2015, CAN THERE STILL BE ROOM FOR ALTERNATIVE CULTURE ON A CORPORATE-CONTROLLED INTERNET?
I remember the Internet. It was a truly radical space where alternative voices had equal volume to their mainstream, corporate-controlled counterparts. It was a space where people could share alternative art, music, and writing with others across the world that were once impossible to reach without large amounts of advertising and marketing dollars. A leveled playing field after a century of tight corporate control of radio waves, retail spaces, and industry infrastructure that made it next to impossible for independent voices to be heard outside of their subcultures. I remember the Internet fondly.
This is not the internet that exists today, about a decade past the dawn of "Web 2.0." Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter originally promised more direct communication within our subcultures, but instead they are slowly closing subcultures off by putting up paid barriers to communication. One again, like in the pre-web culture industries, money is starting to dictate whose voices get heard and whose do not. Being a member of an alternative culture is once again becoming a mere signal to the Vans, Taco Bells, and Scions of the world. Is there still room on this new Internet for alternative culture?
2015, IF YOU'RE RUNNING A RECORD LABEL AND A MANAGEMENT COMPANY. YOU'RE SIGNING ARTISTS INTO A 360 DEAL.
If you are managing bands (and taking a cut for these services), and also releasing records from the same bands you're managing, make no mistake: that is a 360 deal. It's really sad to see this tactic being employed by more and more small independent labels. 360 deals are notoriously unfair and one-sided against artists that deserve better from independent labels. They create a huge conflict of interest that only disadvantages the artist. DIY artists should not be signed into 360 deals with DIY labels. Calling it something else doesn't change what is going on. Independent artists should not be signed into 360 deals with independent labels. New DIY artists with a bandcamp and nothing to manage don't need managers yet. And signing them into an agreement at such a point is predatory, speculative, and serves only to benefit the management. Maybe in 2016 I'll stop getting solicitation from managers about bands who only have a bandcamp or a small label release. To the artists: you'll know when you need a manager, and if the only person trying to convince you that you need one now is a manager, I would be suspicious of that.
2015, WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE RECORD RELEASED ON A SHADOW-COMPANY SET UP BY A MAJOR LABEL THIS YEAR?
The independent community is not a stepping stone to a major label. The independent community is not a stepping stone to a major label. The independent community is not a stepping stone to a major label. Like I said in 2013, a self-release is a subversive way to release your music as a spit in the face to a tightly controlled system of major labels and the major indies that they distribute. It is not a marketing strategy to build hype for your major label debut. True independence is a values system, it is a way of existing, it is an end in and of itself. Be skeptical of people who use the independent community as a stepping stone to a major label. These artists, lawyers, and managers are looming in underground communities more than ever in 2015.
2015, IS THERE A FUTURE FOR MUSIC?
For all the discussions about "the future of music" in 2015, I can't help but wonder if there will be a future of music at all. Tech companies have conceptualized the average music listener as one of the humans aboard the Axiom Starliner in Wall-E. The future of music can, and will, be as bleak as we all agree to let it be. Maybe in 2016 someone will bring us something more creative than algorithmic playlists on streaming music services that seemed designed to fill the void left by Muzak, but not for people that actually want to listen to music. I still worry that the business model of the streaming music services will lead to a future with no alternative to music that isn't distributed by one of three large corporations. But that could be a moot point if the delivery model leads to a future where music is akin to hotel wallpaper.
2016, WILL YOU BE ANY DIFFERENT?
Maybe in 2016 more artists and labels will be vocal about why they are making the choices they are making to serve as examples for others. For all of the lawyers, managers, major label ghouls, and other assorted middle-men working to convince bands and labels that we need them; that without them we will fail; that we won't be able to make a living unless we do things their way; that we won't be able to survive - for each one of them there are two people proving them wrong. Maybe in 2016 we will hear more of those stories. Maybe new spaces for people to tell these stories will open up. Or maybe we'll just all wait around for the next Taylor Swift thing to happen and that will be good enough. Happy New Year!