– Jeff Bezos
Sometimes, shifts in culture are hard to spot. The digital age, with its shorter attention spans and open floodgates of music has made us lose sight of a passing icon, the Rock Star.
What exactly is a Rock Star, though? We could argue so many ways on the subject. Is he the open symbol of rebellion against a society who has lost its way? Or perhaps he is the iconic image of pure hedonism and excess, a rebel without a cause.
In truth, he was only the end result of an old system. His existence was possible only through the emergence of what is now old technology, when it took massive capital to provide music and media to the masses.
Before I go any further, this is not a rant on “the man”, or evil large corporations . Often we let our emotions blind us to the reality of the situation. If you can restrain emotion and follow facts you can paint a better picture of what is really going on.
When it took large capital to build the early infrastructure of radio and television, you only had a few gatekeepers to control the flow of information to the many. Our attentions were pointed to only a handful of outlets, and like any media outlet, advertisements pay the bills, so stations became adept at appealing to demographics.
The Rock Star was a byproduct of this. Back when it was possible to sell music, bands could climb the ladder much easier if they had something that people found value in. Record companies would provide the capital, and radio stations would play the music to capture the demographic for their ad spots. Yea I know, it’s obvious that Record companies would pick the winners, but as long as people continued to purchase music this business model continued to grow and expand.
The only thing is, the internet happened.
I remember downloading music as early as 1998. Before napster, there was a site called audiogalaxy. It was an FTP site where you could download early MP3’s for Winamp. Well, this mentality continued to grow, and now 15 years later people expect your music to be free. It’s one of the harsh realities of the digital age for musicians, conventional wisdom goes against paying for your music.
Simple logic can explain the rest of this: no money from music sales, no support from record companies… and no support from record companies, no airtime on radio stations or television. The entire industry begins to shrink. This hurts the Rock Star most of all. I would say if you were lucky to have a record deal prior to 2003, you are among the last of a dying breed.
Without this machine in place, you won’t see new blood come in to replace the old timers. Record companies won’t take chances with unproved artist, the risk is simply to great. They have to pick artist who people will actually pay for, and the Rock Star is not on that list.
The future, however, is not written. Social media has made memes go viral faster than anything we’ve ever seen before. Perhaps we could be headed for a time where if someone’s art was truly worthy, it would spread like a plauge across this interconnected globe. This generation has been long overdue for a hero, and I hope one emerges from the ashes of the digital age.