Posted by: Andrew | July 22, 2009

Music Industry 2.0 – Websites

I’ve been recently jumping on board the ever-expanding and accelerating bandwagon of Web 2.0 in general and of people writing on its effects on the music industry in particular (watch for significant updates at http://www.andrewoliver.net soon).  Much of the online literature is on the subject of giving away vs. selling your music, which I will address in a later post, but today I’d like to share a few thoughts on musicians’ websites:

In his free e-book (definitely worth checking out), Andrew Dubber brings up an important point:

Your website is not an electronic pamphlet about your business. It’s not promotion for your business. It’s not a way of generating business. Your website IS your business.

This is not really news, especially for the music industry side of things, but from the musician’s perspective, particularly in the jazz world,  I am constantly surprised by the many great musicians whose web presence is difficult to navigate, not user-friendly, and unattractive.  Unfortunately the default easy-to-make site for any musician is a MySpace, the functionality and aesthetics of which are so abysmal that it’s amazing people still use them.  Still, the ease of setting up a WordPress page (or using any other blogging software for that matter) has gotten to a point that it’s hard to have an excuse, unless you’re so famous that you don’t need to promote yourself online (try finding Mark Turner’s website, for example, though I still wonder why such musicians, who clearly have the means, haven’t had someone set up a site for them, at least to have access to their fans who want to spend money on them!!)

The “standard” musician’s website seems to fall somewhere in the aesthetically pleasing but generally content-weak “pamphlet” type of site, well-articulated in this post at the always-thought-provoking Music Think Tank:

You have to think about what is going to draw someone to your website and why they are going to stay interested in going back to visit again and again. Unfortunately, way too many artists have very sharp websites that are only updated with gigs or with updates that are quick, pointless blurbs that are not all newsworthy.

On the other end of the spectrum are an ever increasing number of  jazz musicians who have taken this to heart and jumped 100% onto the bandwagon, notably Darcy James Argue, whose Secret Society page/blog/free audio archive (see #2) has been very successful in accessing a wide audience for his music.  Here in Portland,  Andrew Durkin has mentioned to me how his online presence has enhanced his visibility in the music world.  From an independent jazz label perspective, Dave Douglas’s Greenleaf Music is a great example as well, with the blog on the front page and constantly changing content.  These sites, I feel, all have content which is updated regularly, is diverse in media and scope, and certainly holds my attention as a regular visitor, as well as having the requisite aesthetic qualities that prevent me from closing the window as soon as I visit the site (which is, unfortunately common it seems…)  These are musicians who have definitely done their homework and are using the new-found power of the web to full advantage to get their music to as wide an audience as possible.

However, there is an issue nagging at the back of my head during all of this talk.  We all know that in pop music, the actual talent of the artist is often not the determining factor in their success, or lack thereof.  Instead, careful production and marketing strategies can turn any schmuck into a pop star.  Are we doing the same thing in the jazz world through the internet?

On one hand, I am confident that great musicianship will always be recognized by those who know what they are hearing, and many of those who don’t as well.  In that sense, the Mark Turner (or whoever)-esque lack of concern for having a website is irrelevant, as their extremely high level of musicianship will not only make up for it, but also guarantee that they will have a sustainable career with increasing fans, etc.  And, of course, the musicians such as Dave Douglas who are on a similarly high level can obviously distinguish themselves from the throng musically without their web presence, but choose to utilize it to their advantage as well.

On the other hand, what about mediocre musicians who gather a substantial fan base online and therefore have some degree of success, but are somewhat lacking in musicality?  Is that a problem?  I am inclined to believe that the mediocre but well-intentioned musician who has success due to his/her web presence is just as deserving as anyone else who establishes themselves online, a task which takes a substantial amount of time and effort (to a scale I am only beginning to realize!)

I suppose the real question here is whether or not the ability to market yourself online will lead to an average decrease in the quality of improvised music.  I’d like to think that this will not be the case, and discussions of the “long tail” (selling less of more – i.e. the increasing availability of niche products in the online marketplace) seem to indicate that the much broader variety of music which can be exposed to audiences now (compared with, say, 25 years ago) indicates a probable increase in the average quality of music, certainly in the sense of more creative and unique options.

Anyone with thoughts is welcome and encouraged to weigh in.  In the next couple of weeks I hope to address a few other issues of this nature, particularly the musically dark side of the the “creative and unique options” I just referred to, as well some totally unrelated thoughts on some early jazz musicians, another strong interest of mine.

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