The Internet is the best thing ever to happen to music. It brought big music to its knees, made Susan Boyle a star, and finally gave me a reason to move all of those CDs into my garage.
I'm tired of the doom and gloom prophesying about the end of the music business. This is the beginning of a new musical world, my brothers and sisters. The only ones need be scared are the fat suits who bled generations of artists dry in order to get a ride on a Gulfstream and a check cashed with the sweat and blood of an musician taking a bus to his next gig where some drink tickets await him.
This is the Age of the Artist. In a world where equipment, distribution, and Paypal are in the hands of everyone, only talent will matter. The days of the middleman are (almost) over. Viva la revolucion de music.
While the major record labels rearrange the chairs on the Titanic, musicians are getting in the water. Bands big and small are reinventing themselves, their music, and their relationship with their audience. They're using technology to break down the corporate wall that kept them from their fans. And while the world gets bigger and more fragmented, musicians and their fans have never been closer, thanks to them Googles and Internets. Here are five old dogs learning new tricks by taking it to the (virtual) street.
I'll admit that I'm on the fence about U2 these days - at least musically. But, goddamn, they still inspire me with their battle to stay relevant in the computer age. In 2004, they were the first band to release a digital box set. "The Complete U2" was available only as a 446-song iTunes download. Savvy move. But the capper came last Sunday as U2 streamed their Rose Bowl concert live on YouTube - another first - to an estimated 7 million people. Next up: the first concert broadcast on Mars.
The Seattle band was one of the first to see the corporate music ship sinking. In 2000, they began claiming control over their musical destiny by releasing a series of "Official Bootlegs" from their Binaural Tour. Seventy-two were released in all. Pearl Jam has continued the series off and on ever since and last week announced a bootleg app for BlackBerry devices. Now, former grunge scenesters-turned-businessmen can get their live PJ fix on the way into their board meetings.
Ever the contrarian evangelist, Beck decided to form an old school record club for the Internet age. The concept is beautiful in its simplicity and anarchy. Beck and his buddies (including folks like Wolfmother's Andrew Stockdale, MGMT, and Devendra Banhart) record an album and then post songs from the album weekly. It's a socialist record label: no hidden fees, no long term contracts, no penny. The first Record Club release was last June's "The Velvet Underground & Nico." Next up was "Songs of Leonard Cohen," posted in September. The releases are so good, it almost makes me miss my old Columbia House membership.
Radiohead is the id to U2's ego. The British band could own the world if they wanted. Instead, they opt for subverting it - and they use technology heavily to aid their mission. Their 2007 release was an exercise in musical populism. "In Rainbows" was released on the band's website as a digital download only. Nothing new there. The price listed on the home page? "It's up to you," were the instructions. I paid ten bucks.
EARLY INTERNET PIONEERS
David Bowie was first online. Perhaps not literally but first in a way that really mattered. In 1998, he became an Internet service provider by launching BowieNet. For $19.95 a month, members received a davidbowie.com email address, Internet service, a customizable home page, and a whopping 5MB of space to create content.
Two years later, BowieArt went live, providing virtual art exhibitions for thousands of emerging fine artists. Who better than the Thin White Duke to curate the Internet? For his pioneering work, Bowie received the 2007 Webby Lifetime Achievement Award.
It wasn't Al Gore who invented the Internet, it was Pete Townshend. He invented it in 1969 when he wrote his abandoned rock opera "Lifehouse" (portions salvaged for The Who's 1971 album "Who's Next" and later as a 2000 concept box set).
In the midst of the convoluted futuristic story was the Grid, a structure of tubes which provided people with all of the entertainment, food, and experiences they needed to survive. Over 40 years later, Townshend would launch The Lifehouse Method, a website where applicants could have an "electronic musical portrait" created for them based on data entered into system. I'm still waiting for mine. My favorite color is purple, and I like sushi. Someone? Anyone?