Last week Richard James, sovaldi better known to the masses as Aphex Twin, pills had us all captivated, try because a blimp bearing his logo was flown over London. A bold move, but exactly what you’d expect from a man who drives a tank and lives in a bank. The same logo also appeared graffitied in New York, and there are conflicting reports about it appearing on the dishes in a Thai restraint in London (which are, incidentally on eBay). Given the lack of noise from the normally prolific Aphex Twin over the past few years, everybody was sitting up and paying attention when he announced a few days later that his first album since 2001 was to drop. For an artist as tech savvy as himself, it may be no surprise, but Aphex Twin has used the internet right.
Aphex Twin is hardly the first artist to use to the internet, and with it, the relatively new idea of guerrilla marketing, to great effect. Last year Daft Punk, Arcade Fire and Kanye West where all subject to guerrilla marketing campaigns, where their faces, music, and logos all showed up in unlikely places, leading to huge buzz about new music. This captures the zeitgeist of music’s digital age, because only through the internet could word about their campaigns spread and could anticipation build in such a frenzied manner. Given that the drop in sales over the past decade or so has been almost totally (and correctly) attributed to the internet, its interesting to see acts viewing the world wide web as a promotional tool, akin to touring, to promote themselves, rather then as a drain on sales. However one has to ask why this isn’t the norm.
Notable curmudgeon Steve Albini, famous for being a member of underground rock bands Shellac and Big Black and for producing acts like the Pixies and Nirvana, wrote earlier this year that the internet was solving “the problem with music”. Albini was writing about streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, and his argument is that it takes music out of the hands of the corporations, as they are no longer needed for distribution, rendering them irrelevant, and gives the artist ultimate freedom and the fan the best deal. Albini, however, doesn’t seem to exist in the real world, the world where things like instruments, studio time and transportation cost money. The fact that everyone is uncomfortable to come to terms with is that we like getting music for free, especially when this is very easy. In an ideal world this would be fine, as it would mean music is made for its own sake, but this is not a world we live in. Albini ignores this, easily done when your as established as he is, as well as the fact that new artists are struggling to make money on online streaming services.
What is surprising though is that Steve Albini fails to acknowledge the true potential of the internet, which is to close the gap between the artist and the fan. In many ways this would be getting rid of the corporation, as the artist no longer has to hide behind them, and they can interact with fans, be it via a Reddit q and a or a guerrilla marketing campaign, more freely. Nine Inch Nails demonstrated this to great effect when they created an interactive game in the build up to their Year Zero album, where eagled eyed fans where given a chance to attend exclusive concerts and hear snippets of new music, if they followed clues dropped primarily on the internet. Steve Albini is from a punk background, a movement that was based on iconoclasm, of closing the gap between fan and artist, and yet he seems ignorant of this facet of the internet. Making a living through live performances solely is a dubious prospect at best, given how costly touring is, and its ultimately short sighted. In the long run musicians will be remembered more so for the recordings they make, so surely that should be given precedent.
Rather then using the internet as a primary medium of sales, the music industry should use it as its primary advertising medium. This works in two ways. A fun, memorable and enjoyable interaction with fans is made possible, and the magic of purchasing a record in store, a pleasure that everybody should experience, is not lost.