It was all going so well. Social media, web 2.0, digital distribution. For a moment it really seemed like the power was in our hands and the middlemen could go sod themselves. Whether those middlemen were politicians, press barons, record labels, inane radio djs or the idiots who run our public transport services, for a while it looked like 24-hour internet access and Twitter were going to make them obsolete. In music, the reality was that there was a period of around ten minutes where some artists found a way to use the newly-discovered resources by which they could make their music, artwork, images and video accessible to all and sundry without the need for outside intervention, and then, like early-noughties, pre-crunch bankers buying farmhouses in Umbria, suddenly there was a melee, the whole world jumped in and somehow there were more bankers in Umbria than there were farmers. Er, strained simile, I admit. The internet should have a virtual statue erected to Peter Gabriel, complete with virtual chiselling on the plinth : ‘Last musician to have a new idea on the internet that worked’. It really does seem that the sheer numbers of musicians, artists, salesmen, bloggers and general hawkers and traders shouting for your precious attention has converted the online experience into something like a stroll through a marketplace in a third-world town.
Some quotes came in today for vinyl pressings. Trying to go backwards, or at least trying to resist the current that is dragging us towards unhappy monetisation model of Lady GaGa or OK! Go (i.e. forget selling music, create image and publicity instead and use that as a basis for advertisement revenue), we’ve been looking at the vinyl market as a possible source of salvation. Again, this is subject to the same bubble-bursting effects as the overglutting of the social web. It won’t be long before one too many labels realizes that there is a core group of vinyl buyers who are active and interested in new music, and kills the whole scene with a load of overhyped, underquality product. Hopefully not before we get a couple of records out though. We’re looking at the idea of putting out a couple of four-track EPs, on double twelve-inch vinyl, in gatefold sleeves. The idea is to create an untouchably premium format, without going down the ‘remastered box-set limited edition bonus tracks unreleased demos come-round-to-your-house-and-kiss-yer-mum’ suckers-only format. One song per side, 45rpm, loads of room for the cutting arm to swing when it cuts the bassline. Lossless CD digital recording is fine, but this will just sound HUGE! And maybe it will be worth it to a small number of people. Worth enough to them to pay ten or fifteen quid for. Who knows? I’m screwed if I can figure out what the market wants any more. I’m not sure even the market knows. We all laugh at the way people were so gullible and easily-led in the 1950s, and consider ourselves to be ever so media literate and informed now. Trouble is, we’re taking direction from our peergroup, and are subject to peer pressure within that. As Emma Hyde pointed out in the papers last week, social media is now the new lynchmob, with the same howling frenzy and lowest-common denominator mentality that has always affected groups of humans with no clear leadership.
I don’t know whether deciding to embrace vinyl is: an economic strategy on our part; an atavistic longing to recreate our late childhood/early adulthood; a whimpering rejection of a new media model that is just too scary and too demanding of our time an imagination to feel comfortable with; a nostalgic grasping at a golden age of music sales that last happened in the vinyl 90s; a frustration with the trivialisation of an art which was once at the forefront of our culture; an attempt to reach an audience which appreciates music with a full dynamic sonic range; or a Canute-like urge to turn the tide back to a point where we once more feel in control of things. Perhaps it’s a way of coping with the feeling that, artistically and culturally, the last time things were this bleak for artists, the most famous musician was Nero fiddling whilst Rome fell. The dark ages followed the fall of Rome – a period where the only outlet for art was in Royal courts and isolated monasteries. Things won’t swing that far this time around, and if they do it will be short-lived, as is everything in our disposable age. But perhaps full-quality, one track per side, vinly EPs will be our version of the fifteenth-century illuminated manuscript, made with no attempt to be mass-produced, disposable or cheap.
Pretentious! Moi? How dare you sir?