I wrote about Lana Del Ray and the blog backlash for the Economist Prospero blog.
March 12, 2012
AMERICA'S well-documented independent music scene once valued tour-van mileage, lean living, anti-commercialism and a layer of sonic inscrutability. The DIY work ethic of the 1980s and ‘90s meant everything from booking your own gigs to pressing your own debut single, if necessary. Would-be scribes wrote criticism in Xeroxed zines, published in copy shops. It was more concerned with a grassroots revolution in sound than SoundScan figures—the pre-internet gauge of sales.
In the past decade, indie music blogs—often American, each fancying itself like a mini-NME—have become increasingly influential. Pitchfork and Stereogum, in particular, had the power to break bands from independent labels with every thumbs-up they give. Acts such as the Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes owe much of their commercial viability to enthusiastic online editorial coverage. The online hype machine—which drops new tracks and videos along with breathlessly excited text, plus the usual reviews and interviews—can easily make a musician that has never played a live concert a buzz-worthy act over night. Often the more mysterious the act, the better for the site that breaks it. Traditional media blogs have restyled themselves along the same lines—Rollingstone.com for instance. In this day and age, that online hype may not translate into massive sales, but it can mean a career in music with potentially lucrative touring and licensing. Publishing and live performance are the profit centres in the industry these days.