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Fifteen seconds for fame

Music has become disposable. One day, you hear a new hit song, and then, a month later, it has vanished off the face of the earth. While this is not an entirely new phenomenon, the world of music has shifted greatly over the last decade. Instead of relying on record sales, downloads or touring to gain popularity, musicians are relying even more on the power of social media.

Now, before you criticize me for “putting my dad hat on,” or you accuse me of “shout[ing] into the void [about] how no one has good taste anymore” (like one kind online-commenter said to me two years ago), please hear me out. Trust me, I’m tired of writing about the evil relationship between music and social media, but someone has to say this. These ramblings are not intended to complain about my favorite indie bands getting popular online in attempt to “gatekeep.” This is simply to educate the world about the industry of mass-music-production. While I might miss seeing my favorite underground bands play in intimate venues, I want them to play in front of thousands one day. I want them to achieve the recognition they deserve and if that needs to happen via Instagram or TikTok, by all means, have at it! But, if reaching this goal requires an adherence to mainstream ideals, also known as the loss of originality, then they might as well be called “sell-outs.”

Platforms like Instagram and TikTok are tools with an angel and a devil on each shoulder; a place where personal and professional promotion reign supreme. If you are unaware, “The Algorithm” (which we shall denote as its own entity) is a bully. The system is like Regina George from “Mean Girls,” if you don’t like [blank] then “you can’t sit with us.” This is true with any online platform, but TikTok and Spotify are the most brutal. (Yes, Spotify is not a “social media” platform by definition, but it is considered to be one of the most intimate platforms compared to others.)

TikTok has become one of the most influential platforms for shaping music taste. Consider the story of the band Vunadbar. Almost a decade after their first album “Gawk” (2015) was released, their song “Alien Blues” suddenly experienced a rise in streams; a snippet of their song had gone viral. Even though Brandon Hagen (their lead vocalist and guitarist) expressed how strange it was to be known for a song he wrote when he was 18, they embraced their new-found popularity with a new music video and a re-recording of “Alien Blues” on their most recent album “Devil for the Fire” (2022).

While this is a positive story of embracing the power of TikTok, there is a downside. These “sounds” on TikTok are only a few seconds long, so you’re only getting a little taste of the greater picture. It was strange to see them live and see the crowd get the most animated for only two lines — what about the rest of the song? What about all the incredible music they have released since 2013? This is true for almost all TikTok sounds, creating a big dilemma: the disappearance of the bridge.  

If you are not familiar with song construction, a bridge usually occurs after the second chorus, standing as its own musical element. A great example of a bridge is in Gwen Stafani’s “Hollaback Girl”: “This s**t is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S.”  Because of TikTok’s format, despite the bridge being one of the catchiest parts of any given song, most clips feature either a few lines in the beginning or simply the chorus — it’s all about grabbing users’ attention. This strategy is also found to be true on Spotify, and it’s often called “The Spotify Effect.” There are two elements that go into the Spotify Effect. Firstly, if a song is skipped before it ends, The Algorithm will consider it to be less desired, recommending it less to other users. Secondly, Spotify won’t count a song as officially streamed unless it has been played for at least 30 seconds, so if it gets skipped in the beginning, artists won’t get paid. As a result, the combination of the two elements have forced producers and musicians to “get to the point” of the song, so they are less at risk of getting skipped. Today, music is made for consumption.

Now, you might echo my hate-commentor’s sentiments when they said, “Duh, it’s an economic game, what did you think would happen after streaming took away all of the artists’ revenue,” but none of this overproduced music is going to last. Vundabar, who have been working extremely hard to be where they are now, embraced their viral popularity while allowing their music to speak for itself. Many artists strive toward conformity because that is what is going to make them popular and get them paid, but no one is going to remember who they were in 30 years because they will have sounded like everyone else.  

I am not trying to tell you who or what to listen to; you should listen to the music that makes you happy. I simply want to educate you about the powerful relationship between music and the Internet. There are many cool things the Internet has done for music, but let’s make sure it doesn’t take too much control.

Contact Willoughby Thom at wthom@nd.edu.

Categories
Scene

Fifty years on the Scene

Maggie Klaers | The Observer

In honor of the 50th Anniversary of women at Notre Dame, Scene has created the ultimate female-powered playlist filled with Notre Dame alumnae, your favorite artists, the future generation and artists who paved the way for women in music…

Killer tunes by cool women! 

“Collected” (2021)  by Ratboys

Formed in 2010 at Notre Dame’s freshman orientation, Julia Steiner (vocals/ guitar) and Dave Sagan (guitar) established Ratboys. While Julia and Dave are the glue that keeps the band together, Julia’s songwriting elegance and dynamic storytelling is like no other.

“Rosy” (2021)  by Payant

Payant is the creative project by Ashley Finster (class of 2021) and friends! Throughout Ashley’s time at Notre Dame, she was a powerful force in the student band the Basement Boxers. Payant is a beautifully composed album filled with songs that give us insight into Ashley’s soul. 

“Just a Girl” (1995)  by No Doubt

A that song needs no introduction, No Doubt’s first single to reach Billboard’s Hot 100 list can be considered one of the greatest feminist songs of the 90’s.

“Brand New Key” (1972) by Melanie

Melanie Safka (or simply Melanie) is an American singer-songwriter often compared to Bob Dylan. Her unique folk undertones and sense of 1930s nostalgia, made her stand out amongst her male-counterparts, reaching No. 9 on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles in 1972. 

“Angelica” (2022)  by Wet Leg

Wet Leg is a force to be reckoned with. After releasing two debut singles in 2021, Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers found themselves on charts all over the world almost instantly. The English duo have firmly established themselves on the scene, and we are not complaining.

“Tonite” (2022)  by The Linda Lindas

Ranging between 12 and 17 years old, The Linda Lindas are the future. Since 2018, Bela Salazar, Eloise Wong, Lucia and Mila de la Garza are preserving the spirit of riot grrrl punk. 

“You’re so Vain” (1972)  by Carly Simon 

Topping the global charts in the early 70’s, Carly Simon is known for writing one of the greatest songs of all time. Her impeccably vivid yet ruthless narratives have rightly earned her the title of the most prominent confessional songwriters of our time.

“Under the Table” (2020) by Fiona Apple

Recipient of a Grammy for Best Female Vocal Rock Performance in 1996, Fiona Apple walked so Mitski could run!

“Scream” (2019)  by Stef Chura

Stef Chura is a Detroit-based artist with lots of soul and angst. In collaboration with Will Toledo (Car Seat Headrest), she released her second album in 2019. After the passing of her friend, she asked herself: “What do I have to do before I die? I have to at least make one record.”

“People have the Power” (1988)  by Patti Smith

Patti Smith, the godmother of punk.

“You Oughta Know” (1995)  by Alanis Morrisette

In the same vein as Carly Simon, Alanis Morriestte is known for her heart-wrenching confessionals. As a songwriter, she pours out her heart for her listeners, providing comfort in the knowledge that they are not alone. Her album “Jagged Little Pill,” is her biggest confession to date.