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New powers at the helm: It’s time to face the music

By Adam Marx

Section: Arts

April 8, 2011

Amidst the turmoil now blanketing the music industry, music fans are finding it harder and harder to go about life as usual. Record labels are seeing their worst nightmares realized as their customers—many of whom were born into the age of the Internet and online downloads— now not only have access to music from sources other than the record companies themselves but now have found ways of circumventing payment if they so wish. Of course, in an era where more and more people are learning about the intricate workings of the recording industry and its dirty little secrets, the argument over the free downloading of music has become increasingly convoluted.

It’s almost common knowledge for the many of us plugged into the music scene that the argument of “they’re stealing from the artists” is not as simple as it’s played off to be (sorry Lars). Now people know that the profits from purchased CDs are split among the recording company, the distributer, the sound engineer, the mixer, the producer, the manager and any number of other channels before the artist even gets paid; if it’s a group of five people, divide the profit even further for each individual artist. As a result, it is common knowledge among artists that the real money they earn comes from touring and merchandise sales.

Yet, for one reason or another, the old giants of A&M, Columbia, Universal, Sony and countless other labels gasping for breath and record sales find themselves still grasping to the ancient order and traditions.

Things have changed, though, and few in the music elite seem to see it. Even fewer see it as a good thing that music can now be swapped and copied at will, usually without any payment taking place during the transaction.

But some pioneering ventures online (where, let’s face it, the future of everything lies) seem to have taken notice and are cashing in on the change, both metaphorically and literally. For example, Purevolume.com—an online site for artists and fans to upload music and comment on each other’s work as well as build their prospective fan-bases— jumpstarted the careers of such infamous acts as Paramore, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Boys Like Girls, Owl City and NeverShoutNever.

Finding a home in the presence of all and the presence of none, artists like Paramore and Boys Like Girls, both of whom are now nursing major-label contracts, worked the internet like their own little fan-growers, drawing in legions of fans week after week while at the same time appearing and staying close to their core fanbase, adding to their credibility. Myspace.com and ReverbNation.com, too, are racking up the hits as they continue to simultaneously play the roles of online radio, communication station and message board.

The irony, though, is that in the midst of all this new innovation and technology, the old-age giants still seem wary of new ways of participating in the music community.

Things worsened for the labels when Apple computers with GarageBand and other recording programs became popular among college students and artists. Now not only did artists need no funding from major labels to record relatively good quality demos, but they also had the means to distribute them online for free through the aforementioned sites or through iTunes for a designated price.

With the growth of message boards, Twitter, Facebook and other discussion sites, the record labels have even lost the ability to control the artists’ communication with each other and so, in effect, have lost control over their own futures.

And what has come of all this new innovation? Only suspicion and fear mongering within the music industry with regard to downloading and online distribution have resulted. Two of my favorite arguments on the part of the labels is that “you’ll never make a living that way” or “you need professional help to distribute properly.”

It seems that major publications in the music world are also feeling the hurt, as they are starting to majorly lose their control over who reads what and when. Rolling Stone, Spin, Alternative Press and others are finding themselves consistently outdone by online blogs and posting boards.

I myself write a music blog specializing in debuting new underground and unsigned bands from all over the world. Like many of these other sites, NewRockNews43.blogspot.com started in my room one day as I was bored and fed up with what I was reading between the pages of Spin and Rolling Stone. Though it started off a little shakily as all sites do, it grew and grew and grew.

Now, over a year and a half later, I have debuted a slew of amazing new artists, some of whom have played or will play Warped Tour. ,One has landed a spot opening for Quiet Riot and L.A. Guns this summer, another has played on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and countless others have played with the likes of underground favorites Norma Jean, Middle Class Rut and The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus.

Now I write about groups like Fit For Rivals, spawned from the same Florida scene as Red Jumpsuit; Voted Most Random, last year’s winner of the East Coast Indie Battle of the Bands; Mass Undergoe, a riotous alternative group shaking up the streets of Vancouver; and Diamond Eye, who will play with Quiet Riot, Warrant and L.A. Guns this summer in Perth, Australia.

As I do this, I find myself wondering how it is possible that none of these groups who are taking the underground by storm in their respective genres and areas are getting any attention from the music elites. What is even more amazing, though, is that Rolling Stone goes so far as to say in one of its March 2011 issues (“Where Did The Rock Hits Go?” #1125) that 2010—a seminal year by my count in the number of brilliant artists I discovered (seriously, it’s heartbreaking how much talent is out there)—was a year devoid of rock hits. Those hits were there; they just weren’t listening.

If the major-label releases of Linkin Park’s “A Thousand Suns,” My Chemical Romance’s “Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys” or Lostprophets’ “The Betrayed” weren’t enough to sate the writers at the Stone, then how about releases from All I Know (“Vanity Kills”), Cloé Beaudoin (“Rest In Peace-EP”), LOVELOUD (“LOVELOUD”) or Lost In Atlantis (“Silent World”)?

The reality is that, though they would like to think otherwise, the major powers that have controlled most, if not all, aspects of the music industry up until now are starting to fall away and lose influence.

The good thing about all this? More music on demand and more direct contact with the artists for us, the listeners. With sites like Purevolume and Myspace leading the way in new artist uploads, and profiles and other sites like my own NewRockNews43 capturing the journalistic side, it is clear that we are poised for a crescendo of new rules in a new era of music.

Now there’s something for everyone, from indie and screamo to pop-punk and heavy metal—no matter what the major publications and labels think anymore. If Rolling Stone and other publications like it want to stick their heads in the sand and pretend that no good rock music came out last year because they weren’t quick enough on the uptake, that’s fine. But for me, I look forward to a new year of surfing countless Myspace and Purevolume pages searching for just the right artists who fit my tastes to add to NewRockNews43 and share with other blogs like it.

Funnily, things are simpler now than they were years ago, though I know many in the record industry would disagree. The music is out there, all you have to do is go out and find it.

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