The internet forever changed how we consume and create music as individuals... but what about as groups? Anyone from the pre-internet music era will surely tell you stories of how particular cities possessed distinct musical personalities, aka music scenes... but do they exist today? Can they exist today like they used to? And what does that mean for talent now?
By independent digital strategist Hisham Dahud
This conversation was sparked during a recent episode of my weekly podcast On Repeat with artist manager Derek Brewer, talking about how bands progress today when he mentioned, "back when there were real local scenes for bands..."
I had to stop him and follow up:
He's not wrong.
Think back to San Francisco in the late 1960s with the hippie movement. Or Washington, D.C. in the early 1980s with hardcore music. Or Athens, Georgia in the mid-‘80s with indie rock. Manchester, England in the 1990s, and of course Seattle in the 90s with the rise of grunge.
The common thread?
Groups of likeminded musicians in a given region would absorb the same music culture. They'd listen to the same music, shop at the same record stores, read the same magazines and perform at the same venues. Once a really good band or artist did something that really resonated for everyone else, others emulated it and you had the birth of a sound specific to that city. That sound also was usually followed by a distinct lifestyle component that then was exported around the world.
In other words, those select bands who broke through had to build followings on their own and learned to build a business (or semblance of one) around their ability to draw crowds locally. Building a touring business from there was thus an evolutionary step.
Today, however, places for people to congregate around music culture seemingly don't exist on a regional level anymore. Sure, there are local venues... but the need to build, sustain and spread "a scene" is seemingly not as imperative for bands and artists (and even fans) anymore. Growing up with the internet, many young artists are instinctually thinking, "why focus on my backyard when the world is waiting?"
As a result, newer artists today are advised told to produce as much content as possible instead of building a local community for support. Instead, those communities are built on social media without regional boundaries. And once someone does discover a breakthrough talent, you don't see labels, industry execs or consumers looking to a band or artist's hometown for similar talent anymore.
Beyond digital, physical played a role as well... the death of physical music. A great piece in The Guardian once summarized it well:
"Where scenes coalesced in the past, it was often around a record shop or a club where people could hear particular sounds. In the late 80s, for example, regulars at the Hacienda were able to hear the Chicago house and Detroit techno imports that underpinned Madchester. Right up to the mid-90s, people would ask their friends for recommendations and share mixtapes, even if those friends were obsessives like High Fidelity's Dick and Barry, championing anything obscure and ridiculing the ignorant.
The internet, and all it entails – MySpace, social networking, file-sharing, blogs – has destroyed the importance of the physical ownership of music. Now, everyone has access to every kind of music, digitally and instantly. We no longer depend on other people and their imports, club nights and mixtapes to discover new sounds."
Obviously there are great benefits to having such wide and instantaneous reach, especially for independent artists, but there is something to be said about the communal effort of a group of people coming together to forge something unique that spreads. Plus, having this sort of access is a huge win for consumers, especially those that don't live in a town with a thriving music community.
In the end though, is it really all the internet's fault? What about us as music fans and consumers? How about labels? Should they hold some responsibility in fostering local communities and emphasizing the important of supporting regional talent? Does anyone even care that talent is local or not anymore?
WHAT DO YOU THINK? COMMENT BELOW!
Hisham Dahud is an independent digital strategist based in Downtown Los Angeles. He hosts a weekly music/tech podcast called On Repeat and also lectures adjunctly at ICON Collective. Follow him on Twitter @HishamDahud.