Is the magic of music being lost in the age of the internet?

As of July, streaming websites such as Spotify will count towards the official UK music charts. With over ten million paying subscribers and over forty million active users, Spotify is increasingly becoming the primary way in which our society engages with music. Although platforms such as Spotify have made music extremely accessible, the traditional ways of interaction, and the manner in which music has been accessed and understood, are becoming increasingly undermined. Music is losing its worth. The artists’ income and remuneration is similarly being eroded and overlooked. We must therefore question whether or not streaming is a good thing? Does it enhance society’s engagement with the industry or has the magic of music been irrevocably lost? The inclusion of streaming in the charts may unfortunately signal the demise of a once thriving industry.

In years passed, the music industry’s biggest hurdle has been in targeting piracy and illegal downloading. But the appealing notion of an accessible and easy-to-use platform, in which the vast majority of music is neatly packed into, has certainly helped to combat the illicit world of music piracy. Andrew Leonard has outlined how Spotify is “so consumer friendly that music piracy has become a non-issue.” More so, streaming platforms undoubtedly accommodate for modern society’s fixation in making things as simple and accessible as possible. But nonetheless, there remains something very unnatural and artificial in jam-packing the music industry into one platform. The ease of access to modern music feels fake a too good to be true.

In using Spotify, we often ignore the knock-on effects; we pretend we aren’t aware of plummeting CD sales and overlook the hardships of small independent music stores. It’s no longer feasible for these independent music stores to stick around if they’re being grossly overshadowed by the hulking monopoly that is Spotify. Blinded by the wealth of music we have access to for just £9.99 a month, (that would be the price of just one album, if even), the predominance of streaming within the music industry is worrying when we consider all that we would be losing. We must question whether streaming’s worth to society is more of a loss than a gain. As David Byrne stated for the Guardian, “we should readjust our values because in the web-based world we are told that monopoly is good for us.”

Spotify and streaming at large have indeed been met with a range of responses from musicians. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke has stated that it “is the last gasp of the old industry.” While Billy Bragg has praised the move as a reflection of modern society’s interaction with music, his concern (along with others) has focused upon the royalties of artists who are involved with streaming platforms such as Spotify. He stated: “There needs to be something done about the remuneration for artists. We really need a new model with the record companies that makes things a lot fairer and get artists to engage with it more.” Is Spotify rewarding record labels as opposed to the work of the actual artists? There seems to be much that streaming has to answer for and maybe we are turning a blind eye to the deals that go on behind closed doors.

David Byrne has noted how that “the major labels are happy, the consumer is happy and the CEOs of the web services are happy. All good, except no one is left to speak for those who actually make the stuff.” It’s difficult to gauge whether streaming is necessarily good because although it provides publicity and recognition for artists, we’re left in the dark as to whether it provides them with a way to live off what they love doing. Stuart Dredge has outlined how Spotify’s “fiercer critics regularly accuse the company of being a loss-making scheme geared entirely towards a lucrative acquisition…that will enrich its shareholders – company executives, venture capital firms and major labels – while leaving artists out in the cold.“ Are we really comfortable with the music industry being in the hands of an overbearing few?

Indeed, now it feels like we’re in too deep. It has got to the stage where it feels almost absurd buying a CD when music can be accessed through our very fingertips. I’m sure I speak for many when I say that a part of me yearns for a return to the age of records, mixed tapes and Top of the Pops – when music was material and seemed to have a bit more magic about it. It was an age that had to listen to the radio in hope of hearing their favourite song or had to purchase the physical record, CD or tape itself. In comparison to today, music is increasingly losing its physical sentimental form. Maybe I have a romanticised view of music’s past, but it seems that there was much more excitement surrounding music twenty or thirty years ago as opposed to logging on to the internet and having it all. We’ve got our cake and are eating it but our humble past still feels considerably more genuine and fulfilling than our current age of excess. Big companies like Spotify greatly depersonalise the experience of listening to music, but is this really going to convince the majority of us to give up this treasure trove of music and abandon such accessibility? Probably not.

As published on studentjournals.co.uk on 30/06/2014

Multimillionaire Dan Bilzerian’s Social Media Presence is Detrimental to Society

If you ever have the misfortune of paying a visit to, or stumbling upon, a post from social media hit Dan Bilzerian, on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, you don’t have to look too hard to discover his blatant sexism. With overtly smug, tongue-in-cheek posts, his online presence appears to be geared totally toward displaying the lavish life he leads. Yet the most disturbing thing about Bilzerian’s sexism and decadent lifestyle is the amount of fans he has gathered.

Bilzerian is a self-professed gambling addict, and gun obsessed womaniser, who is, according to Buzzfeed, living off his Daddy’s trust fund”. He has been described as “the most interesting man on Instagram. But when did ‘the most interesting’ become equated with flippant sexism and vast amounts of money and partying?

The power of social media and its influence in society cannot be emphasised enough. We needn’t look further than recent online campaigns such as the No Make Up Selfies (which raised both awareness and millions of pounds for Breast Cancer) to testify such power. However, as much as social media can be utilised toward the greater good, on the flip side, the largely ignored negative influence of social media must be taken into account. Posting updates that could range from job opportunities to a photo of someone’s lunch, social media is now, more than ever, a fixture of everyday life and almost a necessity. So, when social media giants such as Bilzerian are able to post anything and it will still be met with a harrowing level of celebration and lack of questioning, it is a cause for concern.

