music • 26.10.06
They’re always telling me I should put my music on MySpace. MySpace is great they say. It allows you to get your music out without having to deal with the corrupt men of the music industry. I always pick up on use of the 'out' word. It’s never clear just what or where 'out' is. It seems to be some mythical place that would allow said person to become rich, famous and respected.
Actually when you look at it historically, 'out' was invariably an old-fashioned industrial process which turned your work into a commodity to be sold in shops alongside all the other stuff. That's what 'out' was. It was an almost impossible undertaking without the help of a wealthy corporation. You could of course get lucky as Richard Branson did and have enormous good fortune akin to a lottery win but in general as a musician or songwriter you faced huge odds in trying to have your work widely appreciated.
Today that is still largely the case, although the online community and all it represents seems set to change that. I haven't yet ventured to this new-found community as it seems to me futile. Why so? Well, I suspect the MySpace phenomenon is as much problem as solution. Its advocates rejoice in missing out the dodgy middle-men of the record companies and publishers. They point to a direct relationship with the public. You simply put up your tracks and then anyone can access them.
I’m not sure about the value of doing that. Such a direct relationship disregards the importance of context and the time-honoured connection that value has with scarcity. As I've argued, music (art in general) is better produced in an elite context. If it appears as something only a few people can do it retains its specialness. MySpace is an 'anyone can' space. There is no need to be particularly special here or much different to the next person.
Of the many problems that exist with music being publicised in this way, one is that it is destined to mediocrity. It inclines people to be the same as others as fashion trends do, which rather than being an expression of individuality is more often about conformity. Thus, popular music has stopped reinventing itself and now only operates in already well-established genres. This is quite unusual through the course of the past fifty years when every decade saw an explosion of great musical imagination. When I became musically aware in the early 60s, ten years previously Frank Sinatra and Hank Williams had been icons. By my time, Elvis had happened, Miles Davis had taken jazz to its pinnacle and The Beatles were about to burst on to the scene knocking the door down for a generation of British musicians to gain international acclaim. Clapton and Hendrix not only re-interpreted the delta blues players, they sparked off new genres in doing so.
These stylistic differences which would emerge over relatively short periods are huge compared to music of the present day. With their emulations today's youth pay homage to my generation's music and do so impressively. There is some credible work to be found. But innovation it is not. They use the templates that were set down over past decades. Modern popular music breaks no new ground and hasn't done so for nearly twenty years since hip-hop and electronic dance music first appeared. The contemporary world lacks that very special element of innovation that historically has given music its high value. My contention is that this was partly due to music being created in an elite environment. It needed to feel like something fresh, different and new. It had to offer another perspective from which to see and feel things. I think music has to do that to do its job well. MySpace doesn't. It encourages sameness. You could probably pick a thousand pages, listen to all the music there, and categorise it into less than a handful of conventions, all of them familiar and long-established.
MySpace represents a virtual world. It sets up the illusion that you too can be a recognised recording artist. It is something of play-thing. It is populist, democratic in a way, rather than elitist. In democracy your opinion doesn't matter. What matters is that you can voice it without sanction. Having it doesn't itself give it value for anyone other than yourself and those around you. The same with music. That you can now get your recordings 'out there' does not give your music cultural value.
And one more thing: if you are calling the people who visit your MySpace site your friends then either you're adolescent or you need to re-evaluate your life. That such flimsy, virtual connections can be considered friendships is ridiculous. But I suppose everybody knows that. Yes?
written 2006 when it looked like this network
was the way forward for musicians