Usually I spend this space promoting musicians I like or comparing specific acts, genres or records with the intent of isolating what really makes a certain song or musician or style stand out. The music news of the day never really gets into the routine, but today’s could be a gamechanger for the whole modern music industry, and I just couldn’t ignore it.
Last month it became widely reported that independent artists’ videos could soon disappear from YouTube, when the Google-owned video site confirmed that it would drop videos posted by record labels that don’t sign licensing deals with the music streaming service it intends to launch later this year. In short, it looks like the days of seeing Vampire Weekend videos on YouTube next to Coldplay’s, could soon be over.
This development isn’t an absolute line in the sand for online music distribution. There are boutique labels that’ll probably comply with YouTube’s decree (though details of the licensing agreement haven’t surfaced, the mid-size labels claim they’re not as favorable as the deal offered to majors) and other video hosting services like Vimeo exist as alternatives for those that don’t, but it’s enough to directly challenge the prevailing narrative of music distribution in the internet age — that anybody with a laptop can build an audience — even if that narrative was mostly bunk anyway. But it puts small-time artists in a serious bind: How are they to develop enough of a following to sustain their business if they or their label can’t afford to distribute their music through a highly socialized network?
Recall that Billboard factors YouTube videos into its Hot 100 chart now — this move by Google would strengthen the barrier for independent acts to break into the mainstream. Not all aspire to that of course, but few would turn down the attention that comes with increased radio play. Furthermore, YouTube is the most common medium by which the coveted 12-24 demographic keeps up with music nowadays, according to a study conducted by Edison Research. Setting up a paywall would surely disrupt this behavior though, as I’m sure most of those kids use YouTube specifically because it doesn’t cost anything.
So what’s a good listener to do? How can you and I, with our buying and listening habits, help make sure that everybody gets their fair slice of pie as music subscriptions services hijack the vogue? When it comes to music I think responsible consumerism looks something like this:
Buy records as directly from the artist as possible. Best way to do this is to go to a show and buy an album straight off the merch table. You might even get to meet somebody in the band. Sure it might inconvenience you to wait, say, a couple months before your favorite musician comes to town, but you know what’s convenient? McDonald’s. And those hamburgers barely qualify as food.
Stop buying digital. I have no idea how much a band takes when you buy its record in MP3 for $6.99 on Amazon, but I can’t imagine it being as valuable to them as the purchase of a physical, longer-lasting thing like an LP or even a CD. And it’s not a good long-term proposition for you, either. LPs might cost more now, but they last longer and, y’know, actually carry resale value. (Imagine trying to sell an MP3 download to a pawn shop or record store.) Nowadays most new records come with MP3 downloads too, so wanting to listen on your phone or iPod’s not an excuse. Frankly, the middleman and technology manufacturer are the only parties that benefit from the purchase of an MP3.
Don’t let subscription services supplant buying records. I like Spotify. I pay $9.99 a month for the premium service. But one day I realized that I’d used Spotify to stream Destroyer’s “Kaputt” half a dozen times and that that was unfair to Destroyer (who maybe earned a couple of cents out of the deal) but also to me because I couldn’t rightfully call “Kaputt” my own without possessing a physical copy of it. So I bought it and vowed from then on not to lean too heavily on streaming services.
Ask other people what music they like. A word-of-mouth endorsement from an actual human being, even if he or she might be a total stranger, is worth roughly eight gazillion times more than an online ad or prompting calculated by some algorithm that is usually comically off-base. (“Like The Replacements? Try listening to Guns ‘N’ Roses”) And the thing about asking people for suggestions is that they’ll usually offer you the opportunity to reciprocate so if you’re like me and really like Los Campesinos! and constantly fear they’ll never make another record because hardly anybody else likes Los Campesinos!, take the chance to tell another human being about how awesome Los Campesinos is. And who knows? Maybe you’ll find a new record or musician you like a ton but totally missed out on. Sharing!
Matt Carney is an editor for NewsOK.com and his music column runs bi-weekly in LOOKatOKC. He operates an okay Twitter account.