When I was about thirteen, I was madly into the Kaiser Chiefs. Writing that makes me feel like I’m introducing myself at an Arseholes Anonymous meeting, especially now the Chiefs’ lead singer Ricky Wilson is one of the panellists on The Voice. All the same, I loved them once, and as we look at our exes, we look at our past favourite bands – with disdain, and perhaps a little shame. Nevertheless, Kaiser Chiefs were my gateway into (better) rock music.
The way I fell in love with Kaiser Chiefs was through the internet. I don’t know what band forums are like today, but back when I was thirteen, they were really great fan communities full of people sharing articles, pictures, facts and gig stories relating to their favourite artists, and giving each other recommendations. Through the Kaiser Chiefs forum, I found bands like Maxïmo Park and The Cribs. Then, at some point, someone linked me to last.fm, a website which tracks your music listening and offers you personalised recommendations based on your taste, and through that I found some of my favourite bands.
Though we may be losing the wave-based culture of music fandom, I don’t think that musical communities have died out – they’ve just moved onto the web, and now co-exist instead of competing. Internet musical communities can be even better than real-life ones – they unite even the smallest fan groups, creating global social networks. Modern communications mean that friendships can be kept alive across huge distances, and musical taste is the perfect social glue. In real life, it’s all fine as long as you’re fashionable, enjoying the same thing as the people in your locale. On the internet, someone will undoubtedly share your taste, no matter how niche it is.
The internet is big. You won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. Over two billion people have access to it, and a lot of those like music. A smaller amount of those make music and a smaller amount of them actually put it on the internet. That’s still a lot of music on the internet – it’s practically saturated. Sites like Bandcamp and Kickstarter are great, but it’s so hard to actually get noticed. What’s more, so much is free, with Youtube and Spotify and other various sites, not counting the ease of straight-up piracy. So people get used to not having to pay for their music.
What this means is that, while there it’s very easy to get your music out there, and it’s entirely possible for someone in Zagreb to listen to that neo-folk EP that you recorded in your bedroom, there is a lot of competition between little-known bands, and people expect to be able to listen to your music for free. Getting out there is not necessarily any easier with the internet than without it, and the live music scene has waned now that so much is available for free wherever and whenever you want it.
The internet has massively affected the logistics of musicianship, and has really just raised the base amount of exposure that everybody gets. It’s still just as hard as before to get past that level, especially with all the additional competition. It’s important not to view the internet through rose-tinted glasses – in many ways, it’s made life harder for new artists
The monumental shift to internet music consumption has changed the way we all think about music. For some artists, it has proven to be a huge aid in their musical careers.
Go-to no-bullshit record engineer Steve Albini (below) is an outspoken advocate of the internet in terms of its potential for exposure. Whilst he has helped major label groups, like Nirvana, to make records, Albini has always been a firm supporter of independent music. He has talked in interviews about how the shift in the industry, while scaring the major labels, has allowed independent bands to find an audience and to become autonomous sustainable units. He used the example of his own band Shellac, who, because of the fanbase the internet has allowed them to reach, have been able to finance and manage their own tours without having to spend money on management and PR companies. This means that they have been able to tour places as far-flung as eastern Europe, something which just wouldn’t have been possible before the internet.
Sites like SoundCloud allow unknown artists and bands to upload their own material for free for the whole world to listen to and share. Dylan Baldi used MySpace to create numerous fake band accounts to share his original music. It just happened that the one picked up by promoters was Cloud Nothings, whose awesome 2012 album Attack On Memory was engineered by Steve Albini.
The internet gives bands the opportunity to act completely outside of the music industry. Bands can even become their own producers, using powerful software, such as Ableton and Logic, downloaded from the internet. Whilst the internet acts as a platform for mediocrity, it has also given artists the tools to be noticed and to build a career on their own merit.