likeIn the latest entry on Ask Earache — the blog on which Earache head honcho Digby Pearson opens himself up to reader questions and promises “straight answers… without the bullshit” and defends re-thrash as a forward-pushing genre — Dig takes a stab at quantifying the effects that social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook have had on the metal scene. His argument is that the social networks have changed what it means to be a fan from going to the show and hanging around for all the bands to simply pressing the “like” button, and as a result the metal scene is suffering. As with the past Ask Earache blog posts I’ve read, Dig’s premise is sound but his logic leads to a false conclusion. Check it out as Professor Neilstein dissects his argument one point at a time.

Here’s Dig’s main argument:

Back in the recent past, say up to 2006, there was still a cohesive scene where fans felt a belonging to a style of music. A fan felt a natural affinity to a whole scene and pretty much embraced most of the bands within that scene. Not anymore- the new crowd go to a show to see one single band only. Things are getting fragmented to the point of absurdity. Its worth pointing out that in my experience its mostly the new teenage Deathcore bands who seem to act like this- young Thrashers and the new young HM fans do thankfully seem to embrace the whole of the scene, not just one fave band.

Fair enough. I might counter that I haven’t really seen fans leaving after one band at shows I’ve been to, but I don’t go to deathcore shows; presumably Pearson is talking from experience so we’ll take his word for it. I might also argue that deathcore is a genre particularly associated with young “scene” kids, and that “scene” sub-genres have always been this way… but for now I won’t. Let’s just roll with Dig’s argument and see what happens. Now, here’s where things get sticky:

Its sickening for me to see, and the root cause is undoubtedly the massive rise and scale of the social networks in the last 5 years.Myspace/Facebook/YouTube have given instant power and information to anyones fingertips.Between them, they have actually changed the way millions of people go about their daily lives, and their cultural impact on the entire music scene is only just unfolding.It’s altered what being a ‘fan’ actually means – clicking the LIKE button on Facebook is the new ‘bought it on the day it came out’

Wow, wait a minute. How can you say “undoubtedly”? Lots of things have changed in the past 5 years besides the rise of social networks: musical trends have changed, our entire culture has changed as a result of the Internet, recording technology has gotten cheaper, metal has splintered even further into a thousand micro-genres, the economy has tanked… how can you point to ONE trend as the absolute reason for what you perceive to be the “entire music scene unfolding”? To me, there’s plenty of doubt. It could well be a factor, but way too many boring Communications lectures in college taught me that there’s no way to draw a direct causal arrow when so many other factors are involved.

I’d argue that the social networks have HELPED the scene; they allow bands to get their music out there to any potential receptive ears, and by making the means of distribution so easy they allow for these micro-genres to be created rather than having to cram so many different sounding bands into one label. If anything, I’d say MySpace and Facebook have strengthened the connection between band and fan and created a more direct revenue stream, be it going to shows, buying an album, or buying merch. It’s not surprising to see a record label owner arguing this, though; used to be you could spend marketing dollars in a certain way and bang, you could run a band up the charts and create a success. Not so anymore; you’ve got to take the slow approach, the product has to be genuine, and it takes time — several albums — to build a real act. Label owners don’t like this because there’s less immediate return on their dollar.

Digby also argues that the bigger acts are getting more popular and cites Lady Gaga’s success as an example. Sure, Gaga is huge, but 5, 10, 15 years ago there were way more pop acts dominating the charts than there are today. Pop has become relegated to a niche of its own, and huge pop success stories like Gaga are getting rarer and rarer. Gaga is the exception these days, not the rule. Instead what we’ve got is a much more healthy middle class of bands and, in turn, a much more healthy middle class of fans for those bands. Metal is a particularly large benefactor here because by its very nature metal is never going to be a huge genre.

Anyway, what do you all think? Are social networks good or bad for the metal scene? Sound off in the comments section.


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