As the music industry contracts niche genres will rise

by Cory Van der Pol
July 17, 2014 –

burzum-deathlike_silence

Being a squeaky clean pop country starlet has its advantages. Taylor Swift launched her own critique of the music industry by suggesting recently that customers will buy albums that “hit them like an arrow through the heart.” This implies by converse that they will buy only albums that hit this raised standard.

Her statement echoes what underground musicians have said for years: mass pop becomes popular more for being a phenomenon than for any music quality or profundity as art. People buzz around it because, like most hive mind activities, popular music gives them a space to socialize. Its popularity is its attraction, for those who feel happiest when they are doing what a million other people are doing at the same time.

Underground music on the other hand derives its authenticity from its artistic representation of reality as people prefer not to see it. Whether that is Slayer showing us the dark and seemingly demonic motivations behind history and social decay, or Burzum attempting to inspire in us a vision of a “Dungeons and Dragons” style medieval revival, underground metal peels back the layers of gloss and warm fuzzy feelings and shows us the bare reality underneath the patina of appearance. Its power is not only the revelation of reality but an emotional drive to make us want to accept this situation and make something greater out of it.

The music industry has been in a cycle of contraction or getting smaller as the mass audience drops out. When pop music provides a passing phenomenon that fascinates people for only a few weeks, the point of paying for it is lost on most. Its status more resembles that of television shows or movies than pieces of sonic art to be taken out of the rack and enjoyed for years on end. The phenomenon defines the music: its novelty and popularity make it, like other fads and trends, a temporary distraction from the pressures of life but not a sustaining or interest-stirring event.

For a half-century the music industry made fortunes by finding roughly interchangeable bands, shaping them around some unique appearance, and selling basically the same music time and again to an audience who outgrew the music rapidly and eventually stopped buying. Its business plan emerged from producing lots of new hits and hyping them to attract an audience, rather than building some kind of lasting relationship between artists and fans. When people said that the music industry was bad for artists in the long run, this is what they had in mind. Temporary and dramatic mediocrity was rewarded and talent marginalized.

The Recording Industry Association of America tracks music industry statistics. Where industry revenue totaled $15 billion in 2003, by 2013 it had fallen to only $7 billion. Even digital sales are in decline as people turn to other options. With the falling prices in movies through Red Box, Netflix and other on-demand services, music also falls. As a result the artists who inspire their fans to a longer term relationship are the ones who prevail.

As a music industry source cited in the above article says:

“What we’ve seen is fans will pay for stuff whether it’s Jack White’s record club or Nine Inch Nails doing limited releases,” remarked Light. “Albums at this point need to be souvenirs. They need to be experiental. We see it now with the phenomenon around ‘Frozen.’ This is selling albums through the roof because kids want to retain that relationship, sing the songs over and over, have that souvenir.”

When the music industry shrinks, the pop trends that crowd out quality music decline and artists benefit as a result. The demand for quality now outpaces that for quantity, and the future of the industry becomes not only niche genres like underground metal, but the artists within them who attract lifelong audiences. Although we had to hear this from the mouth of a cowboy diva, this alert to the profound change in the industry heralds a brighter future for metal, or at least metal which hits its fans “like an arrow through the heart.”

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17 comments

  • EDS

    “Although we had to hear this from the mouth of a cowboy diva, this alert to the profound change in the industry heralds a brighter future for metal, or at least metal which hits its fans “like an arrow through the heart.””

    Well unless the metal you are referring is stuff like Epica and Dragonforce, true underground metal will not really be affected by any of this. It takes an advanced intellect to understand Beherit, Demoncy, and Blaspherian. Less than 1% of humankind is capable of listening to said bands, digest their content and understand it. Besides, anyone who is attracted to the hive mentality is already borderline mentally retarded. So those who are “in the know” of underground metal, are already listening. We won’t see much growth in membership to the “circle”.

    1. fenrir

      wow. that’s a bunch of bullshit.

      I think underground bands in general have been benefited with the rise of the internet, but I don’t know how THIS will affect them. Maybe more audience will turn to them, I don’t know.

      I know several smart people who are attracted to hive mentality IN MUSIC. Because Music is not something they spend their time thinking about. There are lots of smarts people (smarter than most people who read this site, as far as I can see) who are worth “converting”, in a manner of speaking.

      Being interested in the Metal aesthetic does not make you more intelligent. A fan of Beherit doesn’t necessarily have anything over a fan of Miley Cyrus (I know this for a fact through personal friendships).

