Saturday, July 9, 2011
The YouTube Jukebox
We all know what YouTube is— a free Internet site designed to promote the dissemination of user-placed videos. In practice, YouTube has turned into something quite different— a self-programmed MTV, jukebox, stereo, CD player at once. In many ways, it might as well be Rock Music Central in 2011. It precludes the need to download and buy mp3s; grants instant accessibility both to stars and to unknown artists; and, as an expanding system, delivers these services is such a way as to suggest that it will continue into an unbounded future. Most rock artists are onboard with the YouTube phenomenon; despite the privation of making no profits from it. Trends are trends and this one is overwhelming; exposure is exposure. For unknown artists, the stakes are higher. But this brings up another pertinent question— what (and who) works best on YouTube? The simple answer would seem to be that whatever looks good, is good— that image (and imagery) rule. The truth is more extreme— in the balance of things, and counterintuitive to mercenary instinct, YouTube is skewered dramatically towards the consolidation of established stars and against discoveries of new talent. Dedicated fans fill YouTube with minutiae videos (interviews, press conferences, rare tracks and live performances); people flock to YouTube to fulfill an appetite for songs they already know. The unregulated nature of YouTube makes it, on certain levels, as much of a wasteland as Wikipedia; and its no secure home-base for anyone without a substantial preexistent fan-base.
To put it simply, YouTube works best for superstars— those who can use the exposure and don’t need the money. Mid-level stars and down do actually need the money that YouTube is taking out of their pockets. This holds, even if YouTube is not a serious credential for anyone; it is too inclusive to be a credential. Mid-level and down, it could be construed as a credential to have zealous fans documenting your every move; but if the exposure is not tied to any secure future earnings, it may or may not be a superfluity. For low-level performers, the whole thing is cold comfort— proof only that you sell without selling. That’s what working the rock business amounts to in 2011— selling without selling, being a “priceless commodity.” And with a predominant unregulated system slanted towards superstar interests, it’s difficult not to hope that YouTube (as Wikipedia) gets organized/regulated. It could at least offer features that would showcase rising talent. It could compensate rock artists for the current system of priceless commodities (videos “sold” without money changing hands). MySpace offers personalization, and individualized attention, which is why many rock musicians still lean on it.
Of course, all this discourse is from the point of view of (often aspiring) rock musicians. Fans that are merely fans see the matter differently. For fans with conventional tastes, YouTube is a kind of virtual orgy. It’s comprehensive, nuanced, and self-propelled (without, particularly, an intermediary figure like a DJ). In that dichotomous reaction (debacle-orgy) lies one truth about the Internet Age— it is an age of extreme relativism. Commonalities are swallowed up by differences. Even rock musicians who are being damaged by YouTube are still forced to use it extensively. The very chaos and sprawl of YouTube acts as a kind of hegemonic aura for and around it; it probably has what you’re looking for, somewhere. This is a unique phenomenon— tyranny imposed not only in an arbitrary fashion but in such a way that it could be construed as positively benevolent. The final YouTube angle is a question mark— how long can an unregulated system expand before circumstances force a contraction of some kind? It may be a Dark or Golden Age come to an end. For the time being, it fits in with the purist ethos of the New Rock and its attendant sacrifices. The only thing left standing at the end is music and the desire to play it. And you’re on YouTube just like everyone else. All New Rock needs are a bunch of avatars and a permanent Pro Tools set-up. Count it off…