We were born on MySpace

We were born on MySpace

Kate Miller-Heidke delivers the punch line of her viral YouTube hit, the ‘Facebook Song’ to a new breed: the online audience. In place of the customary standing ovation, this audience hits replay, again and again. And sends her facebook friend requests! 6091 miles away from where the Australian songwriter sang her ode to the social networking site, I toggle between the MySpace and Facebook windows on my laptop screen. Yes, it’s just another day at work.  

If managing my band, Sridhar/Thayil’s MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts, equally and daily without letting visitors to any one page feel neglected, sounds like a slick enough toggle, I’m also a singer, songwriter and producer. Indian musicians have surely joined the international phenomenon of being their own CEOs, concept creators and publicists. The demise of the record label has eliminated the middleman between artist and audience, but with it has brought a whole new job description for the artist. Entrepreneur is synonymous with musician, today. Your glossiest visiting card is the world wide web, and it comes free!

Indian bands are creating channels of entertainment in that populous web armed by any and all talents, certainly beyond the talent to remember passwords to multiple accounts. Whether it’s the digital release of Delhi based rock band Menwhopause’s The Story Begins... four years before Radiohead’s much talked about digital self release of In Rainbows, or Delhi based pop-rock band Them Clones rewarding fans with a free download for every CD they pirate, it is musicians, in Thom Yorke’s famous words, taking “perverse pleasure to say ‘F**k you’ to this decaying business model” of the record label. Decaying indeed. Two years ago, Sony, BMG, Warner Music Group and EMI struck a deal with MySpace acknowledging the landmark shift in their industry — a digital world where CDs are growing as collector’s items, MySpace hits replace record sales figures, and YouTube replaces Channel V.

On the one hand, the Internet is a level playing field where the link between musicians and listeners is direct. On the other hand, as with any democracy, competition is fierce and musical talent goes only so far as your talent to generate hits on your page. So we come back to the word ‘entrepreneur’. What do bands do to draw online traffic to their sites? What makes people download your album? Sidd Coutto, songwriter of the rock anthem Some Some G quips, “No idea. Boredom?”

Is overly accessible art boring? “Our collective attention span is at an all time low with the abundance of choice leading to more confusion,” says chinna chokri of We The People, an idea incubator based in Mumbai. In a world of free downloads, is there room to be the pricy diva? What does the availability of your art at a mere click do to your legend? At the cost of sounding nostalgic, can the musician today enjoy the same reverence as the musician of two generations ago?

I called up a few musician friends and asked them this question: ‘Do you think people value art that they don’t pay for?’ Garreth D’Mello, front man of Mumbai acoustic act Dischordian says, “People do seem to download music randomly and then forget about it. Some people use free music as a sampler to then buy it or attend concerts. There is no one rule.”  

So in other words, the Internet allows you to access anything and everything, especially something you could care less about, over late night YouTube binge sessions — the value of which you could assess at leisure, or never! Free music is a sampler with no strings attached. But Sid Coutto, drummer of Zero and front man of Tough on Tobacco argues, “Art has emotional value which is more lasting than monetary.” Monica Dogra of Shaa’ir + Func insists that “art is experienced and experiences are invaluable,” even an accidental YouTube upload.

To chinna chokri, however, there is no such thing as an accidental YouTube upload. “It is part of the often intimidating process of sifting through the vast playlists of music out there. Listeners today have to work harder. But the possibility of discovering an obscure artist you love from any corner of the world is equally rewarding.”

The bug has bit our corner of the world. In the past five years, many an Indian artist was born on the Internet, before he ever went on stage, with barely one tune to his name, before his first fan was born. And it’s those faceless listeners across the web who inaugurate his fame every time they hit his page. In Kate Miller-Heidke’s words, “I don’t care about your family tree and I certainly don’t want you poking me,” but if you want to be my latest hit, log onto http://www.myspace.com/sridharthayil.

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