There are other strands to Internet distribution and downloading beyond the activities of the major record companies and the illegal activities that so trouble them. The net offers new ways for music acts to distribute their music and to establish themselves within a virtual community. Both unsigned bands wanting to gain exposure, as well as musicians merely wanting to share their music among a network, can disseminate their music online. A key development here was the buzz created around the Arctic Monkeys in the UK through their songs being circulated on the net by fans (who had ripped songs from demo CDs given away at gigs and had created a site based around the band on MySpace). Even though the band claimed to have played no part in this process, it led to recognition and hype within the music press and on radio, and they eventually signed with record label Domino. Their debut single and album went straight to number one in the record charts; the album - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (1122311006) - became the fastest selling debut album in UK chart history. Nevertheless, despite the antipathy expressed by the band towards conventional industry, it is telling that they ultimately signed to a record label.
While Domino is an independent label, it nevertheless has issued publishing rights in the USA and New Zealand to EMI. This demonstrates the importance of traditional industrial mechanisms if one wants to make a living through making music, even though new promotional and distribution processes are both challenging and complementing older forms. Certainly, musicians can bypass the music industry and have been able to do so now for a long time, particularly since the rise of ‘DIY' culture in the late 1970s. New forms of distribution and connection enhance such possibilities, though the lure of signing for established record companies in order to broaden one's profile and make more money will remain tempting for many. Established musicians can also make use of new technologies to enhance their presence: official websites, for example, enable acts to post news of what they have been up to, discographies, general information, discussion forums, as well as access to exclusive content (such as audio and audio-visual material). Often there will also be the chance to purchase music and other related merchandise.
There are also a lot of other sites that often emerge in relation to music acts, or types of music more generally, which means that it is now far easier to gain access to information and material related to artists than previously. In addition, a host of music e-zines (electronic magazines distributed by email or posted on a website) are available on the web as well as critical blogs. The growth of the music e-zine once again harks back to the rise of ‘DIY' culture in the late 1970s and the rise in self-produced fanzines. Today, though, it is far easier to create an online zine (no costs of publishing are involved) and to distribute it (because the very fact of putting it on the web means that it does not need to be physically distributed). The potential size of the audience is also much higher and, while it is not easy to gain a wide audience some online zines, such as Pitchfork and Drowned in Sound, have gained a substantial readership. The advantages of online zines are that, in addition to writing about music, audio and audiovisual material can also be included. One of the most popular features to spring up on e-zines recently has been the inclusion of podcasts by various staff writers. Finally, it should be mentioned that digital technologies increase the importance of the music video. This visual side of music has undoubtedly been of great importance previously, in particular with the rise of MTV in the 1980s. Now, however, with the increase in specialist digital channels, there are even more music channels. Music videos feature as attractions of a variety of websites and are also one of the most popular forms of material to be downloaded on sites such as YouTube and Google Video (the short nature of such works perfectly suited for watching streamed material online).
Furthermore, they are also beginning to prove popular as material that can be downloaded and watched on portable devices, such as mobile phones or portable media players (PMPs). The importance of the music video is indicated by the fact that, at the same time downloads became acceptable for chart ranking without an accompanying physical release; video downloads also counted towards the singles chart in the UK (IFPI 2007). It could be argued, then, that as the formats music is stored on become less material and increasingly stripped of visual dimensions (album covers, reproduction of lyrics and other information), such loss is compensated by music's increased connection to other visual formats such as music videos and web-based data flows. While many trends identified with digital technologies and music can be traced back to older technologies, there is an acceleration of certain processes. These include: the recontextualization of pre-existing music; the increasing ‘visual' nature of music (either the visualization of music in terms of wave displays or visual accompaniment to music); and the continued blurrings between production and consumption (though certainly not to the extent that such categories disintegrate).
One particularly important aspect that I have yet to dwell upon in detail is the proliferation of music and the implications of this. Since the advent of recording technology, the ‘archive' of music recordings has continued to grow, though this has done so at a greater rate in more recent years as cheaper formats lead to even more archive releases. In tandem with this development, the growing access to production and recording technologies has also led to a growth in contemporary music being distributed in some form. Finally, because virtual music files take up far less physical space than previous formats, it is easier for consumers to collect more music than previously, a process hastened by those who have taken advantage of the amount of ‘free' music obtainable through the Internet. In this sense we are living in an era of musical ‘abundance', in which both historical and contemporary recordings are increasingly accessible. This is one factor that is crucial in understanding the rise in musical recreation; not only because it is becoming easier to manipulate previous recordings, but also because there are so many recordings available that it almost becomes obligatory to somehow engage with such materials.
Digital technologies, therefore, have led to a renewed cultural valuation of ‘the past', not just in this sense but also in other respects. To conclude, there are two important ways in which ‘the past' becomes revalued in relation to the present, which is seen as somehow lacking (unlike in the above example, where the past is merely something to be poached in order to fuel the present and future). First, the age of being able to find so many recordings that were once difficult to find, as well as information on such recordings, has led some music critics to decry the age of ‘abundance'. While many critics have embraced blogging and the opportunity to express unedited opinions online, there is a general feeling that this abundance leads to a stockpiling, name-checking, consumer mentality that draws away from the music itself. It may be the case that when there is so much to listen to, then people may not be able to pay as much attention to specific records as they once did. This is possible, but it is mere conjecture. It seems to be more the case that established music critics of a certain age are reacting to this age of abundance, ruing the fact that their roles as cultural custodians are perhaps under threat. Embedded within such attitudes is a degree of nostalgia for a time when records and information about them were scarcer and, therefore, obtaining artefacts and related knowledge entailed much more investment and commitment. Second, some people reject digital technologies - either partially or completely - in favour of analogue technologies, whether this is in the production or playback of music.
Within production, for example, some musicians bemoan the lack of ‘humanity' in the sounds made by digital synthesizers, hence the rise in the value of analogue snyths such as Moogs. Consumption-wise, there are those who herald the ‘warmer' sounds of vinyl and its related physical nature (where sleeve artwork comes into its own), or those who are rediscovering the joys of the cassette, particularly valued as a very personal form of making individual compilation tapes. There are a number of reasons behind such moves. They may signal a form of consumer resistance to shifting formats and the expense that this entails - a refusal to adopt to the newest format as dictated by major industries. On the other hand, they can be elitist moves, finding value in objects that were once, but are no longer, mass consumer items and thus using them to stand out from the ‘crowd'. Whatever the motives behind such ‘rearguard' moves, they certainly highlight how older technologies and cultural artefacts continue to play an important role within the digital age. Digital technologies have largely replaced analogue technologies in the everyday production and consumption of music, but these older technologies continue to play a role in niche cultural sectors. The ascendance of digital has not eliminated analogue; rather, it has shifted the ways in which some cultural actors value and interpret analogue equipment as it takes up a minority position within the contemporary audioscape.
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