This past weekend was about the Superbowl for some people. For many, many others, it was mostly about the shoegaze guitar legend My Bloody Valentine dropping its first new album in 22 years.
This was a big deal, as you might have been able to tell from your Facebook or Twitter feed. Fans exchanged progress reports like “It’s finally downloading!!!” and complained about the band’s website crashing, or complained that how their Saturday nights had been ruined, because now they had to stay home and try to download it.
“My Bloody Valentine crashed the internets” became a popularly-quoted sentiment. One of my Facebook friends even made the “site has crashed” warning on MyBloodyValentine.org his main profile photo.
In order to attract all of this attention, the band did not give an exclusive to Pitchfork, NPR, or any of the other big tastemakers. It’s not on Spotify or other subscriptions, either. The band’s YouTube channel has the entire album for free, along with a link to the website where you can buy the download, CD, and or vinyl, and that’s it.
My Bloody Valentine’s strategy here sort of feels like an Apple product announcement — not only because everyone was/is seemingly talking about it, but because secrecy surrounded the release date, and also because the band is controlling the whole release, from the free YouTube streams to the download sales, which includes a high-resolution digital format (sort of like this) that probably won’t play on your computer and almost certainly won’t play on your portable devices (but that’s another story).
My Bloody Valentine’s strategy appears to be successful because thousands, maybe millions of people worldwide would do just about anything to get this album — and they care enough to do so even though the whole thing is on YouTube for free. Fans have been waiting 22 years for a follow-up to Loveless, widely acknowledged as being one of the greatest albums of all time, and they bought enough tickets to sell out much of the band’s recent reunion tour.
Like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, My Bloody Valentine gained its notoriety during the CD/radio/paper magazines era. Would Radiohead have been able to do what they did without being built up by the traditional, old-school label system and its “Creep” video? Would My Bloody Valentine be the legends they are without Alan McGee [updated] essentially betting Creation Records on Loveless, which cost something like a quarter of a million English pounds (updated) to make, and went unrecouped for years, nearly bankrupting the label before it released Oasis?
The internet has proven extraordinarily great at distributing music and information about music. But can it make another My Bloody Valentine, Radiohead, or Nine Inch Nails? If any of the new bands lauded by Pitchfork tried an approach like this, as some have, what can they do to get the sort of attention My Bloody Valentine is getting from this?
Some would say the answer is to change music, the way My Bloody Valentine did, spawning the shoegaze movement and becoming a new signpost for describing how music sounds. That sort of thing was also easier when a few cover stories in influential music magazines was all it took to cement a band as a legend. Having a popular song on Hype Machine just isn’t the same.
Everyone seems to know this, including Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify. He told us that one of Spotify’s biggest opportunities lies in figuring out how to promote good music — in other words, sort of what the old-school music system used to do with a massive infrastructure encompassing ‘zines, college radio, mixtapes, mainstream radio, MTV, record stores, music magazines, and so on. (The fact that fans had to make a conscious purchasing decision with a limited budget also helped, because when you have to choose, you have to research — and when you research, someone can promote the good stuff to you.)
Music blogs, Spotify apps, internet radio, download stores, and countless other elements of today’s music scene are capable of promoting the best stuff, and if you’re an active music fan, the world is your oyster like never before. Things are evolving. But we’re still waiting for the sort of “kingmaking mechanism 2.0″ that would enable a new band today to become a legend, take 22 years off, and return with something so popular that it “breaks the internet.”
(Bottom photo courtesy of Flickr/Rigmarole)