What Happened to my Rock n Roll?

We take a look at Next Big Sound's State of Online Music Report and how it correlates with the current state of indie music.

Next Big Sound’s ‘2011 State of Online Music’ report was released this week and includes major trends and highlights from 2011.The report shows overall consumption numbers, top networks (along with their most popular artists) and the top 50 artists of 2011. From Facebook fans to physical sales, Next Big Sound combines artist metrics with context to inform decisions in the modern music industry.

It makes interesting reading. In 2011, online songs received 64.9 billion new listens. Artists acquired 3.4 billion new online fans and music videos received 16.1 billion new views.

All of the major online networks (Soundcloud, Twitter, Vevo, Facebook, YouTube and MySpace) saw positive traffic in 2011. Soundcloud performed the best with a huge 231% growth compared with the lowest, MySpace, which saw an increase of 6%. It must be taken in to consideration that Soundcloud had far greater potential growth compared to all of the other networks, simply because of how much more recently it launched and therefore held a lower base figure to improve upon. In fact the list mirrors the network launch dates.

What’s most interesting about Soundcloud’s figures compared to the other five major networks is that two of their top five most listened to artists are unsigned artists. DJ BL3ND and The White Panda sit in second and fifth respectively, alongside Foo Fighters, Beastie Boys and The Weekend. The remaining networks boast Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Katy Perry and Shakira in their top 5’s.

The top 5 most listened to artists online in 2011 were justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Shakira and Eminem.

So what do these figures really tell us about the state of music?

It’s abundantly clear that online music habits are having a direct affect on both record sales (physical and digital) and pop culture. 2011 saw pop music outsell rock music for the first time in seven years. It’s the sobering confirmation of the desperate feelings within the indie community.

This year's Brit awards will be a melancholy experience for indie fans. The genre's big performers on the evening will be Blur and Noel Gallagher, a pairing that will evoke memories of the 1995 ceremony, when Britpop swept the old guard away, and thus highlight the contrast with the current state of play.

Pop history however offers some reason for optimism. Pop music like social cultures are cyclical. Luckily the music industry despises a vacuum and therefore they're quick to leap on the next fad financed bandwagon. Remember how quickly Britpop replaced Grunge? The mid 2000’s indie scene was being satisfied by The Strokes and The White Stripes and a year or so later The Libertines followed by Arctic Monkeys. This was a rich age for indie music that often gets forgotten. Not least due to the drivel that attached itself to the era; The Wombats, Pigeon Detectives, The Kooks and Razorlight to name a few. As bands of this pedigree progressed up the festival bills you knew the end was near.

So when will the next indie cycle arrive?

The concerning news is it’s overdue by about two years. The Vaccines were the only indie breakthrough artist in 2011 and let's face it, they were never going to kick start a revolution. In fact they sit happiest filed under ‘end of the previous era’. The Radio 1 playlist, also known as the Top 40, is more deadeningly conservative than anybody can remember, dominated by collaboration-happy artists (Rihanna, Bruno Mars, David Guetta, Pitbull, Jessie J), most of whom converge on the same R&B-goes-to-Ibiza template. John Peel was the last BBC employee with the courage to challenge the status quo. The sad truth is, until Radio 1 gets over it’s revulsion, that's how it will remain.

The knock on effects are equally alarming. With no crossover success, record labels are even more reluctant to fund up-start indie bands. This naturally leads to a ‘do it yourself’ ethic that has spawned some incredible music over the years but in the current economic climate this is becoming ever more difficult to fund. Resulting in a spurge of middle class bands lacking the working class grit that a healthy indie scene needs.

Festivals are being affected too. Their line ups are becoming more and more predictable and reliant on ‘out of retirement’ artists to create a hype. Glastonbury has luckily taken a year off; they would struggle to create a 2012 line up without embarrassing replication from 2011.

The music we love will undoubtably return but it’s going to take something or someone really special to buck the current trend. In the meantime it’s up to us, the real music fans, to support our local music scene, buy EP’s and records from gigs or your local indie record shop and shout about the artists you rate. But more than anything, it’s up to us to keep the belief. In the words of Pete and Carl “If you lose your faith in love and music, the end won’t be long”.

Steve C


Adam Yauch
1964 - 2012

Written by: Phill

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