I share your skepticism about the labels ever trying to influence the taste-spam output (i.e. Grabb.it and Last.fm user pages) of someone like me, but that’s just because, as a taste-maker, I’m pretty far down the long tail. Their way of interfering in that part of the curve wil likely look a lot more like ‘astroturf’ — faking the appearance of grass roots support for an artist (as can already be seen happening on MySpace).
But, I guess one difference I seem to have with other people in this conversation is that I see a relatively strong head already emerging to the online taste-makers curve. Site like Pitchfork, Stereogum, Said the Gramophone, and a handful of others (pretty much anybody running real ads) already set the agenda for the rest of the music blogosphere. Those sites have large readerships, often paid staffs, and are for-profit enterprises. For a whole generation of indie music fans, these sites have already replaced Rolling Stone and Spin as the primary way they find out about new ‘cool’ music.
I don’t necessarily mean to impugn these sites’ ethics so strongly as to imply that they’d blog for cash, but I do think the labels (major and indie alike) are going to bring more and more pressure to bear on trying to influence their opinions — starting with the carrot of ‘leaked’ early mp3s by hot bands that is already so common and moving into the whole panoply of ‘access journalism’ techniques that have been so effective in influencing the mainstream press.
If these sites can get some of the growth-mojo that comes from recognizing and building on their position as a distribution platform (kind of the opposite of the direction that MySpace has gone with the creation of its record label) it’ll act as a bulwark. Pitchfork, I think, is leading the way here with its moves into concert promotion with their music festival. How long before Pitchfork is putting out records? Who’s better positioned than they are to know who to sign and how to get the word out there?