by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & Charting the Night Away
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & L & lt;/span & ast week I whined about the multi-platinum stranglehold major labels have on the Grammys. Then I tried to make lemonade out of those profit-driven lemons, suggesting the awards masked the fact that sagging sales are forcing big record companies to change their tactics. They're diversifying. They're respecting fans. They're catering to niches.
They're beginning to do, broadly, what independent and boutique labels have always done.
Everyone fawns over Internet 2.0, saying how marketing via social networks is allowing garage labels and even individual bands compete with the big boys. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, say digital dotards, sold 40,000 albums before the band ever even had a distributor.
Now we have the Shins' Wincing the Night Away, debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart. Surely an album from an indie label competing with grownups at their own game is a sign of the playfield-leveling power of our MacBooks.
That's where consensus and I differ. I think the Internet has leveled the playing field. I just don't think the bulldozer originated on the business side. Who's jumped on the Internet 2.0 wagon harder than major labels? No one, that's who. If marketing were the reason tastes were shifting away from multi-plat acts, then majors would be leading the charge, not scrambling to diversify.
Clap Your Hands got famous via the Internet, sure. But at the time they could barely pay rent, so how could they afford guerilla marketing? They couldn't. That's why the Shins will go gold on years' worth of percolating fan buzz, not on a six-month online push and an ad in Blender.
Ideas at their most viral don't tend to originate in advertising firms. At least not in the electronic paradigm. They come from your (my, our) homies sending us to the page of some guy who spits with some high school friend's younger brother. We find what we like because we actively seek it out, we don't passively absorb. The kind of marketing that sends hot artists directly to your home page isn't what's changing the face of music. It's having the resources to go explore.