Although the major advancements of online media have provided useful tools to musicians and opened more opportunities for them to share their music with the world, it’s not necessarily the case that these new tools have made it easier for musicians to play a role.
Media sharing websites such as Soundcloud and Youtube have allowed not only musicians but people with musical talent to publicize their material, and anyone with decent internet connection can access them. Eager fans and supporters don’t have to wake up early in the morning to catch MTV music videos anymore, or cross their fingers at a music store hoping that the rest of the songs on the CD they purchase is just as good as the single hit they’ve heard on the radio: the songs can easily be found on the internet.
Rapper/Youtube star Wax says in one of his weekly podcasts (Podcast #20) that music is now essentially free. “Buying an album is now an act of charity,” he adds. During times when music was not as easily accessible as it is now, Wax says that people used to buy the album because they wanted the music, not so much because they wanted to support the artist. Bandcamp, an online music media outlet where independent artists can distribute and sell their music, is a clear example of this new reality: some artists allow users to “name your price” when purchasing a digital album, meaning people can get the album they want for free ($0), and the money that people do pay would be intentionally spent for the artist rather than for the music.
If more people are paying to support the artist, and artists are utilizing other creative methods to attract attention such as day-in-the-life-of videos and personal blogs, then it seems that the role of music for the musical artist has either changed or become significantly less important, such that the music they make is no more the crux of their image.
On another radio interview with Wax, he says what’s most important in order to make a living as a musician is to make entertaining content, whether it’s music, music videos, blogs, artworks, merchandise, etc. “Whatever you do it has to be entertaining,” he says. A big part of the success that has been achieved by musicians such as Wax is by providing other entertaining content along with their music. In fact, entertaining content nowadays seems essential to the success of the artist, so much that if worldwide phenomenon Psy’s Gangnam Style wasn’t accompanied by a catchy dance choreography and a sensational music video, it arguably may not have had the unprecedented success it has now.
As the line between musician and entertainer becomes blurrier, the musician then must do more than just present himself through his music in order to be recognized as an artist. The ease of getting music out there has ironically made it much harder for musicians to be recognized, since the uniqueness of an artist is hard to discover among the millions of people who can make beats, play the guitar, and do cover songs. The musician must get himself out there by establishing and securing his sui generis image: his image must represent the music, rather than let the music represent his image.
Truly passionate music aficionados who love music not solely for its entertainment value may not be so fond of the trend that has been brewing in the world of music, but history shows that adaptation to cultural changes have brought about new ways of living that we can’t imagine losing. Wheat’s main purpose is to fill our stomachs, but it has also cultivated a culture of bread making, a culture that steadily rose to become an art of its own.
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