      My point is, there are far more exceptions than you can imagine. Both on the “hive mentality” side (more smart people than you want to admit) and on the “underground” side (more idiots than you would care to admit).

      1. EDS

        Well I’m glad you know some smart people who are attracted to the hive mentality of pop music and good ole’ Miley Cyrus, because I sure don’t. I’ve travelled all over the world studying societies and meeting people, yet I have never found anyone who is worth “converting” (as you say) to metal music from the vast sea of crowdists.

        I’m sure there are quite a few exceptions. However you must realize, in the underground metal scene, the ones who act bone headed and behave like idiots are really just leftist minded young men who are actually quite intelligent. They just need that subtle nudge to the right, which will set off an explosion of new character traits and behaviors which will elevate them over the herd, including the “typical metal head’ mentality.

        1. veien

          I agree this won’t effect underground metal, it’s ‘underground’ – by definition, not that I’m one to get caught up on shit like that. I guess if anything it could mean healthier sounding pop music, in the long run, which wouldn’t be so bad; consider the massive drop in quality from the earliest forms of pop music to what it is now (or alternately give sucking your own dick a try).

          1. tiny midget

            do u think that if one becomes accustomed to enjoying sucking its own dick, that would qualify that person as a faggot?? or it has to be somebody elses dicko ?

        2. Brett Stevens

          In my experience, there’s about 10% of the population that thinks about anything more than what everyone else is doing.

          Some of these are basically not musically-inclined; others reject it because it’s counterculture; others got frustrated long ago and abandoned it.

          Among that group, there are some who would benefit from underground metal who have not found it. Many of those will reject it for purely aesthetic reasons — too loud, too angry — and others for philosophical ones, finding its mythological/historical view too much to handle. Metal is big. Metal is epic. Metal focuses on the movements beneath the everyday veneer of he-said-she-bought. That alienates a lot of people.

          The main thing that strikes me as interesting about this article is the idea that all of the 90% are no longer faithfully buying the books, movies and music they once did. They realize it’s not actually worth what they were paying for it, and now they’re paying for internet and cellular access instead and want it to come free as part of that. This says something about the value of music in general to the 90%: it’s a passing distraction. Why pay more for that than you have to?

          As a result, the music/book/movie industry is going to have to find a better group of consumers and sell them products they want to own. This requires more engagement with the product than distraction for two weeks. People want something they can use to train and bolster elements of their personalities and worldviews.

          The great pop windfall was that all you had to do was find someone to sing something catchy, hook them up with a backing band and songwriters, then hype the heck out of it — with the aid of a complicit media — and rake in the cash. Now the margins have narrowed. What continues to sell? Stuff that people really connect to: the few classics of rock/pop/jazz, classical, and quality metal.

          1. Shambler

            Does the product have to be physical? I would like to own Ildjarn-Nidhogg, but it was a limited release. I feel guilty downloading Ildjarn-Nidhogg in flac through the audiofile, but then again I’m not going to shell out over $100 to get that limited release second hand from some asshole who’s probably scamming me. Plus, the quality is the same in flac. Besides, I think to many physical collections lead to future OCD/Hoarder/Crazy cat lady syndrome.

            1. Wild

              Nidhogg has publicly stated he supports people pirating his music, and somehow I doubt that Ildjarn would care.

          2. Jazzelitist

            Jazz shouldn’t be in that rock/pop/jazz triad. It deserves it’s own spot in between commas. Less than 1% of humanity is capable of listening to Anthony Braxton, later John Coltrane, Alexander Von Schlippenbach, Derek Bailey, Milford Graves, Fred Van Hove and the likes, digest their content and understand it.

    2. Brett Stevens

      It takes an advanced intellect to understand Beherit, Demoncy, and Blaspherian. Less than 1% of humankind is capable of listening to said bands, digest their content and understand it.

      Well, that’s a great but depressing point :)

      1. trystero

        Is it really so bad though? If someone can fully digest Marcus Aurelius and apply him to life but cant stand Beherit, no big deal imo. Metal is outsider art. In an era where every moral is inverted, ironically the outsider art has the right messages.

      2. trystero

        On second thought, people not having the patience to bust through apparent cacophony to hear beauty underneath is depressing.

        1. ksava

          I am constantly torn between your two sentiments. Perhaps the mark of a soul that is full, brimming.

    3. Roger Wates' Unwashed Dildo

      Human Beings are social primates. I’ve never once encountered an argument stating that a person is mentally retarded for behaving exactly like a human.