Categories
Scene

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
Viewpoint

You are not the main character

You are not that guy. You are not Him. You are not a “girlboss.” You are not the main character. And that is fine. Neither am I. Neither is anyone.

Thinking of yourself as the main character in some sort of extravagant movie is a mindset that I find both annoying and problematic. But before I nail my 95 theses into words, I ought to explain the context before the student population of main characters motions to excommunicate me.

The main character trend finds its origin in social media on platforms like TikTok and Instagram, where influencers produce videos romanticizing their lives and encourage the audience to do likewise. Often, these videos follow the format of “a day in the life of a (insert occupation),” a mock public service announcement to do something or even self-help vlogs. More specifically, influencers call their audience to find seemingly mundane activities or routines and add a Hollywood-esque aesthetic to it. In essence, living as a main character in your own movie entails putting on the rose-colored glasses. Under this internet pretense, you might find yourself eating avocado toast inside a cozy brunch café on a sunny Sunday morning. You did it for the aesthetic. The phone eats first, right? Take a step back from your hypothetical seat by the window and realize what is going on. You paid $13 for two slices of avocado toast, though you do not like the taste of avocados. You queued 45 minutes outside sweating, waiting for a table to open. You along with every other main character seated in the café were independently engaged in a scene from their movie. Turns out you happened to be just like everyone else.

What I am insinuating is that the whole main character mantra is unrealistic — flawed. It suffocates the subscriber in a cloud of toxic positivity. “Your life is a slay. You ought not worry about what others say about you because they are simply haters, side characters, really. You only live once.” My life is, in fact, not a slay. There are struggles, disappointments, triumphs, frustrations and everything in between. It is vital to acknowledge both the good and the bad and contextualize their significance in the grand scheme of things. Although haters do exist, educated criticism is a healthy means of gauging, even regulating, one’s life. If I am acting foolish, I hope that my friends will hold me accountable on the grounds that they care for me. It is true that one only lives once, but that acronym carries a loaded connotation: glorifying haphazard actions on account of limited opportunities. I am not shooting down taking risks or doing dangerous things. I simply propose an alternative to YOLO, one that emphasizes a more focused attention to what really matters in our short lives. We ought to attend to our relationships because those really do matter.

Relationships with others and oneself is a concept that the main character trend jumbles. Assigning everybody but yourself the role of side character is not only a utilitarian outlook but also demeaning. Thinking that others only serve their purpose by their utility in benefiting your life is a flawed mindset. It has it that another’s value is inherently lower because the story does not directly follow them. Their lines are scripted and numbered. After they perform, a director pulls them off set and they vanish in relevance to the production. With respect to oneself, perceiving yourself as a main character tends to border on narcissism, a dubious outcome for a seemingly good intention. And I get it, people place their lives into a movie narrative because they desire to assert a degree of control over a chaotic world that seems uncontrollable. A movie is a structured form of media that has a plot characterized by exposition, rising action, climax and denouement. Attaching oneself to that sort of stability is a reasonable endeavor, a noble one at that, but I find assigning an inferior value to others truly problematic.

I pose a solution to the main character issue: Be real with yourself but more importantly, be real with others. This is quite the opposite of the fiction fairyland of positivity supported by this trend. Embrace authenticity, like when you find yourself cruising down an empty highway at midnight blasting music with your closest friends on a breezy summer night. Forget the Instagram story that convinces, in vain, your followers of your perfect lifestyle. Think about how grateful you are for life itself and that time spent with such close friends. That was not a main character moment, but it was a core memory shared among the people dearest to you. The accumulation of these times spent with other human beings is what we will ultimately remember when we lie on our deathbeds, not the multiple occasions of avocado toast dates with your phone.

And if you are the demographic that I have hypothetically targeted, I apologize for creating such specific hypotheticals. I invite you to think about the prospect that you can live a truly fulfilling life without being that guy, Him, a “girlboss” or the main character.

Jonah Tran is a first-year at Notre Dame doubling majoring in finance and economics and minoring in classics. Although fully embracing the notorious title of a “Menbroza,” he prides himself on being an Educated Young Southern Gentleman. You can contact Jonah by email jtran5@nd.edu.