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.
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