Premieres are the mullets of the music industry. They embody the worst of the music media of our era. There will never be a revival. No one will ever be nostalgic for them and years from now everyone is going to laugh at how stupid they look in screenshots.
For those of you who aren’t industry wonks, a “premiere” is when a blog or SoundCloud or YouTube account streams your music ahead of release. They began at a time social media had tilted the leverage of power in the industry decisively toward the artist and label and away from the media which had been the traditional gatekeepers of cool and weren’t too fucking thrilled to see that power slipping away.
The leverage tilted back in old media’s favor when, thanks to the sheer glut of new music, blogs and sites were able to demand “exclusives” to certain tracks. Many sites will not even deign to write about a record without being also given exclusive rights to “premiere” the release. This is insane.
You now often have five tracks from a single EP being spread out to five separate sites for “premieres.” The website gets to suck up some bloody page views they would otherwise have had to earn, often with filler text completely plagiarized from one-sheets or otherwise so insipid that it’s borderline useless even for ad copy (ad copy in the music industry, if you haven’t noticed, is not exactly troubadour poetry. Sinking below this level while purporting to be a publisher is a kind perverse accomplishment.)
The music media is wearing a giant mullet and none of them like it and none of them think it looks good.
What do artists get from premieres? They get a pop in the form of a four digit play count (sometimes), more insipid commentary for which SoundCloud comments are infamous (“epic here” “great tunes” “love this”).
And, presumably, sales. But we live in black box. I would guess someone buys records based upon premieres, but I doubt there’s hard evidence of this. Anecdotally, I would suggest that many people listen to them for five seconds while standing in line at Starbucks. A major and maybe even the most important part of marketing a record now relies on anecdotes and wishful thinking.
What is it that artists don’t get out of the arrangement? Quite a lot, and most importantly they surrender the power to promote themselves at a time when it’s all about promoting yourself. Every post that they direct to someone else’s blog is brokering away their own potential to create and connect with an audience. Many struggling artists are fragmenting their own reach and blunting their future power to reach it for the glory of a “premiere” of dubious effectiveness. Artists – but especially young artists – should be building up their own profiles. I’ve seen the numbers and I often see artists driving more traffic to premieres than many blogs bring to the show. This is just another form of gatekeeping and giving middlemen power over what you’ve created.
Yes, you’re reading this right: this is a media op-ed chastizing artists for giving power to media. Because that’s what we do here. Long ago I heard Steve Albini tell an audience that the only people you should ever concern yourself with in the music industry are the artists and the fans. They’re the only ones that matter. Everyone else is a middleman trying to shave a penny off a dollar as it passes through their hands. I think he had a point.
Artists should be building up their own profiles, reaching their own audiences. Premieres might help in that, but unfortunately this passing fad has taken on a life of its own. Even Entertainment Weekly – a dinosaur that survived the cataclysm – is running them.
Secondly – and this is rather beside the point, but it’s important – most premieres suck. They’re terrible. This is now about cheap filler providing inexpensive content to fill an editorial hole. The last thing any publication should want is to expend more words praising really shitty music because you have an exclusive “premiere” and a day on a calendar to fill.
Media fails when it promotes trash because it has to promote something and trash is the only thing on hand. This is I guess where I say “Sorry, not sorry.” But I’m really not.
This is why 5 Mag does not do premieres. We are pro-artist and pro-fan and premieres are decidedly the antithesis of that. You can take this as our official statement, describing a policy that we’ve always followed but never articulated. We do not endorse them, we do not encourage them and we will not in the future link to them. This is a trend that has gone amok and we don’t want any part of it.
How do you get in 5 Mag? Make something. Package it up. Send it to us (and follow our guidelines. They’re not hard.) If we like it, we’ll share it. Everyone should share good music. That’s how simple this is. That’s how simple it always was. How the fuck did something so simple get so complicated?