Fun-loving grammar criminal will.i.am recently told Pocket-lint a rather astonishing thing: 10 years ago, if he wanted to send a track to a million people, he would need to record in a studio, print to CD and then ship a copy to each person. Now will.i.am can reach more than a million just by recording a song at home and sending it out on Twitter.
For all the complaining about piracy and problems within the music business, music now is shared by more people than ever before, thanks to technology. So, who better to ask about the reality of that impact than one of the UK’s most-loved DJs and Bestival curator Rob da Bank. With more listeners than we’ve had hot dinners, Rob knows all too well the intricacies of modern music.
“I’ve been on Radio 1 for 10 years and it has changed so dramatically. Ridiculously so," da Bank says. "I still get sent a couple of bags of mail every week full of CDs but it seems so antiquated. A lot of people don’t have a promo CD anymore.”
“About 80 per cent of my radio show is from digital files that I am sent. I don’t even have to open any post. I sit on my computer and look for the new so and so - and that’s how I listen to music now, on a laptop.”
A lot of this sending of files takes place over Twitter. Like MySpace, Twitter has become a huge social media force with music and bands the world over relying on the service to get themselves heard. As well as sending out tracks, Twitter is also great for organising gigs and getting people to shows.
“If someone gets in touch with a track, I try and listen to it. I think for the artist it’s fantastic, like will.i.am said. You don’t have to be will.i.am either to have that effect. You could have 50 followers and you could still send it to Rob da Bank.”
Twitter is even helping to create entirely new music. Just recently, music producer Deadmau5 had a message from one of his followers to say he had created a vocal for a track that Deadmau5 was currently recording. Deadmau5 had been streaming the recording process live and the listener had put something together from it. The end result was Deadma5 calling him and asking him in to record the vocals for real. All this from just one tweet.
“I think there is downsides to it as well, with just the amount of poor-quality music that's flying around," says da Bank. "I’d love it if every track that people sent me was incredible and bound for the charts.”
“It’s still very subjective and this is what I think is one of the strengths of a radio DJ and why radio is still such an important force. We need to filter all the stuff that is out there and pick the best. It has kind of got upsides and downsides but it has definitely made it a lot easier for people to do it themselves.”
Spotify is the next big thing on the music agenda. Ever growing and now with Facebook integration, it represents the biggest shake-up to the way we listen to music since iTunes. You would expect the likes of Rob Da Bank to be using it profusely, but apparently not.
“I’ve played one tune on it. I'm paying for the top streaming service. It’s just due to time really.”
“The time that I am listening to music is mostly new music, whether it’s for the festival or my radio show. I need that American way of doing it where your entire house is synced up to your speakers and then you get in the car and music keeps on playing.”
The man behind Bestival gets an absurd amount of music sent to him. So much so that it would be a full-time job just trying to listen to it all. You would expect da Bank to take advantage of a lot of the technology now geared up for streamlinging the listening process - an iPhone with iTunes blazing away 24/7. Not so, he's is mostly old school when it comes to music. Every device has a limit and even the biggest of microSD cards would fill instantly with what he's sent every week. So how does he do it and what tech does he use?
“If I am driving, I will take a big bag of CDs that have turned up. That’s about the only time I get to listen to them. The rest of the time it is just on my laptop.”
“When I am DJing, I use the recordbox program that Pioneer do and USB sticks. Like I said, though, I am old school. I still play records.”
Every big tech company hopes for a bit of social media success. Be it a decent Facebook page, Twitter feed or even a nice Google+ presence, getting social media right is crucial. So, what about with music?Does social media open doors for musicians to get involved with large companies?
“Some people are really anti brands," explains da Bank, "There are some bands that would never be seen dead promoting some them."
“I think its like running a festival. There are some that say we have no sponsorship and there aren’t any brands on site.”
“If you have brands you don’t mind being there or you don’t have a problem with them, then it doesn’t really matter. It’s very subjective. I think it’s great though that, ultimately, brands are pushing music, whatever the endgame for them is. I think there are some brands that genuinely love music.”
Examples of artists who seem okay with the tech company corporate link ups include will.i.am's partnership with Intel, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and his Nokia involvement, and not forgetting Lady GaGa and Polaroid. But whether the financial vs sense of cool trade off is worth it or not is another question.
Traditionally the radio has been the go-to place for new music. The likes of John Peel and, of course, Rob da Bank have meant tuning in has resulted in a constantly fresh influx of tracks. But now, with ever-increasingly diverse listening means, helped along by the likes of Twitter and Facebook, music is more prevalent than ever before.
Technology might have caused a few hiccups for the records labels; money might have been lost from the odd illegal download here and there, but for the listener times couldn’t be better. Quite simply, there is more music to listen to, it has become cheaper and it’s easier to access than ever before.
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