Given the vast expanse of time I now have being on my summer holidays from university, I’ve found myself spending more time than usual in front of a computer screen, and I started to wonder as I browsed the web and listened to album upon album – is the Internet revolution a good or bad thing for the music industry? In the next few Opinion articles I want to talk about the Internet’s effect on the music world, and try to come to some sort of conclusion as to whether we should welcome the change with open arms or if I’m being a cynical bastard. I’d really welcome any opinions readers might have on the whole thing, so leave a comment.
One of the biggest changes that the Internet has effectively brought about is a new era of relationship between the artist and the fan. It is now a necessity to have a band Myspace account, where fans can congregate and often leave many well wishing messages. But these days even that is beginning to look like it isn’t enough. Gone are the days where a permanent divide exists between the band and the listener. We are now facing an age where the band need the fan to survive even more, and not just to buy the music and attend the gigs.
One such example of musicians refreshed attitude to their listeners came in 2007, when Mudvayne announced they wanted their fans to compile a new album, picking out the songs, and determining whether they would be live versions, or old demos. It was certainly a fresh idea, given the majority of record labels reliance on the staid release of B-side best of’s that usually comes after a band’s explosion in popularity, in the search of a cheap buck (I’m looking at you, EMI). The album was appropriately titled ‘By the People, For the People’ and sold pretty well, which came as a surprise given how awful their previous release ‘Lost and Found’ was.
The great thing with this idea is that it inevitably creates a much happier fanbase. Imagine being given the power to have your input in your favourite band’s next release. What if Rage Against the Machine were to announce a similar idea, just think of all the great stuff you could fight to get in that release. Or if U2 jumped on the bandwagon – with U2 fans in charge, it’s possible you could create the worst album known to man.
But joking aside, if an artist wanted to put together a true best of, what better people to ask than the people who probably know the musician’s discography better than themselves? What could possibly go wrong with that? Well, there are a few issues with this idea. For a start anyone who takes a passing glance at a band’s forum will immediately know that it is impossible to satisfy everyone, especially on the Internet where there is always one wanker who wants to go against everyone and disagree. Furthermore, Mudvayne are a band on the wane, struggling to find any relevance to today’s audiences who have moved far away from the tainted genre that is nu-metal. Such a stunt acts as a great cover up for a lack of ideas, whilst still appeasing those who still consider themselves fans, an easy to exploit market.
One other example, and perhaps one of the greatest perpetrators of the side by side evolution of music and Internet is Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails. Not only did he embark on a massive viral campaign for 2007’s ‘Year Zero’, creating a storyline throughout the web and hiding memory sticks in toilets, he also invited listener’s to remix songs from the album, giving them complete access to all the individual tracks, essentially meaning anyone could create a whole new song out of the files. Not only did this provide some fantastic free advertising, but passionate fans embroiled themselves into the murky, futuristic dystopia of Year Zero, further elevating Reznor’s status as an Internet innovator.
But once again, some doubts begin to come into my mind as to the strength of such an idea. It demands a great deal of effort and knowledge from fans to put together a half decent remix (although to counter this, Nine Inch Nails does have some extremely passionate fans) but most importantly it once again makes me question the motives behind a concept. Is Reznor doing it for fun? Or is he also struggling to stay relevant in today’s music world, relying upon his fans to create new ideas out of his old ones.
At the moment, fan participation remains fairly one way. We go to the gigs, we buy the albums, essentially we show our appreciation by keeping them alive financially. But I think there is a possibility that as the music industry struggles to reinvent itself, these ideas will become more mainstream and could change destroy artist/listener separation forever. But do we really want to be in cahoots with the musicians? Isn’t it there job to entertain us? These questions can only be answered by the mainstream, whose participation will determine the overall success of these bold ideas.