Last week’s prediction: About time for one of those winsome, short-haired female trip-hop devotees…
Not to harp on this, but it is precisely by keeping an eye on these type of spots—e.g. iTunes, America’s predominant music retailer and the place where all sorts of sophisticated licensing agreements are daily worked out and put into play—that a outside observer can hack/glimpse the future of ‘the biz,’ according to the dudes that run it. And the future of the music industry is, by all intelligible measures, licensing itself. Where once a band aspired to ‘make it,’ i.e., building a local fan base, catching the eye of an A&R, getting signed to a major label, releasing a record, touring some more, etc, with the eventual expectation of making money off of a), record sales, and b), concert revenue, and then happily reaping the benefits of fame, bands now aspire to sell singles directly to ad and entertainment execs.
Which is to say the model now is to completely bypass the consumer—whose thumbs-up/thumbs-down was once the obvious, inarguable standard of success—in favor of the television drama, the movie soundtrack, and the TV commercial. Understand that this is not synonymous with a different kind of ploy for the same fans. This is about from where your income ultimately comes: the average record-buyer, who now barely buys records and is all too happy to pirate your record, vs. the conglomerate with deep pockets and an undeniable need to enrich their products with sound made by hip young men. Hence Gossip Girl, Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill etc. becoming the new achievement benchmark: if you can prove yourself worthy of the montage, you have succeeded. The curious viewer may eventually venture to buy a soundtrack, or even an album, and that’s gravy, but it is no longer in any meaningful way the ultimate industry goal. Hence the weird NYC spectacle of bands like the Virgins emerging out of the ether with a record already recorded and released on a major, playing half-empty showcases because their ‘fans’ don’t even know they’re fans yet.
One way we know this is because people as august as Thurston Moore have told us so. The other way, again, is eyeballing the coordinated strategy signaled by what iTunes chooses to give away for free each week. In almost every case, the artist will carry the imprimatur of a slew of O.C. soundtracks and Target commercials, such as this week’s Single of the Week, the 88’s “Go, Go, Go.” Recapitulating the variety and depth of licensing opportunities in which this band has indulged would take another thousand words; suffice to say that although you have probably yet to hear of them, you have certainly heard them. In fact, I’m somewhat pleased to be formally introduced to their sub-Ted Leo falsetto stylings and overblown, Jam-style chording. Nor do I fault them for taking the money: this is clearly the modern survival paradigm, with the curious caveat that it depends not at all on people actually listening to the 88 with any sort of consciousness of who the 88 actually are. Apparently, three dudes from L.A., but again, who cares?
What is curious about this model is that it essentially imagines an industry future without fans. People will consume music the way they consume actors and actresses: as part of a much bigger whole, to be judged as such. Beatles-type fame is a casualty, although I’m sure these dudes have no trouble getting laid; so are about a million tropes, some good, some bad, traditionally designed to appeal to ‘music fans,’ a demographic that may well not exist in ten years. The new criteria is whether or not Blake Lively looks good to it. The new criteria is whether or not Cameron Diaz can get dressed to it. The new criteria is whether or not Katherine Heigl can plausibly work up tears to it.
Which is presumably why in lieu of music videos these guys just made videos of two of them getting up in the morning.
Next week’s prediction: Japanese Motors
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 21, 2008