When Social Media Overshadows the Music: A Message from a Serial Social Network Offender
Underground metal bands in these modern Net-centric times of ours are utterly awash in the offal of social networking-cum-marketing options. With Facebook increasingly rising to the forefront as the anchor site of choice for both established and up and coming acts, there is also Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, ReverbNation, StereoKiller, BandCamp, SoundCloud, PureVolume, Last.FM and the smoldering wreckage of the once dominant empire that is Myspace, just to name a few of the major players. Put all of them together, and that’s eleven separate websites, some of which can by synced together, mind you, that a single band potentially needs to constantly maintain and update—an even dozen if they actually have their own domain.
For bands that are unsigned, or that happen to be signed to small boutique labels run by a single proprietor or, at best, a small but dedicated team of metal enthusiasts, the responsibility of keeping all of these sites up to date falls on the band members alone, and it’s usually a single band member who takes it upon him or herself to get the job done right. This can be a mentally exhausting process, remembering which sites have already been updated, and which are in need of a tune up. Is it necessary to sign up for all of them? Probably not, and a concerted argument could likely be made for selecting the few most dominant and focusing solely on them. But conventional marketing wisdom dictates that getting one’s brand into as many facets as possible translates to increased recognition and, hopefully, rising sales. So begins the gargantuan undertaking.
One evening after a typical, draining shift at the day job de jour might partially consist of updating the Myspace blog. But wait, the show schedule on ReverbNation doesn’t include that upcoming date in San Luis Obispo. The photos from last week’s gig in Des Moines haven’t been posted on Facebook yet. And the last time you uploaded some videos to YouTube was January of 2010—better get on that, lest the kiddies forget you exist. It can fishtail out of control pretty quickly without a steady set of hands constantly at ten and two.
All this bleary eyed monitor time is enough to make one long for the days when it wasn’t all about Net presence; when it wasn’t about the Internet, tweets, blurbs, status updates, or memes at all, because these things didn’t exist. Back then, marketing was ‘zines, print ads, perhaps underground or college radio airplay, word of mouth, tape trading, and oh yes, the records themselves.
Of course, this made it infinitely more difficult for the great undiscovered masses to get their music out there. But, on the flip side of that rusted piece of currency is the fact that the music that did make into that ethereal concept of “out there” meant a whole lot more, because fans weren’t constantly being beat over the head with the latest slam bands from Peru, retro thrashaholics from Belarus, and one-man black metal misanthropes from deepest, darkest Malta. Heads had to search for it, and search didn’t mean typing a few key words into a search engine. People had to dig, communicate, and in turn they appreciated. It wasn’t perfect, but it seemed to work.
So where is this long amble headed, you ask? Well, it all seems to point to the obvious, oft-stated notion that the more voices are screaming out at the top of their lungs from multiple mountain tops at once, the fewer we’ll actually hear, and that goes for social networking as well. Today we are presented with an embarrassing array of musical options splayed out across an ever ascending, near infinite amount of social media platters. It’s brain rotting, mind numbing overload that dilutes the power of the medium down to a dull roar.
Check out the documentaries which feature interviews with now aging metal veterans who were there during the early days of the tape trading scene. See that murderous glint in their eye when they speak of receiving their first copy of a copy of a copy of Venom’s “Welcome to Hell” or the self-titled Angel Witch LP? They had to wait for that, had to reach out for it, had to want it, badly. Now the waiting, the reaching, the wanting, have been reduced to seconds, the click of a button, and near total apathy, and the glint has been turned to a waxy, thousand-mile stare. The passion isn’t gone, but the beeps on the old life support system are becoming more and more spaced out.
What’s the solution? Get off Facebook? Firebomb the Myspace offices? Boycott ReverbNation? No, but there is a noticeable retro fad that seems to be brewing in defiance of all that is modern, convenient, and disposable. Bands are putting out tapes again. Vinyl has never really gone away, at least as a niche market, but the die-hard distros and fans seem to be increasing the zeal with which they disseminate and scoop it up in defiance of the digital options. Physical music dead? Not by a long shot. But it goes without saying that social networking is contributing to its slow demise and has a direct correlation to decreasing melodic, or discordant, as the case may be, attention spans.
So, in a related act of backlash and rebellion, bands could similarly take the retro route to promotion. Let the Myspace page, with its infuriatingly dumbed down layouts, go by the wayside. Stop posting to Twitter and Facebook pictures, recordings, and videos of the latest band rehearsal/bong session, and, for the first time in a long time, gather a bit of healthy mystery behind the act. The more we know, the less we want to know, or should know, favorite Corn Flakes toppings of the bassist notwithstanding. And I should know. I’m a serial social network offender, even more so of late, seeing as how I just signed my band up for Twitter and StereoKiller accounts. If I follow my own ramble, I’m part of the very problem I describe, but then again I never claimed to have the iron will I hope to see in others, I just write about it. It’s a lot easier that way, you understand.
It would be interesting to see what would happen to the music industry if bands simply started saying no to the technologically driven model that has been thrust upon us by Tim Berners-Lee, Tom Anderson, and Mark Zuckerberg. More bands would fail to crack the zeitgeist, undoubtedly, but some bands, the good ones at least, would mean more to more people, rather than more bands meaning a little to more people, if that makes any sense at all.
Maybe it doesn’t. These are confusing, bewildering, overwhelming, underwhelming, schizophrenic times of information super-overload for us all. Social networking could well be more of a boon than a burden to the metal scene. This is more of an abstract stream of consciousness type of thing than an effort to quantify or solidify this nebulous online monster we’ve played an active role in birthing.
But it’s easy to forget that, in the end, the power that is held over an artist’s music is ultimately in the hands of the artists themselves, at least in the very beginning. It is they who sign off on how and when it is distributed if they are well and truly independent, and it is they who could, in theory but likely not in practice, decide to leave the digital age behind en masse, and go back to the days when music was distributed by more traditional means—when it was still a vaunted physical entity, worthy of the wait that was required, with the inherit sense of giddy anticipation and birth of the glint therein. That being said, any venture beyond the current convention contains the double edged blade of unknown rewards and high risk, so who among us has the intestinal fortitude to test it? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some YouTube videos to edit, and that Facebook status won’t update itself.
Joe Henley is a freelance music journalist and editor currently living in Taipei, Taiwan. In addition to pulling vocal duty in a death metal band, he maintains a website on the Taiwanese metal scene and writes regular features on the touring bands that come through Taipei for a local monthly music magazine.
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