Last time, I wrote about the stigma surrounding Electronic Music. One of the reasons I pointed out was related to the relevance of internet in the Electronic Music Industry. In this article, I aim to focus specifically on that point. If you want to see other parts of that article or a whole new topic tackled, I invite you to comment it and tell me why you want me to tackle it!
Onto the article itself:
Try to remember “Gangnam Style”. What comes first to mind? My guess would be the dance, the way that Psy hops and manages to engage all others to do the same. Maybe you also remember the chorus, or the part where Psy says “Oppa Gangnam Style”.
If I was to ask you about the actual music, very little would probably be said. You may mumble the first stanza of the first verse – assuming that, like me, you’re not very, if all, fluent in Korean. You may even remember the intro to the song or the very slight drop, but it’s safe to say that the actual music isn’t the most memorable part of this song. The production didn’t break boundaries, it doesn’t tackle important issues, doesn’t create a sense of self-identification with it…
So, what happened with this song so that it became the craze of 2012? And, what does this have to do with Electronic Dance Music?
Well, the internet happened. And that’s what it has to do with EDM.
T-Pain, the rapper and auto-tune extraordinaire, tweeted about the song with the caption “Words cannot even describe how amazing this video is…” in 29th July 2012, a mere two weeks after the song being released in Psy’s “Psy 6 (Six Rules), Part 1”. In the coming months, artists as diverse as Robbie Williams, Josh Groban, Katy Perry, Tom Cruise and Joseph Gordon-Levitt showed their support by sharing the video on twitter or publicly commenting on it, with Britney Spears going as far as learning to do the dance from Psy himself on Ellen. These people, no matter how much creative credit you attribute to them, are undoubtedly opinion shapers with a large online following. They helped propagate the “Gangnam Style” trend, making it relevant enough to be featured on Reddit – that was the real game changer. On a matter of 4 days, the video more than doubled the daily view count from slightly over half a million to over 1.2 Million daily views. This started a snowball effect that ended as we all know: “Gangnam Style” became the trend of 2012, beating all known records regarding Youtube at the time.
What can we conclude from this, though? What does this specific phenomenon say in regards to Electronic Music?
It says that the importance of radio, compilations and traditional word-of-mouth is waning. It says that the new technologies have surpasses previous ones when it comes to propagating a song, mainly not because of the song itself but because of the context it is given (be it a ridiculous video, a diss track that is bound to go sour or anything that gets people engaged online).
We all know internet memes but, do you know what a meme originally was? It may surprise you to discover that Richard Dawkins – the dude with an enormous brain that normally shows up to remind us that God is not real – was the one to coin the term “meme” in his 1976 book “The Selfish Gene” as “any idea, behaviour or trend that has the ability to transmit from person to person”. Does it remind you of anything? Like, maybe, just maybe, people dancing like they’re hopping on horses?
We live in the meme era. Not only because memes are life and are the reason most of us spend time online other than to listen music for free (more on that later), but because in a globalized society that has such an easy access to information we are bound to share, wanting to be shared and looking to share things that will enhance our social capital. Imagine two very different people on Facebook: subject A shares Blood on the Dance Floor every day; subject B shares a mix of Aphex Twin, Otto Von Schirach, Jon Hopkins and Rob Dougan. Which one would benefit more from the shares? Which one would gain more social capital because of what they are sharing?
Likes serve as incentives for people to post more of something, while angry reacts work as a red flag to thing before posting something like that again. In such a volatile environment, being on the side that has likes is paramount for your success.
Electronic Music is deeply connected to this meme culture – both the internet specific one as the generalized one. The most relevant recent proof of this is Bar Raiders’ “Shooting Stars”. At this point, if you’re an avid user of social media you’re more likely to have known the song by ear than you are of actually knowing the duo’s name. The song’s biggest claim for itself comes in the form of a #18 in the “Triple J Hottest 100” chart of 2009 – a chart that counts down the most popular songs of the year as chosen by the listeners of Triple J. For comparison “Shooting Stars” ended up behind “colossal” bands as Mumford & Sons, Hilltop Hoods, Phoenix, Bluejuice and Gossip. Yet, in 2017, pretty much everyone has heard it online at least once.
Recognize it? It may be easier to recognize in its most usual form: a meme.
This is the power of the internet. Performing CPR on an 8-year-old song and making it incredibly relevant.
But relevancy doesn’t always translate to more profit. This meme culture has made it so songs can be shared much more easily but as they are shared because of mimicking and not actual engagement with the song, they end up not being part of the brand of the artist and it is like it’s then owned by the internet collectively with no way of suing – nor much interest due to the backlash it would create – every creator that uses the song without due credit.
To further this problem, the emergence of streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and Tidal (remember when Tidal was the next big thing?) has also made it easier for artist to get heard but more difficult to make decent money out of music.
Streams increased 33% in the US in 2015 to a total of 15 billion. In 2015 artists like Major Lazer racked up over 500 million streams… FOR ONE SONG – in his case Lean On. Unfortunately, according to The International Music Summit Business Report of 2016 The most important driver of future industry success is the creation of fair revenue share mechanisms for streaming (in a survey with key industry players where they were questioned about the importance of a given driver of future success for the industry comprised of 163 participants). This is clearly something to be corrected in the near future or we risk proving the doomsayers right in what concerns electronic music dying.
Until then, I’ll leave you with this song so that we end up on a higher note.
Remember to comment with your opinion on this and with what you want me to address next or expand on!