A friend casually brought up that forgotten relic MySpace and I found my curiosity piqued. What was going on with that dusty social network that once was the bastion for my band The Alphabetical Order? I’d covered MySpace’s dark decline and eventual selling from News Corp (a bit to Justin Timberlake… yawn) on digital media blog Adotas, but since switching over to digital-publisher focused AdMonsters, I lost interest. I did tune in for the big relaunch and updated the Libel page a bit just in case, but then never again…
So I headed over to see what the beast had become and… It was sad. The homepage was a combination of clickbait featuring “celebrity” musicians (“What would Drake and Rhianna’s Tindr profiles look like?”), sponsored posts for TV shows and movies, and PR-esque posts inviting me to check out this or that “up and coming” artist. I almost missed the days of wall-to-wall punch the monkey ads.
But then I realized that MySpace looks like every other popular media I see these days. They all have a similar format: some kind of click-bait piece about a corporate-built superstar, a bunch of sponsored content (as I write on AdMonsters, it’s a better form of driving revenue than the loathsome banner ad) and articles on some bands you’ve never heard of that had a PR connection and can be easily roped into some manufactured trend. It’s boring and predictable – similar to the rise of the BuzzFeed clones, the glut of digital media publishers grasping for eyeballs to drive advertiser revenue (after the intermediary ad technology firms take their cut) has encouraged the most depressing homogeneity.
I’ve mentioned this before – the great age of music blogs is over. I don’t mean that sarcastically – I found out about many of my favorite bands in the aughts via blogs… And MySpace. The digital media is no longer a source for new and notable sounds (at least not in the dying genre known as rock – I have no understanding of hiphop and electronic music) – they can no longer be trusted as curators.
Should we move to the algorithms of Pandora, Spotify and such? Well, stop me if you’ve had this happen to you, but whenever I use algorithmically-powered music suggestion services, I tend to get music from a bunch of bands I already listen to. That’s fine in some case, but not very useful when searching for something different. And I’ll mention that Pandora actually rejected Libel’s “Music For Car Commercials” with no reason given. Did it not sound professional enough? I can’t imagine what else didn’t make the cut then.
No, record labels have found a 10th life as the new curators. If someone besides the artist is willing to put some funding behind a release, it’s a mark of quality. (However, many little record players are pay to play – basically they stamp their name on and take a cut.) There’s a real chance for a revival of 80s-style “indie” record labels: fans trusted the content coming out from Dischord and SST back in the day. We saw a brief resurgence in the aughts, but many major labels hid behind their indie imprints to push out “marketable products.” And I’ll argue that when a few real indies got too big, they became shadows of their former selves. (Dischord keeps releasing side projects of previously signed bands.)
Because distribution is no longer a factor in the digital age (unless you’re printing vinyl for collectors), record labels really are just curated groups of artists. For a great example of this, check out our friend Johnny Leather’s label, Mecca Lecca. Record labels could once again become an alternative music fan’s greatest resource.