Technology and in particular, the internet has given rise to a new form of artist, one that receives success and popularity with a loyal following of fans without having released a physical copy of the music. No CD’s, no vinyl and in many cases not even a live show or performance to attend.
It can be inspiring to hear stories of artists finding recognition for their talents and an audience that they would otherwise be unable to reach. The financial outlay involved in recording, producing and releasing music alone makes the dream of creating an album beyond the reach of most. Not to mention artists who live far away from music hubs and don’t have access to producers, labels or other music connections. The internet gives these artists a forum and a means to showcase their talents for the world to see, with some recent impressive results.
Twenty years ago the success of an artist such as The Weeknd would have been unthinkable to many. This past weekend I watched RnB phenom by the name of Abel Tesfaye aka The Weeknd play his second ever show at none other than Molsen Amphitheatre, one of the biggest venues in Toronto. His first live show, held at Mod Club the week before, sold out the day it went on sale in less than an hour, his song “High For This” is currently being used in the promo for the final season on “Entourage” and his debut album/mixtape House of Balloons is in the top 10-album shortlist for the 2011 Canadian Polaris Music Prize. But you wont’ be able to find the CD in your local record store, you can’t get it shipped to your house and there is no borrowing it off your friend. Solely released in digital form, House of Balloons relied on social media networks, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube, digital downloads and blogs to get its message across and 73,732 people on Facebook heard it loud and clear (with the numbers sure to keep rising). The Weeknd is an example of a digital artist who is proving to be the real deal with a live performance that proves even better than the critically acclaimed recordings.
However this acceptance of the online music industry as the only medium to distribute music has it downfalls also. By releasing your music purely in a digital form, whether in free downloads or using Soundcloud or similar websites, you are limiting your audience. Cutting out a generation of music lovers who cling to their compact discs and records and either due to age or limited access don’t use computers as a primary way for receiving and playing music. Some radio stations, often college stations (college students being a target audience for many musicians) still use physical album copies of an artist to play their music, which means no airtime for our digital artists. With no CD, booklet, or physical artwork the live performance of a digital artist becomes that much more important, as one of the only ways a fan can connect physically with the band, placing a lot of pressure on the live rendition of an online hit. And without a physical presence and reminder in the form of a CD is it just a matter of time before that artist’s online album is replaced by the next digital upload? Will we be scrolling through our iTunes libraries rather than searching through out CD towers and record crates years from now, recalling the fond memories associated with that download? The lifespan of our digital artists is yet to be seen.