Oh, that fickle internet

The New York Times has an article about shifting goals for musicians playing SXSW which, for reasons that aren’t quite clear, uses most of its words addressing the role of the internet.  They begin by affirming the importance of blogs, but shift quickly to the “the internet is fickle” meme that was fairly common  a year or two ago. They focus in particular on the band Crocodiles:

Many bands dream of this kind of reception. But over the four or five years that blogs have been the dominant tastemakers of independent music, artists have gradually become more wary of the hype-and-slam cycle of the Web. Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell of Crocodiles have been so distrustful of the Internet’s fickle power that at first they tried to keep as low an online presence as possible, going so far as to ask fans to remove YouTube videos of their shows.

“The Internet is taking all the romance out of music and art and replacing it with this revolving door that just revolves so fast,” Mr. Welchez, 27, the duo’s singer, said before a 20-minute showcase on Wednesday afternoon. Eventually, though, the Internet found them, and their MySpace plays quickly shot into the tens of thousands.

Artists, labels, journalists and everyone else at South by Southwest now depend on the Internet for almost every aspect of their jobs, from discovery to communication, distribution to promotion. But on the patios and hotel rooftops of Austin the conversation often turns to debates about what the Internet’s role should be.


Gimme a great big break, people.

What planet did these people live on before? It sure bears no resemblance to the one I lived on as a music fan in the days before the internet.

The internet is fickle?

Does anyone remember a little British rag called New Music Express? Was it not (is it not still) NOTORIOUS for how quickly it turned on those it adored just weeks before? They changed their mind at the drop of the coin WITHOUT ELECTRONIC MEDIATION! Impossible, but TRUE!

There were no one-hit wonders before the internet? That’s why you’ve heard of every band who had a single that charted in the 80s?

Indie bands who had a song that did well and got lots of buzz used to easily maintain that buzz before there was an internet? Tell that to all my friends who almost made it.

The internet is taking all the romance out of bands?

Well, maybe if you had none to begin with, or if you thought that getting mentioned on a blog was romantic and then not getting mentioned on a blog was a romance killer. I have fallen in love with so many bands I would never have found without the internet. If the bands don’t find that romantic, maybe it’s their fault for having weird illusions about what’s supposed to happen.

And what’s with people online still liking the Beatles and the Kinks? What’s with all those old videos that keep surfacing on YouTube? Don’t people know the internet is a revolving door and you’re not allowed to like anything old anymore? And that old is like, uh, yesterday? Nine Inch Nails have been together FOREVER. How can people STILL be talking about Trent Reznor on the internet?

Guess what? If you make great music year in and year out, “the internet” will stand by your side. And if you are a mediocre band who’s got one good song, be grateful the blogs gave it any attention. It’s not the internet’s fault if you can’t sustain your momentum.

You don’t want to find fans online? Fine, it’s your choice. But never forget that “the internet” is nothing but the people who communicate through it. And yeah, we may have a lot more choices now, but that ought to just make you make your music that much better. Great bands hold attention in ways the internet cannot erase. The fact is that most indie bands, like most bands, aren’t really all that special, and if it weren’t for the internet, they would never have gotten any buzz to lose.


I’ve got a comments section below. Name me the brilliant bands who got great blog buzz for a moment and then lost it even though they kept releasing fantastic new music. Bonus points if you can show the internet’s causal role in the decline of their audience.


Comments (8) to “Oh, that fickle internet”

  1. examples being



  2. To me the issue isn’t that great bands are being panned after the shiny newness wears off, it’s that ok bands with one decent song or album are being overhyped way too early in their careers. Everyone (the web & traditional media alike) is in such a rush to break The Next Big Thing that they don’t give a new band time to grow before heaping the accolades on them. The culture places unrealistic expectations on artists. While trying to avoid being being discovered via the web is clearly not the answer, I can feel some amount of sympathy for bands that have been been put through the cycle and come out on the other end feeling abandoned. Especially if they were foolish/human enough to start believing all the hype about them.

  3. I agree with Mark. Every year, before SXSW, I read about all the bands that are being proclaimed as the next new thing. Then six months later you never hear about them again.

    I’ve heard far more bands called “one of the best bands in rock history” in recent years than in the previous 4 decades.

    The churn rate, with all the bloggers looking for new bands to cover, is more extreme than in the past.

    The lifecycle of “build them up and then tear them down or ignore them” seems much shorter now: months rather than years.

  4. Good point, I agree. And I like that Mark locates the issue not just with the internet but also with other media.

    There is still no substitute for writing good music and being a good live band. The internet won’t fix the absence of good songs, and it won’t erase their power when they’re present. I just get soooooo sick of the internet being reified and scapegoated as the cause of everything everyone doesn’t like about contemporary culture.

  5. I basically agree with Mark. The problem of artists hyped too early isn’t really new, either (especially in the UK, per the NME reference), but I do think the Web accelerates it, partly because the idea of “this band used the Web! and got around the evil gatekeepers!” is such an easy/lazy hook for bloggers and trad media alike. But also because I think the Web amplifies the sort of taste-competitiveness of a certain breed of music fan. Those factors may fade in time.

    But to the larger point, it’s surely always going to be true that an artist (or anybody, really) who is not as successful as s/he wants to be will find a culprit: the Internet, journalists, record executives, somebody. I think that’s just human nature. And I think the Internet gets enough good press that its feelings won’t be too hurt.

  6. Actually to flip this slightly – I think the issue is the expectation the internet places on bloggers-as-tastemakers and their relationship to ‘underground’ or developing bands and scenes.

    Blogs and bloggers are being set up as the new ‘gatekeepers’ in place of radio / tv / music press with the expectation being a) that the bloggers are tapped into every new trend or band ahead of the eight-ball and b) that bands will benefit more from that instant exposure than the slow-slow-fast approach of building a career.

    Back when radio was king (if ever there was such a time) bands could construct their identity in opposition to ‘mainstream’ radio and bask in the privelege of underground scenes. Now it sometimes feels (rightly or wrongly) like everyone with a music blog is busy hunting the next big thing and it’s harder for artists to maintain that exclusivity and snobbery because the bloggers are supposed to be on their side.

  7. arctic monkeys

  8. I find it very hard to believe that people didn’t blog the Arctic Monkeys after the initial rush. Maybe some didn’t, but it’s not as though they had a fall from grace, even amongst the hipsters.