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  • Writer's pictureTobi

The Deafening Din of en Masse Upload : Making Music in the Age of Streaming

Introduction: Tape Saturation

The black plastic four track cassette recorder sat perched on an old wooden chair.  Various audio cables expanded outwards from it, like plastic wrapped copper wired roots drawing sound in from the line-outs of poorly level matched amp heads.  Guitar, bass, and even my vocals were treated to this ham-fisted and naïve display of technical know-not-much-how.  With three of the precious tracks spoken for, the final track was left for the drums.  What little we knew, we at least knew that live drum recording was beyond us.  Much to the disgust of our drummer, the drums were programmed on an Atari midi setup [younger readers think dial-up for DAWs].

The year was 1995 [probably] and that is how we, and so many other bands, recorded our demo tape.  As we dropped dubbed cassettes into padded envelopes, complete with suitably ill-phrased contact letters, not one of us could have imagined the impending technological quantum leap in access to music production and distribution.  Not one of us could have imagined the subsequent deluge of grassroots music.  Not one of us could have imagined that soon our problem would not be recording and distributing our music, but rising above the din of en masse upload. 

Tape Saturation

Chapter 1: En Masse Saturation

The modern music market is so over-saturated, even to describe it as such feels redundant.  It is the observational equivalent of describing The Pope as religious. Back in the good old days [were they really?], so prohibitive was the combined cost of studio recording and physical media distribution, it served to gate-keep all but the lucky few.  Even fewer could access physical points of sale in sufficient numbers to make their music financially viable.  The collective restrictions of technology and market served to filter new music creation.  While many still champion this period in music, to what extent the filter did so based on any legitimate measure of artistic, social, or cultural value is open for debate.  

Nowadays it is technically possible to make, distribute, and even promote new music using only a laptop, tablet, or even just a smartphone.  This technological and market revolution has amplified the voices of millions of artists who went largely unheard for decades.  The voices of the minority, the marginalized, or the truly alternative are no longer silenced by a macroeconomic music business model singularly preoccupied with scaling up profits.  But when so many unique voices are all amplified by the same degree, the resultant sound is cacophonous.  The individual voices of millions of artists are lost, not to the harsh unforgiving economics of yesteryear’s music industry, but to the deafening din of en masse upload.

En Masse Saturation

Chapter 2: Grassroots Saturation

While Universal Music Group Chairman and CEO, Sir Lucian Grainge, from his loftiest of lofty vantage points, rightly or wrongly bemoans the “oversupply” of streaming, it is those of us, from the somewhat less lofty vantage point of the grassroots, who make and/or support independent music that are the most acutely aware of the realities of the aforementioned “oversupply”.  So ever-present is this awareness, I need only turn to two comments [see above] made just last week in response to my previous blog post, “Rejection Normalized: The Reality of Grassroots Music-Making”. 

These comments and the resultant conversations, served as inspiration for writing the blog post you are reading right now.  Even though my previous blog was focused on the ongoing low level emotional/psychological strain of day to day rejection across the grassroots music scene, over-saturation of the music market is so much in the forefront of the collective mindset, it inevitably became a topic within the debate around my previous blog post.      

Grassroots Saturation

Chapter 3: Zero Saturation

While it is true that no one asked any of us to make music, it is nevertheless disheartening for artists to receive zero interest whatsoever in their music.  It has been said that indifference is the cruelest thing in the world. This is no more true than when it applies to the response [or lack thereof] your creative endeavors inspire.  45.6 million tracks represents an awful lot of hard work, time, and energy by millions of Artists that has gone entirely unnoticed.  The gradual emotion/psychological fatigue caused by this should not be underestimated in terms of the collective well being of millions of grassroots music makers.  

Zero Saturation

Chapter 4: Balanced Saturation

With so many tracks being uploaded to streaming platforms on a daily basis, it can come as no surprise that a proportion of those tracks fall below the radar of anyone’s attention.  It is in this convergence of the good and bad of the streaming era, that we must attempt to reconcile the freedom of expression and unparalleled access of modern music production and distribution technology, with the resultant nullifying slew of tracks uploaded en masse.

In one sense, artists need to accept that while we benefit from the freedoms of modern music technology, it is those very freedoms that result in much of our music failing to garner the attention of a single listener.  But that does not mean we should not, at least, try to improve the chances of grassroots music finding an audience.  And it certainly does not mean that there is nothing we can do.

Balanced Saturation

Chapter 5: Sample Saturation

With more music being made than hours in the day, grassroots artists and the fans of grassroots music alike are reliant on playlists, radio shows, podcasts, and blogs to provide a selection of new independent music drawn from the great wash of en masse upload.  This allows the fans of grassroots music to sample the saturation and, in turn, hopefully helps to elevate the grassroots artists above the din of the so-called streaming oversupply. 

As each playlist curator, radio show DJ, podcast host, and blogger can only select music on the basis of their own personal taste, it is vital that the grassroots scene is served by a rich variety of supporters, representing a wide range of musical tastes.  In an ideal world this balance would exist and each playlist, radio show, podcast, or blog would attract a healthy following of listeners, whose taste broadly reflected that of the curator, DJ, host, or blogger.   

Sample Saturation

Conclusion: Sustained Saturation

While it is not reasonable to expect grassroots music-makers to support every grassroots playlist, radio show, podcast, and blog, it is reasonable to suggest artists should make an effort to support the curators, DJs, hosts, and bloggers who actively share their type of music.  It is, in my opinion, not enough for artists to share across their socials when it is their own music being featured.  Artists need to take a broader view of things and realize it is only by building the grassroots scene through sustained support, do we music-makers all collectively benefit.

Too many independent artists treat the independent scene as an inconvenience for them to pass through on their way to greater things.  And while I do genuinely hope these artists do arrive at their greater things, the reality is, almost all music-makers will remain here in the grassroots scene.  With this in mind, independent artists might consider spending a little more time nurturing the scene.

If we are to wait for the major labels or global streaming platforms to help us out, I suspect we will be waiting a very long time.  The future of the grassroots music scene rests in our hands.  Not because we are the ones with the power, but because we are the only ones who might actually take the time to care.

The revolution will not be televised.  And it will not be streamed either.  It will be amplified on the back of our collective hard work and passion for independent music and the grassroots scene.        

Sustained Saturation

Fresh on the Net

A great place to start supporting grassroots independent music is the Fresh on the Net Listening Post, listen and then vote for your favorite five tracks every weekend.

New Independent Music Friday

My own New Independent Music Friday playlist delivers a one hour dose of the last seven days worth of releases across a wide range of genres.  100% refreshed every Friday.

En Masse Upload in the age of Streaming

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I can't remember now what I did before Fresh On The Net... in the early internet era I think i was randomly downloading all sorts of nonsense and accidently hit on stuff I liked... such as "The Portraits" from Somerset... but I'm a bit odd in that I've always sought out strange new worlds in music ever since i was a kid... most people I know listen to what hit them when they were 13 to 15 and that's it. As for my own stuff, well I'm 60 this year and have just released my first track for an entire year.. No, I'm not expecting anyone to hear it and i can't be bothered to even try to get listeners…

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I hear you. I've listened outside of the charts for most of my life. Apparently, the average person stops listening to new music at the age of 30. As for sharing our own music - certainly that was the case for me with my release last year, "90 Seconds to Midnight", which I only put on here on the website. As much as anything, because I was sick of the dog and pony show of releasing music.

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