Assessing the Internet’s Credibility

An article in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend had some very interesting points to make about how shifts toward the internet in the music industry are impacting non-American bands’ ability to get visas to tour in the US. They spend much of the article on Lily Allen, whose visa was denied on account of some scuffle that got her on a bad-criminal-type list of some sort. But they also talk at length, particularly in regard to the Klaxons and New Model Army, about how the need to demonstrate reputation in the US is affected by the rise of blogs and online coverage. Bands have to show that they have been “internationally recognized” for a “sustained and substantial” time in order to get a visa.

Problem #1 is that the net has sped up the process of nothing to everything so much for some bands that what counts as “substantial” time in pop music may fall far short of the Immigration Service’s standard.

Problem #2 is that the net has become one of the main ways to document a band’s international recognition over time, yet the folks assessing visa applications can’t tell Pitchfork from

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, says that the Internet has changed the kind of evidence that bands present — posts from blogs and online magazines now appear in application packages. But the agency says it will only consider these sources if the band can prove that they are well-read and influential. The burden of proof falls on the band.

The WSJ points out that this comes even as live music revenues are up, despite CD sales being down, and they imply that canceling international tours takes a toll on the US economy. They also suggest, obliquely, that it’s in conflict with international diplomacy:

All this comes as some foreign governments are ramping up efforts to export pop music. New Zealand, for instance, has formed a music commission with a $400,000 budget to support the country’s music acts on tours abroad. At least three bands will play New Zealand’s first showcase concert at the CMJ festival next month.

“We’ve seen a much more aggressive effort from the cultural export agencies. I see it as the globalization of the music marketplace,” says CMJ founder Robert Haber. This year, bands from 50 countries are slated to perform at the event, up from about 30 countries three years ago.

In some ways I am sympathetic with the visa-grantor’s problem. It is not hard to imagine a band that wants to come to the States relying on lame blogs no one reads to say “look! we’re internationally recognized!” On the other hand, I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. I think the country has much more pressing threats than bad pop bands.

But it points to a far deeper issue, which is the general credibility of online sources, and the fact that, in the absence of proof that an online site is “well-read and influential,” the assumption is that it’s all a bunch of garbage. Do they demand that bands demonstrate that a print source (zine articles for instance) is “well-read and influential?” I kind of doubt it. Paper = Legitimate. Pixels = Suspect. I run across this in academia in trying to justify online publication (to say nothing of, horror of horrors, blogging!) all the time.

There are many reasons bloggers might not want to publicize their numbers, and there is still no really good way to count site visitors, so it’s not clear how a band would go about proving the worth of the sites that cover them. This would be a great little service for someone to provide: before you apply for your visa, submit your internet coverage to us and we’ll document the popularity of the sites it mentions. No reason for every band to have to make this up themselves.

On the other side of the coin, I’ve heard rumors of bands trying to visit the US on tourist (vs. work) visas and being turned away because a google search revealed to the would-be visa granter that they were members of bands with US tour dates scheduled. Can’t win for losing on this one!

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