Animal Collective, Pitchfork and … Intel? Why the music industry is finally getting personal

In Dan Sabbagh’s Feb. 19, 2011 column for The Guardian titled “Music is thriving, but the business is dying. Who can make it pay again?” he reported that music sales in the U.S. fell nearly 10 percent from the previous year.

The resulting tumult: no one cared—or even took notice—and that’s because the music industry is expected to fail.

But why is that? After all, for me (and I suspect many others) certain artists, albums or songs are inseparable from life’s defining moments. I can’t listen to Death Cab for Cutie’s “Army Corps of Architects” without remembering my first breakup, or hear Pavement’s “Cut Your Hair” and not relive a particularly embarrassing 8th grade class presentation.

I’m tied to these tracks and, in a way, they’ve helped to sculpt the person that I am today.

So shouldn’t we mourn the death of an industry that has always been there for us?

Well, no. The connection between an artist and their audience is a point A to point B situation, one where the conventional music industry—with its assortment of promoters, distributors, publishers and other middle-movers—has never played any part in the importance of the core content: the music.

Radiohead released their “In Rainbows” album through a pay-what-you-want download service in 2007 and gave the world a glimpse at what was to come. For the first time, the industry was excluded and the artist was giving material directly to the listener.

“In Rainbows” created the model, and five years later it’s commonplace for fans to download music straight from the musician(s).

But whereas Radiohead’s simple download model was revolutionary in 2007, it has grown stale in 2012. Music streaming and download websites such as Bandcamp and Soundcloud, though they’re necessary tools for aspiring musicians, have diluted the music stream with mediocre content.

It’s because of this that groups are now being forced to devise cleverer, more unique online marketing tools to grab their audience’s attention.

On Aug. 1 the New York band Yeasayer announced (via Twitter, fittingly) that links to video “vignettes” from each of the 11 tracks on their “Fragrant World” album would be placed on various websites. Clues to the links’ locations were given out by the group’s record label, Secretly Canadian, and fans were able to hunt them down. The full tracklisting was then streamed for two days.

Though the album itself has received mixed reviews, the online marketing campaign behind it has garnered its own distinct attention—almost all of it favorable.

Likewise, Animal Collective, one of the largest names in the world of indie music, is currently streaming their new album, “Centipede Hz,” with videos for each song. The band partnered, in part, with The Creators Project, a collaboration between Intel and Vice Magazine.

These new models—streaming the music before an album’s release date while adding additional content such as video—is creating a connection between artist and audience that never existed within the previous industry structure. It’s also responding to the inevitability of an album’s leak while still not giving the music away for free.

And in addition to artists linking with their listeners, the music media is similarly conversing with their audience by utilizing new media technologies. As mentioned before, Vice Magazine’s partnership with Intel helps artists to create content that they otherwise would not be able to.

And Wednesday, Pitchfork Media published its People’s List, a collection of responses from 27,981 of the music website’s readers. The List shows the top 200 albums, as voted by the readers, and breaks down the responses by gender, age and geographic location. The project not only gives Pitchfork valuable insight to their audience, but also gives Pitchfork readers insight into whether or not their fellow viewers share their opinions.

So now, in addition to a dialogue between artists and the media that cover them, it has become necessary that both entities connect with their audience, making the whole industry more personal on a user level.