How Much Is Your Taste In Music Worth?

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How much is your taste in music worth? This is the big question that the music industry, and journalism in particular, essentially rests on in order to survive. The pre-determined answer is, of course, “fucking loads, duh”, which contributes towards the fact that the majority of high-profile reviews are wrought with superiority complexes ranging from Ian Cohen to Kanye West. But at least Kanye knows who and what he is, and if that happens to be “God”, then sure, whatever. If there’s one thing Kanye West knows, it’s Kanye West. Who is anybody to say otherwise?

Journalists generally tend to assume they know what an artist is trying to do or say and work from there. Again, that’s fine. Opinion is the basic foundation of a review, after all. But when you introduce the idea that the value of your musical opinion is only relative to your position within the industry, the entire relationship between artist and fan (or “consumer”) begins to warp.

Enter: Fluence, which sounds like it might be the name of an obscure Aunt from a Jane Austen novel or maybe a water-born disease, but is actually a new website for music promotion. Set-up by the same dude who founded the marketing software Topspin, Fluence allows people to send their music directly to a select list of industry types. Using the kind of language that a managing director would lobby around at a works bonding day, Fluence aims to “bring creators and influencers together” – with “creators” being the musicians and “influencers” being anyone from A&R Executives for major labels to bloggers whose professional experience extends to running their own WordPress account. It sounds like a decent concept – it eliminates the bother of hunting down contact information, at least – but there’s a catch. Rule #1 of things that sound like decent concepts: THERE IS ALWAYS A CATCH.

So here’s where it gets gross. Any music sent in to any one of these “influencers” will be listened to, but they will charge you per minute to do so, with the cost depending on how “influential” the “influencer” believes him/herself to be. So, how much is your taste in music worth? Well, Fluence thinks it’s somewhere between 1 and 10 dollars per minute. If the average song is 3 minutes long and the average rate is, say, 4 dollars per minute (most rates hover at the bottom of the spectrum), you’d be paying $12 (that’s 7 quid to you, Britain) for the privilege of having someone with supposed weight in the music industry cast their judgement upon the thing you love.

I can see the value in sending music directly to an A&R from Warner Bros, for example, or anybody who helps run a relatively well-known label. That makes sense. It’s just a digital PO BOX that you pay to post something to that comes with the added insurance that your efforts will at least be considered. I’m down with that. What doesn’t rub up the right way is when self-described “Industry Professionals” operate from a perspective of “Send me your music and big things can happen for your career” or when bloggers with a heightened sense of importance have the audacity to start charging artists to do the most important part of their job for them: find new music.

Also, surely the theory that there are “tastemakers of society” died with Oscar Wilde? Since the Internet came along and changed the entire power structure of the entertainment industry, we don’t need to rely on infamous critics, label rosters or members of the media to tell us what to listen to, because we don’t need to make sure it’s allegedly good before we pay for it. We can stream it first and buy it later (if at all, because who are we kidding we fucking suck at that bit). The personal tastes of the “influencers” are therefore pretty much irrelevant in the general scheme of things. I can’t help but feel like, at it’s worst, it’s an online version of X-Factor where Simon Cowell is replaced by A Person Who Founded A Thing On The Internet.

Given that it has roots in Topspin, I get the logic in cutting out the middleman by providing direct-to consumer software for musicians, and that can make more sense for people in some cases (as I said, making direct-to label access easier is a cool idea). However, for the most part, I would wager that the middlemen – PR people, in this case – are actually pretty fucking important.

Let’s face it, we’re all on the mailing list of at least ten PR companies or individuals who do things like put “re:” in the subject bar in an attempt to trick you into thinking you emailed them first and spend the opening two paragraphs being fake-friendly and telling you about their mad weekend in detail, but there are also a lot of bloody good PR companies/individuals in the world whose efforts, dedication and campaigns are priceless when it comes to building relationships and exposure. I’m not saying PR companies are bigger or better “influencers” than other members of the industry – I’m saying nobody in the industry really has that much clout anymore. If anything, Fluence should just include famous musicians. A simple RT from Lil B would shit all over any level of media support.

I am led to believe that sometimes “influencers” dish out the occasional bit of career advice as well, which sounds well intentioned, but not when you consider that if you like an artist and are in a position to help, you usually just do. Under any other normal circumstance or social situation, it would be positively ghastly to even consider asking for a few quid in exchange for an email address. And if you are presented with an artist you’re not a fan of, you would have little to say to them regardless, so any help there would not have their best interests at heart.

I am very ready to be proved wrong, but at this stage, Fluence feels like a service based on the exploitation of musicians who believe that success lies in the hands of critics. Because these are the people who are going to be using this software: new musicians who want to get their foot on the ladder assuming that it goes up when in most cases it coasts sideways. Labels and their teams aside, people in industry have a tendency to give off the sense that they are more important than they are. It concerns me that the current list of “influencers” (which isn’t even very long yet) already contains a suspicious number of people claiming to be “entrepreneurs” and “consultants”. Are these really the people you want to pay to listen to you? And should the relationships between bloggers and musicians really be akin to a cash-for-goods transaction?

Stripping back all the pomp and circumstance, if you really consider the question, “How much is your music taste worth?” The answer is, more often than not, absolutely nothing. It will always be invaluable to you and to the bands you choose to support, and that’s all that should ever matter anyway, but in terms of “value” and “influence” on a mass basis – get fucked. File next to Pono under “industry cash grab”. Keep that 7 quid and recycle it back into whatever it is your doing, because music bloggers asking to be paid to listen to music is sus as hell.

Originally published on The 405 here.
Photography by Kate Beard.

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