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Facebook – In Defence of Distancing

What do you miss most about the way music used to be consumed? What seems to be lost is a feeling of anticipation about a significant, or even debut album release. This is where the music industry itself was actually useful. The co-ordinated campagns of advertising, reviews, ‘buzz’, interviews and tour were syncopated in order to create a sense of mystery and grandeur, which the internet, for better or worse, has all but destroyed.

David Bowie‘s ‘The Next Day’ has been successfully delivered due to the singer’s massive legend, but recently I read Smashing Pumpkins and Zwan’s Billy Corgan moaning that if someone wasn’t ‘online’ at the time, they wouldn’t hear his latest, so he wouldn’t bother releasing any more music (presumably because he could no longer afford to pay back the record label’s advance).

So popular music has lost the impact of an exciting, talked about release, an album that the youth can talk about on the schoolbus or in the canteen, or the adults around the ubiquitous water-cooler. I have never written this way about the ‘younger generation’ before, but they presumably will never really know the very manipulated thrill of peeling the plastic off a new vinyl, or even tape cassette release, examining the cover art and liner notes intently, playing and absorbing the recording over and (hopefully) over, and the object becoming one of your most treasured possessions. The recent incline in vinyl sales is I imagine niche marketing to a retro-adult demographic who can still afford the things.

Social networking, and Facebook in particular (due to it’s inherent desire to make everything as convenient as possible) has made the whole process of artistic consumption essentially devalued except for already establised names. There is simply too much information out there, too much music, and things get noticed due to good reviews and word of mouth alone. No bad thing, you may say, but when the intereted parties are only the bands and their familes and friends, the media push is pretty short lived.

So it’s all there, it’s all pretty mediocre (I’m starting to miss ‘bad’ music, as everything is so ‘all right’. Though Prince‘s latest efforts have made quite good steps in this). While punk rock swept away the distance between artist and audience (35 sodding years ago), I’d argue that in these cultural-commons, caring and sharing times, we need our makers to be more distant, more remote, more untouchably ivory-towered than ever. Led Zeppelin didn’t only build their justifiably huge heritage on great songs and albums, but also on a legend. All Beady Eye or Foals seem to be able to muster is a half-hearted ‘I’ll see yer down the pub, yeah?’

  1. I’m not sure if I’m missing the point here. Lana Del Rey’s album was number one in 14 countries the day it was released – I’d call that buzz and anticipation, even if the ‘wrapping’ I undid was an iTunes download. Maybe it’s just that no-one is very interested in Mr Corgan any more?

    1. I think Sean’s trying to say that there is just too much music, and sometimes the increased frequency of social network interaction with an artist doesn’t improve the experience? Ie the mystery has died. Whereas people who maintain the mystery like Bowie still retain an air of that artistry…

      1. Maybe your right there. I’m not really the one to comment, as I realised that years ago, esp when I was a kid, I used to think of music as something ‘other’ – like product – and I had no concept of how it was made. It was like magic. It’s only more recently that I’ve come to understand that it’s made by people. Often very nice, hugely talented, but ultimately human people. I agree about their accessibility. I went to a gig last night, and partly due to that realisation, I hung on and said hello to the artist, and shook their hand. When I used to watch TOTP, that would have been unimaginable. Those people on the telly were like aliens. So I agree about distance, but for me, I have to accept that as I’ve got more into music, more consumed by it, that a big part of losing the distance is down to me?

  2. hmmm have mixed feelings about this. I know what you’re saying about the anticipation of a new release etc but…on the other hand that was really only true for major label artists, the lucky few who had the major label machinery behind them. Everybody else was pretty much out in the cold and any promotion was much more the word of mouth kind. Which isn’t all that different from social media. Also I think there’s other ways of creating the magic you talk about. And I do think ‘magic’ is the proper word. How about just making great records with great artwork? That should be magic enough…

  3. Bizarrely I agree with every point made above :)…Love your positivity Phil..very true points Mike…and yes Bill that was my thrust…damn, where’s the controversy…right, onto my Killers article…

    1. Well I do think the net has been a force for musical discovery and democratization in many ways. But it has also thrown up some of the issues you talk about. I think it’s a multi layered argument really and some of the things we’ve lost from the old model have been replaced by less satisfying ways to consume music.

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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.