As arts editor of The Independent and editor of the monthly Independent Music magazine, I’m hardly new to the digital revolution in music. Nevertheless, I am not alone in gasping at the massive part computers now play in music.
One of the biggest and best bands in the world, Radiohead, announced they were not releasing their album in conventional form until Christmas, and instead released it in Autumn 2007 as a download that fans could pay what they want for. So, as we know, the music industry is changing at lightning speed. And this means that the way I get the knowledge of contemporary music needed for my job has also changed, and continues to change. I can no longer rely on my local CD shop or CDs I’m sent by record companies – that would be as foolish as saying that I won’t carry any coverage of the new Radiohead album until it’s released on CD. Being in charge of a national newspaper’s music coverage now entails daily reliance on my computer.
My morning starts with a look at the Record of the Day website, with all the national papers’ music stories, a sound clip of the recommended track of the day, reviews, new releases and upcoming gigs. At The Independent we ensuring that our arts coverage is much more than simply words on a screen: we pioneered a music experiment that I predict will become the norm in years to come – you read a review of a concert and then call up a webcast that actually shows you the gig on your screen.
Blogs are now an integral part of the music scene, with once remote rock stars now more than willing to engage in dialogue with their fans. Pete Townshend is an inveterate blogger, while Lily Allen famously discusses not just her music, but also her weight worries and dislike of some of her fellow stars. Keeping up with celebrity bloggers is part of a showbiz writer’s daily routine, as is writing your own.
However, the use of computers in the music industry has rapidly extended into live coverage of bands – known and unknown – on YouTube, while on other sites fans can now effectively become record companies, buying “shares” in new bands online and reaping the profits of any success.
A computer eases the process not just of buying and listening to music, but also buying tickets for gigs. Hadouken, the acclaimed new act from Leeds, sold an astonishing 100% of their gig tickets through their official site.
And then there are podcasts. MTV’s Gonzo is one of the best known, but I also listen to individual bands’ podcasts.
The way that bands promote themselves has also moved well beyond the traditional press release, titillating freebie of radio ad. Lil’ Chris promoted his album last December with a Lil’ Chris-mas e-card to fans, the Stereophonics gave fans who bought tour tickets a free forthcoming track, while Funeral for a Friend offered exclusive pre-sale tickets on their site, and even have a VIP section.
I cannot, in all honesty, envisage covering music any more without constant resource to the computer. I’m sure the streaming of all eight concerts was a sign of things to come. Learning about the band, hearing their music and seeing their gig on your screen is pretty much the present, and will certainly be the future. Though, until you can dance, work up a sweat and spill beer on the person in front of you, the screen won’t quite replace the pleasure of a live gig.
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