Whalen: DIY-ers change the music game

Bands offering “name-your-own-price” albums give listeners the option of free music.

JaredWhalenThroughout the last decade, the traditional means of discovering local bands changed.

Maybe it took a holiday, or perhaps it got lost, but my theory is that it died. Murdered, in fact. But before we panic, let’s take a minute to remember those good old days.

Local shows were the place for discovery. New music pounded the walls of gritty basements, living rooms and odd rental spaces. Xeroxed fliers stapled to a telephone pole meant hearing a new band for the first time.

But, this isn’t the case. Concerts are still alive, but they aren’t the sole method of discovering music anymore. This brings us to our murderous culprit – the download.

Downloading music isn’t new. Websites such as iTunes and Amazon have long since revolutionized how the world gets its audio fix.

What is relatively new is the growing presence of DIY talent on the web. The local music scene is no longer confined to venues. Instead, it is spread out across the Internet, connecting every angry suburban punk and indie city kid out there. So where do we discover most of our music? On our laptops, cellphones and tablets.

When I am invited to a show, the first thing I do is check the event’s Facebook page. In the description, I’ll find a list of the bands playing and underneath their name is unfailingly a link to their music.

From here I can listen to a band’s entire discography and form an opinion of it – all from the comfort of my living room.

I’ll pick on Bandcamp because I love it. When bands put up their music for download, they can set their own sale price. Some decide on $1 a song, but quite a few have the option of ‘name your own price.’

Oh, the sweet relief I feel when I see that option. Whether it’s that I’m a Generation Y child who can’t commit to buying from a new artist or that it’s too much work to type in a credit card number, I am overjoyed that I can simply enter in $0.

This way, a listener can go from hearing about a band for the first time to having its music on their iPod with at least one chorus committed to memory in just a few keystrokes. But what is the result of such instant gratification mixed with content oversaturation? Both harsh reality and DIY utopia.

Bands can connect with fans like never before. While it used to take a record label or a sugar daddy to afford distributing an album, bands can now do it themselves, usually for free.

Additionally, the limits to where that music can go are almost endless. The Internet makes a band’s music just as accessible in its hometown as internationally.

The harsh reality is that while it’s easier for bands to distribute their music, it is becoming increasingly difficult to monetize it. Unless a group cleans up on T-shirts, it’s probably hard for band members to quit their day jobs.

With the oversaturation of music available online comes the arduous task of becoming heard as the five bands similar to yours become 15, then 30, all with almost identical links.

Targeting your local audience is grueling when they are obsessed with some indie band from 10,000 miles away.

Adapting to that change is the challenge. For listeners, there has never been a more diverse catalogue to choose from. For bands, there has never been a larger audience. Sure, lots of artists will grumble when they have to sell their music for practically nothing. But in the spirit of DIY, most bands will be even happier that listeners can sing all the words to their songs.

Jared Whalen can be reached at jared.whalen@temple.edu.

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