Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Irony of Prince's "The Internet is Dead" Statement

In case you missed it, Prince announced that his new album would not be available digitally because "the Internet is dead". He goes on to compare it MTV; something that started off cool, but got so bastardized that it became unrecognizable and devoid of the appeal that made it a success in the first place.

As you can imagine, a bold statement like this sparked a lot of discussion on blogs and discussion forums, but there was one key point I haven't seen anyone address. The method Prince will be using to distribute his new album? It will be given away free with an issue of the tabloid newspaper the Daily Mirror. A frigging NEWSPAPER - practically the most glaring example of an outdated form of communication and an industry that is almost universally failing and slowly dying out. And where are the newspapers that are failing headed to try and sustain their business? The Internet. Would you like some irony with your irony?

I will say this. The promise of the Internet as a promotional tool for bands has always been grossly overstated. Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, collectively the poster children for the "we don't need labels anymore" movement are only able to do what they're doing because they've benefited from 20 years of major label money, advertising, and tour support. An occasional example like the Arctic Monkeys or Lily Allen comes out of nowhere and gains a huge following thanks to the MySpace, but these are extremely rare exceptions to the rule. And lets face it... MySpace is a ghost town these days. It's basically become a place where people try to serial friend as many people as possible and then spam them with "buy my album" comments that pretty much everyone ignores.

This is the weakness of the Internet as a promotional medium. Since it takes virtually no money or effort, EVERYONE does it to the point that the signal to noise ratio is so poor as to make it hard for people to separate the wheat from the chaff and find stuff they'll like. These are issues that I suspect will be figured out eventually. Regardless of its present weaknesses, anyone who doesn't recognize digital distribution as the future of the music industry is either misinformed or simply delusional. Look, I'm in my late 30's. I grew up with vinyl, cassette, and CD. I love physical formats. But the writing is on the wall. The new generation prefers their music digitally, and if we as musicians want to sell our music, we need to cater to that.


Anonymous said...

Maybe the way forward is for a re-birth of local radio stations. Ones that are manned by music geeks, like in the old days. We have a station like that in Salt Lake City and I find new music that I would actually buy there.

Also it wouldn't hurt young bands to learn a bit more music theory. I hear two many songs that sound as if they started out as a collection of loops and never progress beyond a three or four chord progression. Like if the music was better, people would want to buy it.

Madden Wachsenhoff said...

great drop.

the other irony here is that prince being prince can make an outlandish statement like this, that will be posted all over the internet and he just got free promotion for his album worldwide, and is sparking discussion. rather brilliant if you ask me.

on a side note, I was just wondering about how the new generation connects with their music (and how guys and gals our age connect with ours....)

Tom said...

@ Atomic - Agreed. I think the problem is that some of the software out there makes it so easy to throw together something and call it a song. A lot of people want instant gratification. Maximum result from minimal effort. So they don't want to take the time to learn the theory side. I'm always shocked when I do the fan remix kits for my band how many remixes I get where the music is clearly not even in the same key as the vocal, which is pretty basic stuff.

@DJ Mad Wax - That's a great question. I think I'll post an open thread on that tomorrow. I'd be curious to hear what people have to say.

Anonymous said...

That last comment about key of music/vocals reminds me that I have been spending too much time learning the technology of synthesis, DAWs, and mix engineering, and not enough time learning basic music theory. Thanks Tom for saying stuff like this, I have now picked up my barely read music theory book back off my studio bookshelf and will study it harder to make sure I don't make mistakes like that.

Unknown said...

I think a lot of artists really misunderstand the functionality the Internet provides. The Internet isn't terribly useful for broadcast-style marketing. Having a website likely won't help unknowing people find your band, but what it does do is give people who are already interested an easy way to get more information and relate to the band/artist easily. It seems like myself and everybody else I know get our new music by word of mouth, much like the past 40 years...it's just that the number of people who's opinion that I pay attention to are a lot more numerous and the web makes it easier to follow up on those leads. The bands I find interesting often end up being in my list of "mouths" I listen to for further searches for new music, so the larger their social network with other bands and art, the higher I tend to esteem them. The bands that I see doing well by capitalizing on the web are treating their web presence as a personal connection with their fans (case and point: this blog, which I might add, reading it is one of the highlights of my day, Tom, so thanks).