Another One Bites the Dust

In my last blog, I wrote about how newspapers are on the decline in favor of the newer, faster, and shinier internet. Another old-school form of media, the radio, is experiencing similar problems to that of newspapers.

When I was young, I remember hearing everything first on the radio (and I was born in the ’80s). I still remember at 12 years old calling in to my local radio station and requesting R.E.M.’s new single “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” and getting really excited when it came on. The CD hadn’t even come out yet, so this was the only way I would get to hear the song until I could get my parents to take me to the mall where I could plunk down $12 for the album.

Now I wonder if kids even know that albums still come out in a tangible form. They probably don’t even know that CDs almost always come out on a Tuesday (except for “special occasions,” like the long-awaited release of Guns N’ Roses’ “Chinese Democracy”).

They don’t know these things because music downloading programs have increasingly become the norm, especially in that crucial teenage demographic since a little company called Napster showed up in June 1999. I’ve even noticed on my most recent trips to media sales giant Best Buy that the space allocated to CDs has gotten considerably smaller. The prognosis for the very format of the CD is grim. People just aren’t buying them anymore.

Some (like me) will hope that CDs or something similarly tangible will always exist. I like to hold the album, read the liner notes, and have something to put on my shelf. But with the industry in a state of flux, consumers will have to adjust to the changes. Similarly, the artists may have to shift their modes of distributing their music.

One of the most noted musicians to adapt to these new models is Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor, who has embraced many forms of new media in an effort to grow his fan base — and even increase their loyalty. His innovative campaign for the release of his 2007 album “Year Zero” saw him using internet search in a way few could have envisioned.

It started with a concert t-shirt with some bolded letters that spelled out a website. This kicked off a wild goose chase of sorts that would lead to more content, including mp3 downloads of new songs. It got fans involved, and gave those who figured out the clues a sense of satisfaction that simply buying a CD (or illegally downloading it) can’t offer. Reznor has been releasing music since 1989, and his willingness to embrace new things and work within an ever-changing system ensures that he’ll be around as long as he chooses.

The same goes for Neil Young, who has been recording music for over four decades. Young often debuts videos online, and often streams new songs or even whole albums before they’re available in stores. Instead of trying to halt progress, like Metallica, artists like Reznor and Young are helping blaze the trail for all the artists that will come after them.

It may be easy for artists like Reznor and Young to utilize scary new technology for their music. They’ve been in the business for some time and already have built-in fan bases that will likely follow them no matter what they do. But how about a new band that doesn’t have an established name; what are they to do?

Twitter. I know it’s becoming a bit of an annoyance to constantly read about Twitter, but bands should take heed. It can be an incredibly valuable tool for both established and up-and-coming bands, giving both the musicians and fans almost instant access to each other. The potential for growth just by using this 140-character service is immeasurable. Bands can talk directly to their fans, and the fans can have their voices heard. For example, if hundreds or thousands of Tweets bemoan the fact that the band isn’t playing a particular song on their tour, the band would be foolish not to play that song. Then the fans feel as though the artist is listening to them in a way never before possible.

Or look at last fall’s rom-com “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” which followed New York teenagers on a one-night odyssey to find the band “Where’s Fluffy.” Imagine if “Where’s Fluffy” had a Twitter account and could directly interact with its fans, and encourage its fans to share the information with their friends. It would be a lot more effective than just writing it on the wall of a bathroom stall.

As usual, Bob Dylan had the answer all along. He wrote in 1964:

“Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.”