Social media and the online world in general are prone to trends, and sexism appears to be a trend that Bilzerian is cultivating through his online presence. One caption above a photo of two scantily clad women cleaning reads “A man needs to always keep a clean house.. To be clear, I am not suggesting he clean his house” The sexist ideals which lie at the heart of such posts are legitimised due to the support and celebration they are met with and it would be naïve to suggest that such legitimisation had no influence, ultimately, upon social ideals in everyday life.

This disturbing trend of casual online sexism is anachronistic somewhat in the sense that it is at odds with the supposedly modern society we are meant to be living in. It is almost certainly the case that dominant online voices such as Bilzerian’s will be emulated to a certain extent in everyday life and conversation simply because of this influence of social media.

Labels such as ‘LAD’, which thrive online due to pages such as Uni Lad, are synonymous with Bilzerian’s lifestyle and are poisonous because they encapsulate the same sexist attitudes and treatment of women simply as objects of male gratification. Thriving in university culture, ‘LAD’ culture as opposed to harnessing a mindset of social tolerance and open mindedness (which would be expected in university culture), quite frankly, encourages sexism and sexual harassment.

If such trends continue uncontested then it is detrimental to any vision of social equality because of the fact that such backwardness is met with this stark lack of disapproval or opposition. It is, in fact, disturbingly encouraged. While it seemingly has become a Facebook trend for unremarkable photos of gay couples to be removed, Blizerian and Uni Lad are allowed to thrive and continue. This point of comparison provides a bleak insight into the collective, paradoxically backward, online mindset that appears to be geared toward reviving archaic sexism, and simultaneously, intolerance of the LGBT community. Online pages such as ‘The Everyday Sexism Project’ have been set up in order to tackle and denounce the rise in sexism, however, while ‘The Everyday Sexism Project’ has 5,868 likes on Facebook, Bilzerian and Uni Lad are massively more supported with Bilzerian garnering a total of 2.9m likes and Uni Lad 952k of likes as it stands. It seems that popular culture has a very long way to go in cultivating a mindset of tolerance and equality.

As published on studentjournals.co.uk June 12 2014

The Kimye Wedding: Why the obsession?

Social media newsfeeds and celebrity news platforms saw an inundation of press reporting on the eleven-million-dollar wedding of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West this week. If you somehow managed to escape subjection to at least one photo of the couple that has gripped (what feels like) the attention of the world, then, kudos.

From articles about the guest list, to Kanye’s speech, right through to the likelihood of divorce being on the cards, Kimye’s wedding has been covered from all imaginable angles. But why the obsession? Are their lives really that remarkable?

While the Kimye marriage cost an inordinate sum of money, the overt media coverage it has been subjected to has cheapened it somewhat. As opposed to being the special union of two people who love each other it has been blown out of proportion and become a publicity stunt pandering to an eagerly awaiting audience. It was exactly what the audience expected: vast amounts of money splashed on elaborate yet cheap entertainment. The couple are fully aware of how the press will report on their wedding – quite simply, celebrity news sells.

Whilst celebrity coverage and social media websites such as Twitter, strive to shed light on the lives of celebrities such as Kim and Kanye, they appear to have become, paradoxically, all the more one dimensional. The fact that society will only ever see celebrities through TV screens, and now via phone or laptop screens scrolling through social media, means it isn’t an ardent insight into their lives; it is a mediated, fabricated image.

It isn’t just Kim and Kanye, TV channels are (and have been) dominated by so-called insights into the world of fame and luxury that range from, but aren’t limited to, X-Factor, Real Housewives, Cribs and Made In Chelsea. Creating the mentality that fame and living the good life, so to speak, are the ultimate goals we should be striving for, it tells us we haven’t made it until we have enough money to throw about carelessly.

It forges a much more self driven mindset upon financial goals and materialism as opposed to goals that are ultimately attaining something much more fulfilling. The age old idea that money isn’t the key to happiness and the best things in life are free is very much not the sentiment projected within celebrity TV shows and articles.

However, perhaps our culture of obsession with celebrities goes further than a mere form of escapism, envy and wish fulfilment. WhatCulture has written about how ‘we watch with morbid fascination as our modern gods and goddesses go bankrupt, have their relationships fall apart, and succumb to drug abuse. When you tune into the celebrity plight, most will take some joy in their misery.’ Perhaps then what we seek in reading about or watching celebrities is a form self-validation in the idea that those who appear to have everything are still subject to the same trouble and pain that any other person can be subject to. This then humanises overtly image comprised celebrities, and in turn de-humanises the insensitivity of those who watch with eager anticipation as their plights unfurl.

Articles based around estimations of the likelihood of divorce being on or off the cards for the newly wed couple evidences the insensitivity that is spurned from the envy of the lives of those vastly better off. It’s a shallow confirmation that grass is indeed not always greener on the other side.

While celebrity culture might be telling of the media, the press and their awareness of how controversy will sell, it is equally telling of society’s desperate consumption. And through the confirmation that money does not shield from pain, celebrity culture addicts thrive on revelations of false invincibility. Whilst the Kimye wedding obsession may externally appear to be escapism from a comparably mundane reality, in reality it is much more of a selfish enterprise.

As published on studentjournals.co.uk June 6 2014