Did The Net Kill Hip-Hop?

We were living in a hip-hop nation.  What happened?

The Internet.

Hip-hop evolved into a marketing juggernaut.  The sound of the people made by performers who would endorse any product, tie in with anybody willing to pay them.  And the marketers paid them.  And the mainstream media covered the shenanigans.  And then suddenly nobody wanted rap records anymore.

Of course rap became a caricature of itself.  Then again, if you were cutting edge, you got no airplay.  And with no touring business to speak of, and with disc sales declining, you needed that airplay.  So ever more bland hip-hop was foisted upon the public on MTV and radio and…suddenly people had somewhere else to turn.

This is the broadband story.

Broadband begat not only YouTube, but the demise of Don Imus too.  If it weren’t for Media Matters, and its posting of the Imus clip, this story would have blown over, it would have been business as usual.  But the Net kept the story alive.  The Net MADE the story.  The Net fanned the flames.

The major labels believe the Internet is synonymous with theft.  Sure, a lot of stealing goes on via the pipe.  But a lot more is exchanged between people.  Information.  New music.

The old system was built upon control.  We decide who to sign, we decide who to promote, you choose from our slim pickings.

But suddenly there was more choice.

But you weren’t supposed to like those new choices.  They didn’t sound like the mainstream, they didn’t have the same traction, they weren’t UBIQUITOUS!  And that’s exactly why the public embraced these new acts.  They hearkened back to the days of the late sixties and early seventies, when the man had AM and we had FM.  And the labels purveying the music were icons we wanted to work for, when they were doing their best to midwife the cutting edge, what we wanted to hear.

You know that doesn’t describe the major labels today.

We’ve been reading over and over how Americans are bombarded with marketing messages, which are ignored.  What makes the music industry believe it’s immune?  That when it hypes something it hasn’t got the feel of Procter & Gamble trying to convince us to try out a new soap?

And with so much money at stake, the usual suspects ramp the hype up even more.  Jay-Z is EVERYWHERE when his new album comes out.  But that doesn’t sell it.  Because people can see the sell.  And the sell has nothing to do with the music.

And didn’t the labels cry that CDs have to cost so much because of the MARKETING COSTS?  The HYPE costs?  It’s exactly these costs that are putting their acts in the ground.  Only the lowest common denominator is interested in the tripe they’re selling.  Doubt me?  Then why do the Shins sell more albums the first week than the vaunted J. Lo?

Most albums sell a pittance.  They’re far from ubiquitous.  It’s the HYPE that’s ubiquitous.  Suddenly, with a fraction of the marketing budget you can reach enough people to sell more albums than those of the scorched-earth policy overhypes.  Think about THAT!

In other words, there’s more money in the niche.  Not only are niches selling a lot of records, they’re doing so for a fraction of the cost.  And people want the album, since they believe in the act.

We’re in a new golden era.  Pay no attention to what the major labels are saying.  Don’t worry about iTunes and DRM and lawsuits.  They’re the detritus of an old world.  What’s fascinating is that those who desire music are pulling it on the Web.  They’re going out and finding it, they’re searching for great new stuff.  And when they find it, they buy it, and go to see it live, they BELIEVE in it.  And it sounds anything but formulaic.

In reality, this is less of a revolt against hip-hop than a setting loose of music lovers in a vast candy store.  Why eat the same thing over and over again when you can try something new?

If you’re playing only the hits, you’re missing most of what people want to hear.

Then again, to get most of those people you’d have to play ALL KINDS of music.  Begging the question of whether broadcasting is even the model.  Whether it’s more about niches.  Whether satellite’s tens and tens and tens of stations are necessary to fill the need.

You complained about the lack of melody in today’s music?

No problem, you no longer have to listen to it.  You can find something more appealing on the Web.  Friends help.  But even solo surfing turns up all kinds of appealing stuff.

We’re seeing a great democratization of the landscape.  Dictation is no longer the norm.  It’s not about strong-arming someone into liking your wares, it’s about trying to do something so great, so appealing, so honest that people will flock to you, and sell it for you.

The landscape will never be the same.

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