Yet Another Music Biz Rant.

Sometimes I wonder if there are people out there who really believe there are no ways to find new music apart from either listening to Radio One or surfing MySpace completely at random. Just read this commenter in a thread about the failure (so far) of digital music products.

I know this sounds trite but it would really help if the big music companies did their job as “gatekeepers” and keep the mediocre music away from the masses. What ever happened to quality A&R departments? With the proliferation of cheap music sequencing programs, horrible club DJs and radio that is beyond unbearable, quality control is more important than ever!

It’s actually worse that that, Big Music is actively keeping far better music away from the masses. They’re pretty much only interested in the lowest common denominator music that follows a small number of proven formulas that they know how to market. And with more and more discerning music fans having made their excuses and left the mainstream, Big Music is increasingly left with the people who can’t or won’t seek out new music for themselves.

I personally think the gatekeeper/elite tastemaker model is fundamentally broken anyway and deserves to die. For better or worse, the Internet has fragmented the market, allowing artists in niche genres to market their music directly, bypassing that small and corrupt clique of gatekeepers and tastemakers.

Such artists rely on fan-to-fan recommendations to build an audience rather than on Big Music’s shock-and-awe advertising campaigns. Perhaps the role of new digital music startups ought to be to encourage that sort of thing, rather than prop up the dying major label business model? The thing about independent artists in niche genres is their business model depends not so much of gaining the largest possible audience, rather on minimising the number of middlemen between them and their audience. Digital startups are new middlemen, they’re only of any use to artists if the value they add is more than the cut they take. And they’re only any use to music fans if they act as a sort of smart filter, perhaps using some kind of wisdom-of-crowds approach to filter out the stuff that falls below the Sturgeon threshold.

Don’t expect the major labels to support such a thing – While they claim to speak for up-and-coming artists, the reality has always been that they’ll do their damnedest to marginalise every new artist except for the small minority that they choose to sign.

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5 Responses to Yet Another Music Biz Rant.

  1. Amadan says:

    This same debate is happening in the publishing industry. As self-publishing (and e-publishing, and self-e-publishing, which are all different things) becomes more popular, you’ve got a range of reactions from “Agents and publishers are no longer necessary! Now everyone can make money as an author!” to “It will be impossible to find good books now that a hundred million monkeys can sell their work on Amazon.”

    Gatekeepers aren’t going to go away, but their role will change.

    Also, what are you doing with your site that makes Google keep wanting to translate your page from Afrikaans?

  2. Tim Hall says:

    While there are parallels with the book publishing industry, I’d be wary of making too many close comparisons with the music industry. There are parallels between writing and reading books, and making and listening to records, yes, but there are important differences as well.

  3. Tim Hall says:

    As for Afrikaans translations, I have absolutely no idea.

  4. Mike S says:

    I prefer to make my own judgments as to what music is “mediocre” rather than leaving it to some nameless record company A&R rep; for example, I read a blog entry that characterized Porcupine Tree as “po turd posers” who had hoodwinked the listening public. Imagine if that blogger was signing bands – hey, time for more Justin Bieber, eh?

  5. Tim Hall says:

    You got a link to that blog, Mike?