In my lifetime, I’ve bonded with a lot of DJs. It is my nature, I think, to glom onto a voice. I probably shouldn’t admit this as it implies I’m a target for cult-dom, but what the heck? In my lifetime, of course, the nature of radio has been such that DJs are very much hear today, gone tomorrow. Their ability to rally a community is sketchy at best — did Rick Dees every really command respect? Howard Stern was/is as polarizing as he was addictive.
Because radio isn’t a national medium in the same way as network television, our relationships with with radio are largely local — this is, perhaps, why I reject the argument that blogs and services like iTunes fail to rally the larger community the way radio once did. Maybe we all listened to the same Top 40 songs, but does that necessarily a community make? No, it simply showed that when a lack of choice exists, consumers will either tune in without much enthusiasm or tune out, sometimes while the music is blaring.
On his way to touting the glories of the Hype Machine, a system that aggregates all the stuff being introduced on blogs around the world, Marc Fisher of the Washington Post posits that:
The community part of the formula turns out to be the toughest. Internet music sites are thriving gatherings of avid fans who easily find soul mates in even the most obscure categories of listening. But few homegrown music blogs — on MySpace or on their own — have found large audiences. Most of them are created by and for the deeply involved, who tend to sneer at music that’s too popular.
This is a true statement, but possibly misleading. We live in a world where somehow Ashlee Simpson can debut at number one*, yet nobody seems passionate about Ashlee Simpson, at least not in the way a band like The Replacements continues to inspire passion. Corporate radio still targets the big hits while MySpace blogs are reaching out to those of us who simply turned off commercial radio in 1982 and never looked back. If anything, the proliferation of these smaller sites and bands is proving that community is less dependent upon size than it is about passion.
Fisher notes that file sharing has mostly advanced the sounds of music that was already popular. Fair enough, as long as we realize that blogs/online communities also gave us success stories like “Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah”. Hype Machine is poised to bring a wider range of music to listeners, if the listeners can bring themselves to move off the site and onto the wide range of blogs it’s plugged into. In an apparent case of unexpected results, users are treating the service more like a radio than a diving board.
Radio, as Fisher comments, had six decades to build an audience and perfect a formula, only to have it broken. New media has exploded rather suddenly, and the biggest surprise is the fact that the little guys, those musicians and artists you’ve never heard of, are finding audiences despite all the noise.
* – This is a hypothetical statement on my part because I have no first-hand knowledge of this artist nor her chart performance.