The music business has changed for independent artists

When I was 18 I started a rock ‘n’ roll newspaper called Western Front News which covered local, regional, national, and international music news. This often including industry news, such as the (then-)trend away from vinyl toward CDs, or the latest innovations in CD packaging and marketing.

Some of our focus was also on educating the musicians, the B- and C-list performers, the local rock bands who all too often sent in a demo tape but failed to send in supporting materials like the standard bio and photo. We wrote articles and columns about how to market your band, how to get your demo heard, and who were the top recording studios and engineers in the Bay Area.

I sometimes wonder how the Western Front News would fare today. Back then, the Internet didn’t exist. There was no iTunes, there were no MP3s, no MySpace, no online CD or ticket sales, and no blogs or means for someone like me (or the readers, or the bands for that matter) to self-publish to the massive and broad audience that the Web enables today.

If you wanted a T-shirt featuring your favorite band, you had to go to their concert or down to the local “record store.” If you wanted to hear their music, you had to hope they were popular enough for radio airplay, or you had to physically go somewhere to buy their CD (or tape, or record). How did small bands, bands nobody’d ever heard of and who didn’t have a recording contract, ever get heard?

Today we have online distribution of music (legal and otherwise), hundreds of MP3 blogs that feature downloads from and posts about musicians that you’d otherwise never hear of, and the ability for any band — no matter how big or how small — to create a MySpace page or website and communicate directly with their fans, even cutting out the middleman (record companies) and selling their music directly via downloads or independent CD fulfillment companies like CD Baby.

The music world has transformed. And it’s only early days.

Here’s a great New York Times Magazine article about independent musicians and how they’re innovating and changing the music industry using the Internet.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted May 16, 2007 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t take anything away from the laptop driven YouTube vloggers and musicians popping up like locusts in a field of genetically modified corn, I know I have my favorites (go HappySlip!), but let’s face it, it’s pretty easy to sit in the comfort of your living room, knocking out yet another installment of “Look at Me!” There’s not much risk to the endeavor.

    I would posit that it was punk rock, with its DYI attitude, that changed music and popular culture more than the Internet ever will. The Internet is changing the way music is delivered, viewed, shared and even created, to be sure, but the idea that “I can do that!” comes straight from the late 1970’s punk ethos of “do it yourself” ‘cause no one else will.

    It’s easy to forget that back when the Ramones, Television, Talking Heads, The Jam, The Clash and all their kin started, there was no market, no Mountain Dew/Van’s Warped/Cingular Coachella alt-hype machine, there was no MTV or Blender, there was no Macs, no $400 four-track porta studios. There was only a desire to do what they wanted to do, and the will to do it.

    And it’s important to remember that in order for them to do it “their way” they actually had to step way, way outside of the ‘accepted’ channels/mores/genres/norms of society. There was a very real, personal cost to be in to the scenes they were creating. That cost often involved taking a conk on the head from the local gendarme in the process.

    A lot of these vloggers have no idea of that history, and honestly, that’s ok. They don’t have to erect alters to their long gone mohawk wearing grandfathers. Life moves on. But when the definitive history of POPULACE driven popular culture is written, they’ll need to begin that tome’s chronology long before the advent of the web cam, cause no one ever started a riot over Logitech.

    Before punk rock a select, narrow minded group of censors in Hollywood and New York decided for all the rest of us what our popular culture would be. And they rammed their godforsaken drivel right down our fucking throats. Before punk rock their was the Gulag. After punk rock there was freedom. Freedom to be a punk, freedom to rap, freedom to go all emo, freedom to be whoever the hell YOU decided YOU wanted to be. Freedom to vlog, freedom to hate vlogging. FREEDOM!

    “This is the modern world, we don’t need no one
    To tell us what’s right or wrong –
    Say what you like cause I don’t care
    I know where I am and going too
    It’s somewhere I won’t preview
    Don’t have to explain myself to you
    I don’t give two fucks about your review!!”

    – Paul Weller

  2. Posted May 17, 2007 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Well, someone had a second helping of vigor for dinner last night.

    I would agree with you on all points (even more so after having read that book I lent you about the British punk rocker turned Labour organizer, have you read it yet?), except one point.

    You said “punk rock, with its DYI attitude, that changed music and popular culture more than the Internet ever will.”

    I would say punk rock did it first. But based purely on scale, the Internet will definitely change popular culture (and the music industry in particular) more than punk rock. Because it will reach exponentially more people, and we’re just seeing the beginning of the results on things like the indie music revolution.

    As an aside, it makes me wonder if there’s an “alternate future” novel in the concept that the Internet may not have happened without the prior existence of punk rock.

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