Indies Go (Almost) Mainstream
Pitchfork, the Chicago-based website that has become an online bible for indie rock fans and lovers of all things musically hip, did something that may call into question its status as underground gatekeeper: It threw a two-day music festival that attracted 15,000. The first
Intonation Festival was held over the weekend in Chicago’s Union Park. Unlike the one-off Lollapalooza concert, which will also be held in Chicago, Intonation matched cheap tickets ($22 for a two-day pass) with a roster of Pitchfork-approved heroes of the music counterculture: The Decemberists, The Wrens, Broken Social Scene, The Go! Team, Dungen, and Xiu Xiu among others. Alternative music is usually only an empty tag, but these bands are truly alternative, and the festival separated itself on many levels.
Noted music critic Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times hailed the Intonation Festival as a “mixed bag.” The music on the first day, he said, was hit and miss—which is to be expected from a group of artists who usually play nothing more than dimly lit and more intimate small theaters. It was the overall atmosphere and experience that struck him. “At a bargain price, the fest offered good amenities and excellent sound, and was the product of solid planning and flawless execution.” No $5 bottles of water?
Why have festivals like Intonation, Bonaroo and Coachella succeeded while Lollapalooza and H.O.R.D.E. have failed? And how can Intonation attrack 15,000 concertgoers to see a group of bands with only a sliver of the sales history of bands on the Bonnaroo and Coachella bills? In an
article in yesterday’s New York Times music critic Kalefa Sanneh hit the nail partially on the head when he explained these bands are already as popular as they’re going to get. Most everybody within Pitchfork’s reach was there. With few exceptions the Intonation Festival is not going to be a stepping stone to greater popularity.
But there’s more. It’s the Internet. Pitchfork has been able to do exactly what Starbucks has done with older music consumers: It’s filled a need for an under-serviced group of people. It uncovered a latent market—one that was there all along if only somebody reached out to it and give it what it wants. Pitchfork has catered to a group of people who want little to do with major labels and, besides, tend to like the types of music major labels won’t touch. It has trumpeted many unknown and unheralded bands and proved itself to be a beacon of hip. There are like-minded companies and record labels to advertise at the site and support the infrastructure. Artists who a few years ago had a hard time reaching listeners can now tap into this infrastructure of mid-level popularity. New York Times music critic Jon Pareles calls this “semi-popular” music, a term which carries as many cultural and class connotations as it does sales and numbers. These bands won’t sell millions of records but who says they have to? Intonation and Pitchfork give the sub-platinum sellers a welcome home.
So how was the whole event? In Pitchfork fashion, Sanneh gave the festival a 7.3 rating.
(For images of the festival, check the Flickr page for the
Intonation tag as well as
ttam elbanak’s fine Intonation Music Fest Flickr group.)
British Music Survey: Age Matters
The Guardian had a most fascinating article about its survey of British music consumers.
“The OMM Poll” takes a close look at purchasing habits, favorite types of music and trends over age groups and sexes. It’s always nice to have hard numbers to back up behaviors that are just assumed to be true, and there are a lot of common sense findings in the survey. Men, for example, are more apt to obsess about the “collecting” aspect of music even though both men and women both own large music collections and are just as enthusiastic in their love of music. There are quite a few “oh wow” moments in the survey results as well, the kind that may make one rethink how people purchase and interact with music.
One finding that made me pause was how different age groups felt differently about the MP3 format. Overall only 8% of those surveyed said the MP3 was his/her format of choice. For the 16 to 24-year-old group MP3 rose dramatically to 22%.
Hip hop and dance music are for youth, the study found. Over time people will have less interest in those genres. “Twenty-six per cent of those aged 16-24 like hip hop/rap the most while 22% prefer dance. However, the passing of time seems to erode the appeal of both these genres.” Don’t expect Britain’s aging population to rush to the classical section. Only 8% of respondents said classical was their favorite type of music. Opera was only 1%.
To go with the preponderance of MP3s in the youth age-bracket there’s another sign of the times worth noting. Nine percent of respondents listen to music at work on personal headphones. (Are those iPods?) Here’s another trend that caught The Guardian : “Despite the relatively recent introduction of MP3s, 5% of Britons already own more or their music digitally than on any other format. This figure rises sharply, to 15%, among 16-24-year-olds.” And to help clear up doubts that piracy is the cause, the article added its thoughts. “It seems unlikely that this can be explained simply as a function of those with least expendable income building collections comprising the format that is easiest to acquire free of charge, via illegal downloads.”