As third-year journalism students, we have spent a good part of the semester having it drummed into our heads how important it is to become capable of using the internet to our advantage. Our broadcast journalism unit insists we have a twitter account and use it regularly. Part of our online news assessment is the blog you’re currently reading.
Though it is not always financially rewarding and takes some time to create a following, if you want to get a story out there, you no longer need a middleman. You don’t have to go through a publisher. You can publish it yourself. You don’t need a TV station to put you on the air, upload your video to youtube.
The internet is the easiest and most direct way to connect to your audience, whether you’re a writer, a painter, a film-maker or a musician.
I’ve been using the internet to explore music and listen to new bands since I was just a kid with Napster and a dial-up connection, (Does anyone else remember the days it took 15 minutes to download a three minute song?)
Some musicians have lashed out at the changes the internet has brought to the music industry, particularly huge, established musicians. Prince demanded that all his videos were to be taken off youtube. Metallica sued thousands of fans for downloading their music.
But the internet has provided musicians with much more than illegal downloaders and the mp3 format – it has given them a much wider audience to experiment with the DIY ethic that began with 70s punk bands. Musicians can cheaply advertise shows, release their music and form online communities.
MySpace is not the power that it once was, but for almost eight years it has offered a free and user-friendly social networking site, it has been a simple way for bands to connect with an audience.
When the Arctic Monkeys started performing back in 2003, they would hand their demos out to gig-goers on burned CDs, fans uploaded the demos and set up a MySpace page for them. This gave them a huge following without the aid of advertising or marketing and they signed to the independent record label Domino Records. Their debut single I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor went to number one on the British singles chart and their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not became the fastest selling album in British music history, selling more than 360,000 copies in the first week.
Lily Allen attracted thousands of subscribers to her myspace page long before she released her first album, attracting visitors with her frequently uploaded demos and her candid, hilarious blog. Lily prefers to use twitter now where she has over 2,700,000 followers.
Simple to operate websites and social networking have given musicians an outlet to advertise impromptu gigs.
The Libertines used the internet to upload their demos, chat online with fans, and they often used it to organise gigs. Despite selling out large venues in London, they would organise last minute shows played in a variety of venues, including their house, that they would advertise online. The video below shows, among other things, footage from one of these shows and Pete Doherty and Carl Barat explaining how they used the internet to connect with their fans.
The White Stripes
Social networking is not just for bands on the brink of success. Well established bands like The White Stripes (I am still in mourning over their February demise) used their website to advertise impromptu shows during their 2007 Canadian tour, in their documentary Under The Great White Northern Lights (certainly worth a watch), they can be seen performing on a bus, a boat, at a retirement home and in the clip below, a bowling alley.
Just last week, Foo Fighters used facebook to announce a small show at the University of Sydney the day of the event.
I recently discussed Radiohead’s recent approach to releasing albums, and while 12 songs on an album released by CD or an itunes download may still be the norm, it is not the only way to go about it, regardless of the stature of the band. The way a musician releases their music is only limited by their imagination.
The Flaming Lips
Radiohead’s approach to releasing their music is positively conservative compared to that of The Flaming Lips. Back in 1996, they released their 8th album Zaireeka as a four disc set, all discs had to be played simultaneously to hear the full song. This year they embarked upon a similar project, with discs exchanged for 12 separate youtube videos, for their “valentine’s” song Two Blobs Fucking.
In April they will release three songs via a USB drive, embedded in a life-size gummy bear skull.
In the clip below, frontman, Wayne Coyne explains these projects and why the Flaming Lips are happy for people to download their music for free.