Thursday, March 31, 2011

On The Future of Music: A Punk Perspective

Okay, so for those who recall, at the end of class on Tuesday (3/29), we were asked about the future of music in the face of heavy industry control, etc. I just felt like sharing a few thoughts on the matter.

First of all, let's be honest, a lot of popular music more resembles a systematically manufactured product, rather than artistic expression. Between Dr. Luke and Max Martin, a disconcerting number of hit songs have been written by a small group of people, and sold to various performers. Now for the important bit: What is the future of artists whose songs aren't pre-calculated successes?

The answer to this question lies in the internet and the cultural ethics of punk rock. Wait, punk rock? That weird music that grungy-lookin' gutter-dwellers with choppy mohawks listen to? The same.

One thing that punk rock has pioneered is referred to as the DIY ethic. DIY stands for Do It Yourself, and while this can draw images of ill-fated weekend warriors dropping cars on their feet, it's a little different in the context of music. Within music, the DIY ethic stands for self-representation and self-promotion, in lieu of traditional promotion methods. Can't get someone professional to record your demo? Do it yourself! Sell it at local shows and save up for better production for your next release. Nobody is coming to your band's shows? Work with other local bands, or look into opening locally for bigger touring acts.

With the advent of the internet as a source for music retail and information, bands can advertise themselves, sell music and merchandise, and arrange local gigs more easily. Music blogs often highlight smaller, more local acts. Internet retail allows bands that have never played more than a few hundred miles from home to ply their wares globally. Internet-based self-representation has become increasingly viable even for larger bands. Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and Pearl Jam have all abandoned their record labels in favor of the internet.

Also interesting is the increasing number of smaller niche record labels, ranging from Ipecac (metal, punk, hardcore), to Elephant 6 (indie, psychedelic, folk), to ANTI- (reggae, blues, country, experimental), has opened the door for smaller or more musically obscure acts, representing the jump from DIY local shows to better-structured national and international touring. For bands whose music has more specific appeal, this isn't a bad option.



  1. I would have to agree with the idea, that the ideologies of punk rock will indeed lead to the salvation of the music industry. In my opinion the conglomerated music industry has become formulaic. This tends to retard the creative expression allowed by artists in their given genres.
    With this said, punk rock, as well as many other forms of music that follow the DIY ethic have in fact been susceptible to becoming a systematically manufactured product. Take for example the story of The Sex Pistols. Malcolm McLaren completely followed the DIY ethic and still managed to turn out a systematically manufactured product, that was somehow popular with the masses. I blame Mclaren for killing the soul of Punk.
    This aside, I believe that the main reason for the success of DIY production, still rests heavily on the shoulders of record companies.
    Its sad to say, but the real reason that a large number of artists turn to the DIY ethic, is to gain enough following to eventually get picked up by a major record label. As for the well known artists that have chosen to forsake the major record labels and strike out on their own, I suspect that it has more to do with economics than artistic expression. They want a bigger piece of the pie.
    Just my opinions, any further comments or research to help confirm or refute my claims, would be appreciated.

  2. For a while, I always thought that the only websites that allowed for people to sell their music directly to their fans were places like
    Amazon and iTunes, but recently I found a website called bandcamp that allows artists and bands to set up a site for their albums and merchandise for no charge. People can listen to the tracks off the website and can purchase them for whatever price the artist chooses. With this sort of freedom offered, it's not surprising why some artists are rejecting the standards and restrictions of record companies. One drawback to this that I can see is that artists probably wouldn't make as much money as they would if they worked with a professional record company. In a way, artists would trade the benefit of making money for the benefit of being able to produce and sell music the way they would want to.

  3. Good thread here--over and over, we see a countercultural movement go mainstream. As J pointed out in response to Griffin's analysis, bands DIY long enough to get picked up by a label---who can blame them---and the music industry basically owns that band--to get on any FM radio station costs big money. There are only about 5 record labels and those record label work in conjunction with Clear Channel who own the majority of the air waves--odds are not good for the humble, noble band or musician.

    As Paul points out, companies like offer alternatives and a site called offers free access/downloads to concerts by small but awesome bands.

    Still I wonder to what extent we are all trained by the music industry to like what we like...and to what extent the net is changing the rules (or not)

  4. Hmm, I did not know how the punk rock sound so I asked a friend and she gave me some song titles to listen to like The Clash-rock the casbah, Iggy and the stooges- Search and destroy. After listening to them on you tube, I realized they are not bad at all. As Dr, Griffin said it is DIY ethic. I think it's a good idea that people with the talent of singing can come out for the world to see what is in them without being crippled with the issues of registration, fees and other formalities. I personally think, it is a good idea and these artists should be encouraged.