When it comes to discovering music, especially on the internet, many people find themselves looking to music bloggers and journalists to sift through the vast amounts of ‘undiscovered’ artists out there. Very often, the attention of a few popular magazines and blogs can carry a lot of weight for emerging artists. Music promotion, online and elsewhere, often garners enough attention to thrust an unknown artist into eyesight of the right people- be it an A&R man at a record label or enthusiastic manager. Obviously, taste in music is an intrinsically personal thing; its not always easy to express why a song makes you ‘feel some type of way’. As for music journalism, no writer is ever going to be impartial when reviewing an album- it’s opinion after all. But what happens when a music magazine or an individual’s clout in the industry begins to warp how music is shared, distributed, and promoted?
Think of how much weight influential music blogs like Pitchfork and Stereogum carry as tastemakers. Pitchfork’s controversial 10/10 rating (the first 10/10 rating to be granted in over eight years) of Kanye West‘s album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy once provoked a wave of media uproar in 2010. The review spurred a healthy dose of skepticism from many, but also helped catapult Kanye’s album into the spotlight. Then consider the artist How To Dress Well, who’s been featured on Pitchfork 14 times in 2014 alone. He’s also been featured in over 6 ‘Staff Picks’ lists over the course of a few years. Sure, we can appreciate How To Dress Well as an artist, but it makes us wonder: how much coverage does a single artist deserve on one website? Does one person really warrant more than 14 feature stories over the course of 6 months? Ignoring taste, there’s no way Tom Krell of HTDW is producing enough new music to cover every two weeks. It also makes you wonder: how much is one good review on a popular outlet like Pitchfork worth? Arcade Fire once attributed their success to a positive album review on the site, claiming “after the Pitchfork review, Funeral went out of print for about a week because we got so many orders for the record.”
We can boil it down to a pretty simple question (aptly described in this article by Emma Garland at the 405): How much is your taste in music really worth?
This question also brings to light a questionable website titled Fluence, founded by the same man who created marketing software for Topspin. Fluence is set up to allow artists to send their music to a handful of so-called music industry ‘influencers.’ Right off the bat, it sounds inorganic and a just a tad sketchy. It’s a beautiful thing when someone can unveil music that people really connect with, and want to share in turn. When you involve money, specifically paying for influence, that lovely picture of music sharing is distorted. Here’s the catch for Fluence: ‘influencers’ can charge artists per minute to listen to their music. It can range from 1 to 10 dollars per minute, depending upon how ‘influential’ the influencer deems themselves.
Fluence’s system could be compared to the “pay to play“ system in which record labels pay radio DJs to feature their artists. This typically comes with some sort of advertisement prelude, cuing the familiar phrase “brought to you by ___” on air. In this case, the DJ’s actual taste in music rarely makes an appearance. Rather, its a question of how much you’re willing to pay to get your artist’s music on the radio. Now that we’re seeing radio gradually being replaced by digital streaming, and people rely less and less on the word of published critics or media darlings, it’s easy to draw comparisons between the familiar pay-to-play model and websites like Fluence. Is it worth it to pay for the attention of industry influencers? It’s ultimately up to the artist and their management team, and there are plenty of arguments both for and against the pay to play system. The somewhat slimier aspect of this model is that some music bloggers now deem themselves important enough to put a price solely on their word-of-mouth. Not only does this taint the idea of promoting artists based purely on talent, it disregards one of the main tasks of a music writer, which is unearthing (good) new music.
Music parallels any art form in this way: if it’s potent enough to evoke emotion or a reaction- any reaction, so long as it makes an impression- it’s probably worth writing about. We aren’t naive over here at FDRMX. When it comes to taste, certain people and organizations will have more clout in the music industry, but the idea should be that that emerging artists aren’t sucked into a vortex of paying for ‘taste’ via websites like Fluence. The wonderful thing about the internet is that it allows almost anyone to share music with the rest of the world, regardless of their position in the music industry. Musical talent and range can’t be bought, even if publicity can.