Laura Henry explores digital music platforms from a student perspective and wonders if technology can be used to help artists stand out from the crowd if they learn how to manipulate it. 

Long gone are the days where I used Dad’s pencil to rewind Tina Turner’s Best Hits cassette, and my wallet was a tenner lighter after buying Now That’s What I Call Music 57 (oh yes, I was one of those people). I loved walking around with my Walkman strapped to my belt, encased in its snazzy felt cover. I was also from the high percentage of people who’d spin the CD before closing the flap because I felt a little bit like a DJ. MC Angel was my nickname and I’d write it on desks and walls while bobbing my head to Britney Spears. I was cool. CDs used to be bribes from my parents to secure myself an A in upcoming tests. Like any pre-teen I assumed money grew on trees and presents came from the gift tree, naturally.

My parents never paid for music though, and neither did you 6 or 7 years ago. What we pay for is goods. Now music may be good but it certainly isn’t “goods”. You can’t touch music or smell it or even taste it – it’s not a physical thing at all.

So music isn’t real? Is that what I’m trying to say? Of course not. Though listening to it is about as real of a memory as you can get, music itself is just an audio hologram, as depressing as it may sound. When you buy that CD or type in your credit card number in iTunes, you pay for the privilege of rewinding, listening, forwarding, replaying or burning onto a disc for that road trip you’ve got planned. This passage is in no way a reflection of my opinion regarding whether music should be free or not. It is merely an observation that music has become (if it wasn’t already) an industry in which music is the product and the customer is the advertisement. This role switching is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a way for those small artists to make it big.

In this sense, technology in the music industry is what we make it. It is manipulated to conform to our needs and abilities whether we like it or not. And since we are not wrong in dubbing ourselves as the gods of the Olympus that is technology, we can manipulate the media and services that technology has offered us in any way we choose.

Like me, you have probably received numerous emails that A, B or C are now following you on Soundcloud–after a brief subscription those few months ago just to listen to the shared link on Facebook. Despite this annoyance, Soundcloud is actually a bit cooler than you might think. It’s not just a second YouTube that doesn’t offer video- it’s a platform on which artists of all levels of fame can blossom, practise and advertise either their work in progress or a finished piece. You are given the choice on quite a few to download what you are listening to and inform yourself about the piece in the tag box. You can also tag your comment at a specific time frame during the song to express your opinion. The middle man has been cut out enabling the artist to have creative control returned to him/her to do what they please.

This is very much like a group of people sitting around a fire, with a guitar, strumming away their latest melody to friends who appreciate their talent. Friends are more than capable of correcting a string that needs tuning or just expressing their opinion. After that, the musician is more than welcome to make their creation available to the people- it’s as easy as enabling the “Download” button.

Another hidden gem with Soundcloud is that it offers the ability to discover artists similar to the genre of music being streamed that minute. Very much like, you can find yourself listening to someone similar to your favourite artist. The similarities lie in the ability to type in keywords and have more than just a couple of names appear at your fingers–all you have to do is listen.  Although the ability of Soundcloud to digitally distribute and sell your music is straightforward and quite fun, many favour the services of Bandcamp.

Bandcamp is another type of platform that offers you music digitally by the artist. The fun part of is the three types of payment offered for downloads. Lots of music is free, all you have to do is download and enjoy. There is a set price for tracks and album, very much like iTunes, but you can also pay an amount that you think is suitable with the “pay what you want” option. Another good thing about it is the advert free environment it offers. It’s very much like Easy Jet in the sense of “no frills”–there aren’t any distractions such as adverts or friends’ updates and comments. What you are trying to sell/offer plays the only role in your service and is not diluted by any other elements.

“But, Laura, I want to watch Nicki Minaj’s new music video!” Don’t fret reader, that’s what YouTube is there for. It’s simple, straight forward and free. That’s the beauty about it. No commitment necessary. It is a virtual one night stand and you don’t even have to cook it breakfast.

This simplicity is also the endearing factor of Spotify. Like another video-less YouTube, it supplies the listener with hours of free music and the ability to create your own playlists. You can even share your playlists on Facebook or discover the music preferences of your friends (word of advice: giving your playlist a name that you think is cool and funny is in fact terribly embarrassing). The only downside about this service is the limited amount of times you can replay a song (up to five replays) if you chose the free service option.

These platforms are amazing for anyone who loves music and wants to discover more about a specific genre or find similar artists. It has made life for artists much easier as people have become more willing to search for music that is offered for free, thus shooting the artist into a level of stardom higher and faster than hours and weeks of tweaking and advertising strategies in Sony or Universal. The only important thing that should be extracted from this article is my plea on behalf of most artists to use these sites to their full potential and discover there is much more out there. Technology like this is putty in our hands. We just need to move things around a bit to create something brand new.

By Laura Henry