John Mellencamp and Stevie Nicks are the latest aging music stars to publicly express their distaste for the way the internet has changed the music industry. Mellencamp equated the web’s effect on music to “the atomic bomb,” and stated that it “destroyed the music business.” Nicks has recently claimed that “The internet has destroyed rock,” and went on to wonder how burgeoning bands expect to make it in the current climate. And, of course, we all remember Prince’s July claim that “The internet is over,” in response to being asked about how he planned to distribute his new music. (In a twist of sweet irony, Prince’s claims became a viral hit on the web.)
While it’s easy to write off these utterances as the whining of out-of-touch curmudgeons who already made a ton of money in the music business (so why should they care?), you can’t pretend they don’t have a valid point. Maybe they’re laying the hyperbole on a bit thick (though if the internet does prove to be a fad, we’ll all owe Prince a big apology), but there’s no denying that online culture has put an end to what most of us would consider the “traditional” music business – the one that’s more or less been in place since music first hit the shelves. You know, the one where an artist’s big goal was to score a “record deal.” Sure, you still hear that phrase tossed around, but it no longer puts dollar signs in people’s eyes like it used to.
So is it any coincidence that the only people who are complaining about this shift are the artists who profited greatly from the old model? For a lot of aspiring musicians, the traditional music industry was one filled with frustration – an exclusionary club that never wanted to let you in, and even if they did, you had to play by their rules. (Ask John Mellencamp why he used to call himself “Johnny Cougar.”) For artists that never fit into that mold (or never wanted to), that ivory tower couldn’t come crumbling down fast enough. The doors to the green room have been thrown open, and though there might not be any champagne and caviar waiting in there, there’s at least a spot on the couch.
And isn’t that what this should be about? The fall of the music industry – and the ascendence of online music – hasn’t benched the careers of musicians destined for stardom, it’s opened up opportunities for people who never would have gotten any playing time in the first place. Never before have bands had so many avenues with which to get their music out to potential fans, and we should be embracing that instead of mourning the loss of a machine that will never be resurrected in its previous form. Are you going to become a millionaire musician with this new model? Probably not. But you probably weren’t going to in the first place.
Adjust your expectations. Play more shows. Offer more merch. Use the new technology to your advantage, because it’s not going anywhere. Don’t waste your time wondering what could have been, if only major-label support were still a cash-cow reality. It’s pointless. Push forward, and don’t become one of those people who complains about how things were better back in the day. They weren’t.
-Brad at CD Baby