows like this is because it provides them with an opportunity to feel better about their own existence and superior to the poor schmuck that thinks he can sing and does not mind making a fool of himself on national television. Shows like this have nothing to offer us in true musical talent. They are simply breading grounds to anesthetize the masses into following what the record labels and large companies like Disney or Viacom (Teen Nic) want us to listen to. They inundate us with over rated, quasi talented and hyper marketed drivel that lulls the minds of pre-teens and teenagers into thinking that there is no other musical outlet other than what they see/hear on these shows. The “music” performed on these shows are cookie cutter templates that are written and produced by the same 4 studio musicians in some gawd awful place like Lodi, NJ and pawned off as the latest hit by these so-called music stars.
This is a crime. This is not what the most powerful social media outlet on the planet should be offering us. Where is the real talent? Where are the real musicians? Where is the kid sitting in his bedroom learning his chops on the guitar or piano while all of his friends are playing XBox?
If you spend a few days in a large city like
, you’re likely to have an opportunity to meet
these gifted musicians. Some using nothing more than plastic pails as a drum
set and others with an acoustic guitar using an open case to collect the small
donations for their talents. These buskers are some of the best musicians
around. And man, can they kill it. New
I can remember walking through the subway one night after seeing a band perform in a small club. It was late and there were no other people around. As I sat on the bench waiting for the train, a few feet away from me a string quartet began to play. I melted into my seat. I’m not sure if it was the natural reverb afforded to the music by the subway tunnel or the simple experience of hearing Brahms String Quartet in C minor being played in darkly lit, desolate area with no one else to share it with. What I do know is that it brought me to fucking tears. These are the people we should be hearing on national television. These are the real musicians.
(I should note that Guitar Center does have a series that highlights some of today’s top musical talent with in depth interviews and live performances where the musicians play in a very small studio with a handful of lucky fans in the audience. I highly recommend it. Providing, of course, that your local TV provider offers it.)
Anyone that knows me well enough will tell you that I was a pain in the ass when I was younger. I loathe listening to the radio and if I got in your car, there was no doubt we were listing to one of the several cassette tapes I had in my coat pocket. (Today I just whip out my iPod.) Even as a young kid I knew that listening to the radio would severely limit my options and pigeon-hole me into the musical mold in which they wanted me to fit. Back then I was involved in a huge underground movement that traded new music the old fashioned way. It was not uncommon to receive a cassette tape that was originally created on the opposite coast. I was listening to bands like Metallica, Motley Crue and even Nirvana long before they were on anyone’s radar. Yes Lars, you have to admit that you guys were handing out demo tapes at every show and giving your music away to anyone that would take it from you.
So what does all of this have to do with social media? A lot actually…
Back in the “Good ol’ days” musicians only needed two things. - An original sound and a great look. A band’s popularity was based solely on the merits of their music. Fans would hear a song, buy the CD and go see the band when they came to their area. That’s the natural progression of things. Bands were not dependent on hit counts and links. Today’s artists need to have at a minimum, accounts on close to 15 websites and have the ability to maintain those accounts. While Myspace had the best chance of offering a great outlet for musicians, it is outdated and largely quiescent within the social media arena. Facebook, is the largest social media outlet by far but let’s face it, its crap and it offers little in the way of new technologies that can help an upcoming band other than a way for people to “like” them. Facebook may be great for the average Joe to follow his favorite musician and feel connected but this is really more of a tool for those bands that have an established following. Ever find yourself on the page of a local band or a musician that
Is looking for an audience? Not much going on there.
Sites like Bandmix.com, SoundCloud.com, ReverbNation.com, Grooveshark.com and Soundclick.com offer an artist a wide variety of tools to connect with would be fans and allow the general public plenty of bandwidth to preview new music. But how many more sites like this are out there? How often do you find yourself logging onto ReverbNation to look for new music? And if the music is not accompanied by a video, how likely are you to spend your valuable time online listening to a song you’ve never heard before? My bet is not often.
Given the current economic climate and having to deal with the always evolving music business, artists are in constant need to find new ways to reach out and connect with people. It’s not about the money. It never has been. If you forget about the money making music machine that was the 80s, a time when non talented plastic bands were being stamped out on a daily basis like cheap toys you find at the dollar store, you’ll find that musicians are all about making a deep connection. (BTW, a large portion of today’s music fits the model created 80’s. ) They’re putting it all out there for you. Raw and unashamed. They put their talents on the line for you to be the ultimate judge and to decide if their music is worthy of your time. Maybe it’s a band with a new groove or a singer-songwriter who is painting new landscapes with a few simple chords but an artist’s main concern is making that connection with you.
To show you how badly musicians wish to make that connection, several artists have gone as far as to give free online concerts. While I’m sure that this will soon become the standard for today’s new musicians, I’m not sure I agree with the precedent it sets. Why should I bother going out to see an artist if I can sit in my home and watch him/her perform right there on my monitor? Why should I bother purchasing an artist’s music when there’s a good chance that it will be made available to me on a music sharing site at some point? (By no means am I suggesting that you should download music illegally but it IS a fact of life if you are an artist.)
Yes kiddies, social media is a bitch. It can be an artist’s best friend or provide an avenue for his ultimate demise. My advice? Go out and see a new band or artist. Get up off your ass and away from your computer and get into a club that supports the music scene.
Make that connection. I await your comments. Let the beating of the drums begin.