Nobody can deny the profound impact the digital age has had on the music industry yet I can't help but wonder if my predications toward it are justified. I like many seem to share the collective consensus that the labels are pure evil and that the internet has freed music and artists. But is this really the case? The truth is often much more tenebrous. To start I began thinking about my reasons for hating the labels. From the absurdity of the RIAA in prosecuting suburban housewives and grandmothers that wouldn't know a torrent from a tortoise to the promoting of manufactured pop stars with little talent and homogenized bubble gum songs I still find it hard to be easy on any major label. Yet despite my obvious reasons for loathing them I also try to remind myself that some of their evils are just personified in my mind through the recent proliferation of choices and methods of consumption now available to me. All which have raised a level of rebellion in me that wants to scream from the rooftops "You can't tell me what to listen to anymore or where, when and on what device either!". The idea that the music belongs to the artists and fans and not the labels provides a level of comfort for purists.
But on the other side of my mind I have to consider the fact that the labels have done some good and are simply protecting their business model while trying to promote brands. Their unscrupulous methods for saving their business are are well documented but the denominator is simply a desire to cling to an older business model in a world where the new model changes daily and often hasn't yet been discovered. And as much as I get annoyed by the Brittanys and latest boy bands the truth is they are powerful brands and it doesn't matter how terrible they are (and yes I hate the fact that I often find myself singing along to something catchy). Think about it through the eyes of other brands. You rarely see a public outcry against other consumer products or brands even though many of the product offerings aren't the best. I don't see people writing blogs about how much they hate Hershey's just because they are angry the better chocolate brands aren't being recognized they way they deserve.
So despite the dialog over the labels, what has the digital age done for music or done to hurt it? One thing radio and the labels did for years is aggregate our experience with music. While it might have been shallow and limited in span but it was effective. Even though I have every possible method of discovering music today I still find it difficult to discover the next artist I might like. Have too many distribution methods simply diluted are experience too much to the point we don't know where to turn? The Pandoras and Last FMs of the world are great but I have yet to replicate the experience of my youth. Remember the days of hearing a song on the radio, then going to the record store to buy the album and talking to the super cool music aficionado working in the store? You would tell them you want ... album and they would introduce you to a few other artists you might like? You came home with an album or two and while you listened to the entire album as you mused over the album art, read the lyrics and grew to enjoy the emotional journey it took you on? What do we have today? You hear a song you like and you buy that song for your iPod. The story the artist intended for you through a series of songs is no longer easy to deliver.
I think the internet has done just as much to hurt music and artists as it has to help. I love music and always have yet I find myself struggling to be excited about it as I once was. Maybe someone will figure out how to deliver the passionate experience of the old days through the freedoms of distribution we have today. Solving the riddle of how to win the internal battle of "my way" vs "feed me what you will" is difficult as my desire for both changes with the tide of my desire to see technology progress while not losing anything experientially in the process.
At least bring the art of the album back somehow. I miss that the most.