Do a search for “reggae” on YouTube and you find a large number of videos put up by aspiring musicians hoping for their place in the sun. Try a search for “Fado”, and you will of course find some clips from the celebrated Portuguese singer Amalia Rodrigues, but you will also find a number of amateur groups playing their own rendition of these songs.
Video sharing sites like YouTube, blog hosting sites like Blogger and WordPress, are a great opportunity for people to unleash their creativity and be heard or read. In a sense, it is “The Long Tail” unleashed, as the cost of putting your stuff out on the Internet has crashed dramatically, and the theoretical reach multiplied.
The Long Tail is the title of an article in October, 2004 in Wired Magazine by its editor-in-chief, Chris Anderson, who later wrote a book by the same title.
The gist of the theory as explained by Anderson in his blog is that as the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers. In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly-targeted goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare, he adds.
Video sharing, blogging sites, and other web sites dispensing entertainment have indeed made it possible for a lot of people, who believe they are creative, to go out and try to make an impact, at a very little cost. Publishing and distributing the content of this blog would have been close to impossible for me say five years ago when we were still tied to the economics of the print world.
But one upshot of the Long Tail is that apart from a few good upcoming musicians or writers or photographers or poets that are visible on the Internet, there are thousands of wannabes with little or no talent. This leads to a whole lot of clutter competing for our attention on the Internet. To find gold on the Internet you have to be as patient as panning for gold in an ocean.
Great, but as yet unknown talent, may also go unnoticed in the deafening contest for our attention. To be noticed and rewarded, the aspiring artist or writer may have to either advertise extensively, spending a lot of money, or yes, go up to one of the record labels or publishing houses, and hope they will sign a contract with him.
To get a break through the Internet, a musician still depends to a large extent on getting backed by the big brands, or some of the mid-range brands that have emerged. If you are a blogger, your chances are far higher if you are hosted, for example, by one of the top publications like BusinessWeek or CNet or Computerworld.
There is one possible way out for wannabes whose pluck more than make up for their lack of funds. Look out for new gatekeepers, that will filter out the chaos and the rubbish that abounds on the Net, and will, in fact, be your new age mentors and guides.
I am talking about folks like eMusic who offer Long Tail music on their web-site. These are the kind of companies that can do people on the Internet as well as upstart artists and writers a favor, by building a list of recommendations for the confused user.
But before they can emerge as effective gatekeepers to the Internet, these folks will have to build their own brands, and their credibility as mentors. eMusic has certainly built a solid brand, made all the more strong by AT&T offering downloads from eMusic on mobile phones. But it still has a long way to go to become a comprehensive source of advice on what music to buy.
Reviews by other users of the site are nice to read sometimes, but they don’t carry the same credibility as eMusic giving a recommendation on a musician, and giving a detailed explanation and reasons for the recommendation. eMusic does it for some of its music, but not all. For the rest you are generally groping in the dark, basing your buy-or-dump decision entirely on the few seconds preview eMusic offers.
If new and credible gatekeepers don’t emerge fast enough to help us find our way through the burst of creativity on the Internet, it will be an opportunity for the big brands again, whether the record labels or publishing houses, to act as arbiters of quality and good taste. After all, these are the brands we have traditionally used and trusted in some measure. But these established brands, with their focus on big hits, will certainly snuff out the creativity of the smaller guys on the net.