I don’t think that I’d be out of my bounds when I say that most metal fans explore their genre. When you like a sound, you want to follow it as much as you can. Additionally, you can crave different sounds, and explore new things that the music world has to offer. That’s the beauty of music—you’re able to create an amalgam of things you like. In a way, you piece together your own auditory universe. And today, it’s easier than ever to explore music. The advent of the Information Age has created, catered to, and revolutionized our tastes in more ways than we realize, and with streaming services like Spotify and music-oriented websites like RateYourMusic, discovering new bands and songs has never been more convenient. I, for one, love that this is true; Spotify has been crucial in my exploration in music, to the point that it’s my go-to for all new tunes I want to try out.
But I have my doubts that this sort of freedom—or, rather, ease to explore—will last. Even as we speak, the music industry is shifting beneath our feet. Recent events—Jay-Z’s Tidal, Spotify’s recent controversy regarding pay, and Protest the Hero’s adoption of crowdfunding (covered concisely here and here)—have brought up questions about what the financial standards of the music industry are and raised possible alternatives to the current models of pay available to musicians. However, as much as I do support the right for artists to be fairly compensated, I feel that we must also look at the other half of this system, to the fans—the listeners of music—and try to come up with a way to make both parties happy. The artist should be able to be duly compensated, and the listener should be able to pursue new music with little drawback.
Let me elucidate further with this, as it probably doesn’t make complete sense. Right now, we use a system of mass music distribution, wherein musicians are not granted financial transparency, i.e. musicians are not paid instantly a listener buys an album/song/what have you. Many artists, including singer-songwriter Imogen Heap, who explains her ideas in an excellent Popular Science article, have expressed the need for transparency, as, obviously, musicians are more often than not relying on label advances that they have to pay off in the future. Matthew Inman, who runs The Oatmeal, a popular humor website, drew a particularly concise portrait of the music industry through the years:
Inman’s suggestion is one of transparency and ease—if you like an artist, you pay them for their album. Bang. Boom. Done. Except it’s not that easy. First of all: how do you know if you like an artist? Now, wait. I know. That sounds just ridiculous. Of course you should know if you like an artist or not. But that’s for music you already know. For instance: I’m a fan of Deftones (if that hasn’t been obvious by my numerous posts about them). I plan on buying their upcoming album, Gore, but that’s only because I know them. I know their music well enough that I know what to expect, for the most part.
With other artists it’s not so easy. I’m interested in the new Cult of Luna album, but I’m not as familiar with them; I listened to Vertikal and only enjoyed it to a point. I’ll probably just stream it, and if I really like it, I’ll buy it. But if Inman and Heap’s views of a utopian music industry come true, that entire idea gets thrown in the metaphorical wood-chipper. Musicians won’t let you listen to their new album in its entirety when they really need you to buy it. Why would they? Sure, they’re probably privy to release a single or two, to stir up and interest and give fans a taste, but does that really warrant someone to buy an entire album? Essentially, with financial transparency comes the loss of streaming, and no more streaming means no more music exploration as we currently know it.
Now, obviously, it hasn’t always been that way. Before the internet became a mainstay in our lives, one had to go on radio singles, the reviews of music critics, and the recommendation of friends/family/that stoner guy who works at the record store. However, the past also relied on physical media for distribution (no duh); you could go to a record store and listen to it (well, sometimes, depending on the store), and if you didn’t like it after you bought it, you could bring it back or sell it, not to mention that most music would be present in a record store. But in this “utopia” where most music bought is digital, and music pirating presumably still exists, you can’t really do either. You either take the chance or don’t. And that’s great if you have money to spend, but not everyone does. And, sure, you can go on the recommendations of RateYourMusic or TasteKid or what have you, but that’s just it: those are just recommendations. In the end, it’s up to you whether you like a certain album or song or not after actually listening to it.
Again, though, this isn’t to support the music industry in its current state. Record companies have too much clout and their greed can interfere with artistry; musicians, no matter the genre, should be paid for what they do. But I also think that we need to keep the fans of the music in mind when we start moving these proverbial mountains. We should have the chance to explore and grow our tastes just as much as artists should get compensated.
So, is there a solution? I mean, yes, there are theoretical possibilities. Off the top of my head, artists could use a sampler type of file format, in which interested buyers could freely download an album, but the files would be coded to erase themselves after a certain amount of time (much like Apple’s movie rentals work), giving them the choice to buy or simply not listen anymore (There are, doubtless, ways to exploit that, but you get my point.). I’m not some musical Nostradamus—this whole ordeal could end up being some deep seeded paranoia on my part. At the end of the day, I’m just a guy that enjoys music and likes to explore and find new, interesting things to try out, and I’d hate to see the ease that we can explore music with in the modern day fade to dust.