The big record companies have been floundering for new ways to sell and promote music in the new digital landscape for some time now. Their progress has been slow and ingenuity has been scant; their business is still not as profitable as it once was.
The most dramatic revolutions in the business have been coming from the artists themselves. A handful of artists have found inventive ways of utilizing social media to reach new fans and create inspiring content for old ones.
Beck has been making headlines of late, revolutionizing modern music by bringing listeners back to days long ago when printing presses were extraordinary. He is releasing a book of sheet music entitled Beck Hansen’s Song Reader. The book will be published by the indie publisher McSweeney’s, and will include 20 never-recorded songs. It will be up to fans to interpret the charts, arrange the songs, and bring them to life.
Beck’s book will inspire a wealth of YouTube covers, fan-made EPs, and competing interpretations on Facebook and Twitter. Selected renditions of the songs will be featured on the McSweeney’s website; the publisher will act as somewhat of a role of curator for this vast musical experiment.
Beck’s book has made digital pirating impossible; how can one digitally pirate a physical book? Scan the pages into pdfs? Seems impractical. Book piracy isn’t well established on the internet. Fans will have to buy the Song Reader to experience the music. The same can be said for no other current album.
As odd and different as Beck’s Song Reader is, what Beck is trying to do is nothing new. Literally, he’s doing nothing new because sheet music has been around much longer than recorded music; and practically, Beck is merely picking up on trends that are already pervasive in social media channels.
YouTube is the most popular way for young people to consume music; it is more popular than CDs, iTunes, and streaming sites like Pandora. The amateur YouTube cover is an especially popular medium. People will be making YouTube covers of songs whether or not it’s an imperative, as in this Beck case. If anything, Beck has reduced the amount of people that will be able to cover his songs, because a lot more people can make music than can read music.
Other musical artists have picked up on its popularity, and have utilized it to create tremendous buzz for their music. The artist Gotye recently released a super YouTube cover video that spliced together all of the fan-made covers of his song “Somebody That I Used To Know”. He titled the video “Somebodies: A YouTube Symphony”; Gotye included a long list of every video he used in cutting the video on his blog, and the list goes into the hundreds.
Gotye’s supercut video was a kind and well-received gesture to his fans. It was featured on every major music site and received over 2,000,000 views in four days. The top rated comment on the video actually says astoundingly, “After seeing [Gotye] pay respect to his admirers in such a heartfelt & excellent way (really, who's ever covered their fans before?), I'm ashamed I downloaded his music and will go out and buy it.”
Artist’s social media gestures are more effective in creating buzz for their music than any of the massive, traditional marketing campaigns major labels have drummed up of late. Other artists such as the rapper Lil B and the rap collective Odd Future have launched themselves solely through the creative use of social media, distributing massive amounts of through blogs that they created for themselves. They have only joined major labels recently as a way to distribute physical media and to show that they have “made” it.
Artists are utilizing social media to create attention and appreciation for their music. Their methods are more cost effective and more personal and more meaningful to fans than large-scale, traditional music marketing campaigns. The emergence of digital, social music at the turn of the millennium was what destabilized the work of major record labels in the first place. Yet at this point a deeper exploration of the possibilities presented by social music may be the best way to regrow the ailing music industry.