The Faddish and the Fringe: Following (Un)Popular Music on Trapit
Famed classical music composer Aaron Copland (1900-1990) once stated, “to stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself; incredible and inconceivable.” Though Copland referred at that time to public support of the arts, to censorship and the literal policing of music, he was touching on the nerve of a subject vital to its contemporary presentation and production. The web brought with it a slew of changes to the arts, and to music specifically; namely changes to its “flow.” In a March 2010 Gizmodo editorial, Adam Frucci argues that the spread of new artists and songs has become increasingly consumer-controlled:
This new form of distribution has had a few effects. Some claim that the “democratization” in music acquisition and discovery has actually enabled and emboldened record labels to focus more on concert sales, or on ad revenue from streaming content. Others maintain that the industry is on the verge of extinction, showing their frailty by suing the pants off of certain cloud music sites. These aforementioned effects address the financial and legal questions, certainly, but they do little to illuminate perhaps the most relevant change here: that is, with so much music being put out–after all, “you can just throw it up on Youtube”–how do consumers know where to look? How can they make sense of what’s good and what isn’t?
Let’s take Lil B as an example, primarily because he is a really good one. Here’s a hip-hop artist who is no stranger to the industry. He first achieved mainstream success at 16, rapping in The Pack, a hyphy group hailing from Oakland, California. Following that, he more or less fell off the map, seemingly not to be seen again. At some point in 2010, he began recording music again, this time by himself. To date, he’s recorded more than 1500 songs, all of which he’s promoted exclusively through Myspace and YouTube. These videos and songs developed something of a cult following, leading his recent signing by none other than P. Diddy.
Thus Lil B’s cosmic reinvention has both countered and served the ends of the music industry. On one hand, Lil B’s unique style of branding and endless use of the word “swag” has ignitied a flurry of anomalistic and controversial rappers. He’s managed to spark a rebirth of rap, one that clashes (in classic postmodern form) against subgenre lines that were once strictly drawn. In that spirit, however, some of his early adopters might feel duped or sold out by his albums being eventually sold in Walmart.
At this point, though, can we really say that it’s truly one way or the other? As long as there’s money to be made, the music industry will continue to market it, despite the viral success of all the Lil B’s of the world. Now that discovery has become less limited by the expansion of alternative labels, music streaming, et cetera, the industry likely has to adapt to an audience that will get to know its favorite artists long before a major label has the chance to pounce on them. Ipso facto, if the music industry knows what’s good for it, it will retain the aspects of the artist that made them interesting or appealing in the first place. Seemingly, it’s worked that way. Horrorcore shock-rapper Tyler the Creator just won an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist, and in iconoclastic fashion, Lil B opted to entitle his debut full-length LP as “I’m Gay (I’m Happy).”
So where do consumers look for music? I’d start by saying that part of what has motivated me to investigate subjects on Trapit like Juggaloes, Pop Stars, and (needless to say) Hip-Hop is that I get pretty lost in the blogosphere. Although a lot of news comes through on pop music, the music on the fringes is often left out. We won’t find as many blogs devoted to Juggaloes as for pop stars or rappers, but they’re out there; sometimes right under our nose, in local papers or major news outlets. Even as an avid seeker of new hip-hop, I’m not able to keep up with the sheer number of blogs out there. So you can imagine the issue of attempting to find something like Juggaloes without knowing which sources to look in. We may have blogs that we prefer or trust over others, but in truth, it’s always good to get to know new ones. And it’s only through empowering the consumer to discover more music that the field will be levelled for quality artists whose careers would have never taken flight prior to the birth and expansion of the web.
I’ve said enough at this point. Now check out this “Sick New Song.” Or this rapper from Portland, Maine. Or this awesome piece on Robert Glasper.