The dawn of the digital age has given us a large quantity of music to choose from and a lower quality of Rockstar to wince at. Gigwise looks at the long term effects of the digital age on music and why Rockstars are becoming a thing of the past...
Rewind to back to the summer of 1995, in the light evening haze of a Liverpool suburb you’d probably find me half heartedly playing Super Bomberman whilst listening to Nirvana's Insecticide with a copy of Melody Maker resting on my lap. As an Indie kid, I was always awe stricken by the next batch of bands the music press threw at me, although back then it somewhat seemed I independently discovered music as opposed to it being shoved in my face, albeit violently attacking my senses through every intrusive advertising medium as digitally possible. Smartphones, social media and Google were a good decade away. Pixies songs being murdered by a Thomson Holiday advert would have been incomprehensible and if someone told me Glastonbury would play host to mainstream R&B dribble whilst getting a ticket practically meant remortgaging your home, indeed, I probably would’ve asked you for your dealers number.
Back then, the term ‘Indie’ meant something very different; anti commercialised, scruffy, cardigan sporting, conscious separation from the mainstream. It was however, in the process of change, as bands like Oasis who took the throne in the absence of the Stone Roses giving way to more laddish tabloid friendly bands, alienating the make up wearing Suede fans. Soon enough the term ‘Indie’ became more of a grey area as the high street moved in on vintage clothes and haircuts became stupidly expensive. All the original indie mis-shapes and misfits became outsiders in a once safe haven they used to escape the judgemental gaze of the mainstream.
You might think I'm being a tad nostalgic about how things changed since the digital age took hold, and of course you might be right. Putting the old rose tinted glasses on and romanticising about the past has become more apparent in the last 10 years with a trendy distaste for anything current, thus indicating the digital age; as well making music easier to obtain, has also diluted and shifted everything to a point where a good portion of us are yearning for the purity of the past. And for the record... I did prefer the '90s.
2002 was the unofficial dawn of social networking, a somewhat ‘free for all’ digital wild west sprung up almost overnight, sculpting new landscapes for exposure and self promotion giving way to the Myspace era. Bands had a worldwide platform at their disposal and any band with a DIY Punk ethic and a hatred for corporatism, Myspace was a pretty good fighting tool. For record companies it was a double edged sword as problems like file sharing and illegal downloads saw record industry boss’s scrambling desperately for solutions and probably nappies.
More recently, chains like HMV announcing closure of 60 UK stores; along with the Decline in physical sales, its easy - if not a tad depressing - to see how much the game has changed over the past decade. The money, of course, hadn’t gone away, it had just shifted to other channels - and it was to channels where artists had the potential to make more money. Amongst numerous studies at the time, one suggested that there was more music being released than ever before in history. So how the hell did that echo the blood curdling cries of a dying industry? It didn’t, it just meant the money was no longer in selling records - it was in live shows, merchandise, ring tones, tours and festival branding. The latter, I believe, is where the problems began.
Back in the beginning of the '90s, alternative/indie market was more about rebelling against the norm as artists promoted a less materialistic stance with bands like Nirvana steering into the mainstream. Eras like the '60s and '70s were used as points of reference as opposed to the eternal selfish '80s template still currently in use today. Lady GaGa takes Madonna's 1989 hit ‘Express Yourself’ aptly renamed ‘Born this Way’, down to the microcosm of countless Joy Division cover bands the NME spits out every week for us to see this era is showing no signs of buggering off. So why has music become so diluted? Are we are all still looking for the next ‘big thing that will take us into a new age?
My suggestion is that we have reached a saturation point where the breeding ground for the type of music and rockstar we are all craving may well be in the process of being destroyed. This year's Download festival is a good reflection that old school dinosaur headliners, Metallica and Black Sabbath, show the absence of current acts strong enough to fit the bill. Newer acts, with the exception of the Muse's and Coldplays', suffer in the shadow of more established acts who made their names in previous decades. Which brings me to the conclusion of why music is becoming increasingly bland: Very few artists can make their money on their music alone, gone are the days when bands could disappear for a few years to concentrate on their third album, if they ever get to their third album. Licensing a song to an advert is actually seen as okay these days, where you were once seen as, in the words of Bill Hick’s, “off the artistic roll call forever”.
“Selling out” doesn't really matter any more. Just look at the amount of brands you are swamped in during the summer festival season, big corporations are not just sponsoring tours but also albums (Groove Amarda and Bacardi) and videos (faithless and Fiat). Not paying for music has basically handed our beloved bands over to the corporations, and yes we probably are to blame. For myself, music has always been about revolution, new ideas and anti corporatism, perhaps the answer is to forget our idols are "selling out” and just focus on the music they make, but dare I say, I may never be able to to forgive.