I agree that CDbaby offers artists a set of services useful to artists. I appreciate Derek’s post, as I’ve observed that CDbaby has worked for independent artists in just the way he’s described, as a resource for the indie to distribute product. So many times artists need one-click convenience for ministerial but important business things, and that’s what artist services offer. I love hearing things like “this will show up on your credit card as CDbaby” instead of “I can only take cash, and I don’t have any more change”.

I still think that Victor has a point about taste-makers (personally, I put things in quotes or not in quotes according to the guiding rule of whim). I do think that new taste-makers will arise and are arising. I agree with Victor that nobody much expects/wants/falls for “being told what to listen to”, but I do think that gifted people have always helped find cool stuff in popular music.

My own feeling is that new taste makers are arising, and will continue to arise. I find the most useful ones to be websites, whether it is biotic’s black sweater white cat or gorilla v. bear or, for my own beloved genre as a listener, ambient music, the forum at http://www.hypnos.com.

Victor’s point is a powerful one. When I was a young teen, one listened at midnight to one particular radio station in Chicago to figure out what was cool and new. Did we accept that station’s DJ’s judgment as gospel? No. We took and we discarded. A similar thing happened with Bingenheimer in Los Angeles, on an even larger scale with Peel in the UK. On a recording front, the Stax sound was not sheer serendipity, but a set of choices made not only by musicians but also by record-company-types who believed in them.

The technology now exists to liberate us from the market dominance of record labels. Yet as Derek and Peter Wells both point out, their companies are to serve artists and not to replace labels. They bundle services to make artists’ lives easier.

Jay’s point is right in that the construct of how we thought about labels no longer need apply. Among the essential industries that must arise in this era of “commodity services” is effective ways to “get the word out” on signal amid noise. Don’t get me wrong–there is no one signal, and noise (believe me) is delightful. But a community of music lovers benefits from people who help create community through recommendations.

I don’t read Victor at all as saying that there is One True Global Taste which taste-makers can point to (indeed, Victor would be the absolute last person to say so). Yet the sense of shared commmunity which taste-makers provide is one thing that binds similar-minded listeners together in their musical interests. I still believe that such taste-makers will inevitably arise (and are already arising), but I don’t deny that they’re a good thing. I just think, as Derek suggests, they need not be part of a record label (or, to extend the point, cdbaby or tunecore).

At the same time, I don’t really disagree with Jay so much as see the “tribal” nature of music spread as inevitably including taste-making on a big scale. The tribes are virtually bigger, so to speak, even as the niches get smaller.

I have a bit of nostalgia for times when I was 13ish and Lisa Robinson was putting out a teen photo magazine which told me about these incredible unsigned bands called the Ramones, the Talking Heads, and Television (or, now that I think of it, Wayne/Jayne County). Those were heady days, when one could find destiny in a pulp magazine at the local IGA grocery. That kind of taste-maker was an essential and wonderful thing. Finding that kind of taste-making again will be the liberation of artists from the old record label paradigms. The technology makes it every bit as possible and inexpensive for them to arise as using tunecord and cdbaby. It just requires practicality amid the visionary dreams.

In the communitarian (archive.org) v. Ahmet Ertegun divide, my sympathies are definitely communitarian. I favor free download music, Creative Commons BY licenses, and a conspiracy of user/hobbyist/creator/fans to share culture.

But I believe that the era of artist services and indie direct releases will benefit as taste-makers arise. We see the first embers, but the burn is inevitably going to come.

Let’s take a simple example. A few years ago, a weblog friend of mine named CP McDill announced that, having sold only a handful of CDs as an artist, he intended to start a Creative Commons netlabel. He would release his albums for free under his Webbed Hand Records netlabel, and then release other artists as well. Webbed Hand releases were soon rather popular in the way of such things, because the label’s experimental/dark ambient “branding” meant that people knew what they were downloading when they downloaded a Webbed Hand release.

A free album on Webbed Hand is not directly analogous to a commercial release (being on the communitarian side of the fence). The idea, though, plays on the commercial side of the street, I believe.

People will arise, whether journalists, website maintainers, label owners for a new type of label, or webloggers, who will help create this kind of “branding” and association. This is not the robotic “look into my eyes, you are getting sleepy” hypnosis theory of forcing style down one’s throat. This is organize style-making. But until those style makers have the sway of late night Chicago rock radio blaring 100,000s of thousands of watts across the midwest and south,
then the rocket has not yet launched.

My optimism, though, is that this rocket will indeed launch. My belief is that the next fame/money/glory will go to the people who figure out how to light the way the way that the talented locators of talent once did. I don’t care who emplys ’em–I just care that we all connect to the cool music.