Pre-purchased tickets in hand, senior Jadon Bienz stood, waiting impatiently, in front of San Francisco’s iconic Warfield Theatre on Feb. 7. It was a quiet school night — a Wednesday — but he and three other friends arrived in time for the sold-out show.
The three artists performing — Higher Brothers, Joji and Rich Brian — were all products of a new frontier in music: the internet.
Joji, as his previous alter ego, Filthy Frank, boasted nearly 5.7 million subscribers on his comedy Youtube channel, and Rich Brian rode the coattails of his satirical breakout hit “Dat $tick” on Youtube to the height of media notoriety and popularity as a teenager.
The growing influence of the internet on our lives has left little untouched, including our relationship with one of the most polarized, popular and constantly shifting mediums of art — music. Many of the young, up-and-coming musicians of this generation — from now-mainstream artists such as Chance the Rapper and Kehlani to once-underground Soundcloud hit-makers like Lil Pump and Kodak Black — found fame by releasing content directly to online platforms.
Though many pioneering internet-based artists such as Chance the Rapper have gone on to become influential names in pop culture, the internet’s music scene is far from over, with thousands of tracks and potential new artists logging on to online platforms every day.
Only time can tell whether this model of music creation will last. Until then, the internet is where modern-day rock stars find their start. We asked four avid music fans at MVHS for their thoughts on the changing landscape of music, and what that means for the future of the industry.
When the first few seconds of the slowed down sample from Rich Brian’s joke-like single, “Dat $tick,” echoed through the Warfield on Wednesday, Feb. 7, the already excitable crowd went, according to Bienz, insane. The track, which went viral on Youtube in 2016, currently has nearly 90 million views and is the reason Rich Brian, formerly Rich Chigga, rose to fame.
Rich Brian’s ascent from internet meme to somewhat-serious musician didn’t follow the typical path to online musical fame, but his story proves one thing — it’s becoming harder to make it in the music world without a fairly strong online presence, whether on Soundcloud, Instagram, Youtube or a combination of the three.
Record labels, according to senior Anthony Mein, have always signed the artists with the most potential, both musically and economically. And nowadays, monetary potential is easily measured through numbers on social media — followers, listens and plays — making it difficult for any up-and-coming artist to stay off the internet and still make it big with just their music.
“You have to have released music, because record labels want people who are going to be successful. And record labels want people who have success already,” Mein said. “You have to say, ‘Look, I have this song on Spotify, it has 40 million plays,’ so record labels will think ‘Look, people are interested in this guy. Lets sign him on.’”
It’s important to mention, however, that record labels too are slowly losing their power to the expanse of the internet, with big, mainstream artists like Chance the Rapper promoting individualism by refusing to sign with anyone. Music-sharing platforms allow anyone — laymen and trained musicians alike — to release music at their own free will. Anyone can become a well-known artist overnight and continue to make a profit, without the restrictions that a label appears to impose.
This increased accessibility, however, can have a downside, depending on who you ask. Sophomore Uriel Kaminitz, a self-proclaimed “old-head,” or musical purist, finds that as the public is allowed increased access to music-making tools and patforms to distribute it, the quality of the music produced goes down.
“[The growing number of online platforms] makes the art a little less pure because now anyone can put out a rap song,” Kaminitz said. “Because once you make it easier for anyone to start rapping it just — you start to bastardize the art form. It’s just less pure. But it definitely makes it easier for the artists. And it makes it easier to access for the fans because you can just go on Soundcloud and listen to it for free.”
The rise of an almost unregulated market for music on internet platforms has its plus sides as well. While it does, in Mein’s words, encourage “hot garbage” — music that is repetitive and similar to the popular sounds of the time — it also gives artists an incredible amount of financial and creative leeway and a space to experiment without the pressure of a label, according to Bienz.
“[The internet’s] benefited making creative music by making it more accessible. Even if [an artist] might not be the most critically acclaimed, it’s still promoting creativity within people that might not originally have a contract,” Bienz said. “It enables them to get into the game and put their image out there through social media.”
The increased accessibility of music-making and the potential to make it big off of popular music trends have brought sounds defined by the internet, like lo-fi trap beats, into the mainstream. But according to Bienz, trends like these may die down faster than before in the age of the internet, especially considering the rate at which music is being created and consumed.
“New music is released basically all the time. It’s just so easy to do, you just upload it. You don’t need a contract or producer to go through. It’s easier accessibility,” Bienz said. “I guess that also helps the industry evolve faster, because we’re having a bunch of the same sound churned out at the same time. It really just dumbs down that sound so I see that happening with the trap-style beats.”
The influx of similar-sounding production and beats, though popular, brings up a question of creativity on an open platform where innovation should theoretically be abundant. Senior Natalia Osorio, who is often on Soundcloud, has noticed artists using very similar sounds when it comes to production and style.
