The commercialization of the Internet in 1995 provoked mixed reactions from every echelon of the music industry. The pioneers of Internet technology were the preachers of change, telling us that this is the future and the sky is the limit, and in a way, they were right. The naysayers, however, had valid and relevant reasons to doubt this drastic change, and were clinging to the organic methods and the ebbing tides of the old ways. Both parties have a point, and only the unfurling of time would prove either one wrong or right. The digital revolution was afoot, and things are set to change.
Around 1999, the first attempts at social media started to rear their likeable heads, and this opened a vast array of opportunities for the music business professionals and musicians alike. From the CEOs of the largest companies down to the underground musicians, now there was an apparently limitless opportunity to acquire new contacts, not only from out of town, but possibly from the other side of the world. A new platform was available for networking and promotion, and by 2003, music orientated social network sites were a global phenomenon, with the market leaders of the time generating twice the Internet traffic than even the top search engines.
All terrific stuff, but musicians were starting to feel a little uneasy. The ‘D.I.Y’ ethos of the old punks and rockers was feeling offended, and was not sure why. This ethos was almost a mantra for serious and proactive musicians. The dedicated musician or promoter would constantly be on the phone, or the move, negotiating contacts and venue possibilities by physically meeting or speaking with the potential contact, improving the chance of establishing profitable leads. This new type of D.I.Y was forcing artists to spend more time alone in their rooms, which in many cases was a place they had worked hard to get away from.
Pros & Cons
No matter what genre or sector of the music industry you represent, there is no hiding from the fact that the digital revolution has markedly improved the process of efficient music production. Some of the packages available for download have revolutionized the production/mixing and mastering process. Gone are the days on analog 8 tracks, saving and re-recording to enable extra track usage. For as little as $30, basic digital recording packages can be downloaded, offering superb sound quality and efficient usage, other more limited options can be downloaded for free, however expect to shell out for the quality products at the premium end of the market. Another helpful aspect of the Internet is the availability of image editing software and design software, this type of product enables the unsigned musician or music businesses to quickly design and print any relevant promotional material (Posters, CD covers, etc.).
Before the advent of the Internet, the artist would have to record using analog home recording equipment, or pay for the hire of a recording studio containing the correct tools. Anybody with a well- tuned ear for sound would recognize in analog recordings a certain warmth and fullness of body within the sound. When designing leaflets and promotional material the artist would have to use the old method of freehand drawing or painting, which is deemed a closer representation of art that is intrinsic within the creative nature of musicians. These methods are seen as an organic progression of the artist, and you do not have to be a technophobe to respect the validity of this point.
T-Shirts, badges, key rings, CDs, posters, mp3 players, and other band themed merchandise is made more accessible by the Internet. There are countless sites offering excellent deals for bands or businesses on this type of item, and the promotional value of these products is exceptionally high. The availability of these sites has improved the overall quality level associated with band merchandise, and ‘merch’ has become one of the few revenue options open to new bands.
The satisfaction of seeing an item that you have lovingly designed and displayed was one of the many boosts to confidence that is necessary in music. A confident approach from a band/artist gives the listener, or potential contact, a surety and confirmation of the quality of the material.
Details of gigs and industry contacts are far easier to source on the Internet, and there are many companies offering different kinds of assistance to fresh artists. These services could involve the elevation of fans on a social networking site, the opportunity to play live shows, competition possibilities or advice of an apparent music professional. All of these seem like a good thing, but you should be urged to read all small print thoroughly, as costs and charges are often not clearly mentioned until registration is almost complete, potentially wasting precious time and effort.
Scams and cons are rife in most industries and music is no exception. Some bands with a small to medium profile may receive emails to the tune of: Dear [Band]; your songs are amazing! I can’t stop listening to [song], please don’t stop making music!
Research will eventually clarify that the email was probably sent by an obscure online promotional site, offering ‘fans like these’ for a ‘modest’ registration fee, and monthly deposit. Always be extra wary of any service that asks for money upfront. The only costs, apart from equipment, that a band should incur are usually promotional, and these expenditures should be carefully monitored.
The Internet has given with one hand and taken with the other. There is no denying that, since the digital revolution, music as a product had decreased in value, making the business end of music perhaps more challenging than ever, but the technology has assisted independent artists in many ways as well.
-Mark A Whitmore