“There’s no change in the atmosphere. If you’re listening to the same beat, it’s technically the same song. Everyone sounds the same,” Osorio said. “But I feel like for other people, people who like that same backbeat, its good for them — everything they listen to is their kind of music. But for those people who don’t like that, it’s harder to find [new] music.”
According to Mein, the repetitive nature and similar production styles of music being released may be side effects of an “internet culture,” where the motivation to make popular music and make it big is more common than a will to be experimental.
“If you make an internet culture, then people are going to follow those trends. I think that that on one hand, it’s good for promoting new artists,” Mein said. “On the other hand, you see a lot of repetition in the industry. You don’t see too much experimentation, and then the experimentation you do see is from artists who are secluded from social media.”
If an artist decides to create music on Soundcloud with the intent of making it big, one of the biggest obstacles they will face, other than the quality and genre of their sound, is the popularity of their image. In oversaturated markets like Soundcloud or Youtube, independent artists must compete for the attention of nearly hundreds of millions of potential fans.
Even before the rise of internet-based music, an important aspect of artists’ popularity was their ability to craft a compelling image to complement their music. In the age of social media, when artists’ presence online is more personal, direct and impactful, the idea of selling a personality has almost taken on a new meaning. Social media, according to Bienz, is now a vital tool for new artists in their branding.
“Definitely for up-and-coming artists, social media is very important for just getting your
music out there. It’s more important for new artists, I would say, to really get their image out there and get people knowing them,” Bienz said. “Just having social media too adds to the sense of — this is who the guy is.”
When considering more established artists on social media, Bienz believes that along with branding, the internet allows for something completely different — context. Whether in the form of explaining their lyrics or establishing their brand in more depth online, social media gives artists some space to be themselves outside of their music; something Kaminitz and and Bienz disagree on.
For the latter, the more context, the better. Understanding lyrics and motives beyond the lyrics in the track itself can be helpful for him, especially when considering repetitive lyrics with little storytelling or lyricism. Oftentimes, context in the form of a lyric-explanation video or clearing up an interpretation on social media helps fans understand the artist as a person.
“For people who have less innovative lyricism and are just talking about the staples of trap music, having an Instagram gets you to know them more,” Bienz said. “If it’s something by Tyler the Creator, you already know everything about him from Flower Boy. Same with Kanye West. But if it’s Migos, you don’t know a lot other than they like money, women and drugs.”
While Kaminitz agrees that the artists who need the extra context attached to their music often display poorer lyricism, he believes it’s enabling and damaging to normalize the extra explanations. Instead, he believes, artists should be seen primarily in the context of the music they put out, with their personality taking a backseat.
“I think [additional context] hurts the art in a way, because I think it’s the fan’s job to listen to music and digest it and understand what [the artist is] talking about,” Kaminitz said. “If you just go out there and explain it then it kind of ruins the purpose. I find that those artists that usually do go on Genius most of the time, their music doesn’t have too much effort in it.”
Artists’ use of social media impacts the fans in more ways than one. Beyond simply helping to promote their brand and music, social media and internet music platforms let any musician on the internet earn a fanbase. The downside to this, Osorio believes, is that the increase in artists on the internet makes it harder for people to bond with others over music.
“It’s not like theres like one famous person and then there’s you. It’s like we all have Soundcloud,” Osorio said. “It normalizes [music-making] so it isn’t that special anymore. If you go back to Lady Gaga songs, everyone knew them. But if you talk about a song now, it’s like ‘Oh, I haven’t heard that one.’ ‘Yeah, because it’s by this unknown person on Soundcloud.’ It’s not as special and you can’t connect with people over music as much anymore.”
The internet has, of course, provided a way for fans of lesser-known artists and music to connect through social media and internet music forums. Online communities such as Bienz’s favorite, the forum r/hiphopheads on Reddit, help unite like-minded fans of music and help them discover and share new music. In some cases, online communities can be more effective in helping popularize an artist than than their own presence on social media.
“A great example is Brockhampton on r/hiphopheads. The community from r/hiphopheads really just hyped them up […] and brought them into the spotlight from a community of people who really love rap,” Bienz said. “Given that, it still is necessary for social media to bring an artist in. I feel like the discussion around them rather than their own page is more important. Just people being able to talk about them on forums.”
The internet’s influence on music continues to grow, with new artists, producers and songs becoming popular every day. And while it has allowed music-making to become much more accessible, there are some who feel this has tarnished the music as an art form. The internet has changed the ways fans listen to music and interact with artists, making it simultaneously easier and more difficult to find fellow fans. But whether you support the internet’s influence on the music industry or not, there is one thing that’s undeniable — for better or for worse, the internet is changing music, and it is not going to stop anytime soon.