The Long Tail theory has been my security blanket since I first encountered it, despite the way the concept has been abused and misunderstood since then. It analyzes a changing marketplace where progressive and non-mainstream art can survive the implosion of the music industry. I’ve seen these trends at work with a lot of my peers who are able to carve out decent careers in relative obscurity.
I had not really thought about the drawbacks of nicheification until Chris Rizik of SoulTracks.com dropped this sharp piece that cites Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the end of an era of shared cultural reference points through music.
While the pursuit of the hit has become downright tyrannical and led to the current arms race of records (and careers) that are down to a maximum shelf life of a year and falling, there’s something to be said for landmark records that burn themselves into the shared cultural landscape.
Lots of concepts to ponder, like how this fragmentation has parallels in what we’re currently seeing in the presidential race:
In the political scene, at least, the short term results have been abysmal, as parochial media have played their role in polarizing “red” and “blue” America, effectively demonizing people of good will with differing opinions. And the increased media stratification will continue a sort of cultural mitosis, splitting us into thousands of mini-empires, each suspicious of those who look, think and act differently.
It also helps me make sense of a conundrum that gives me a headache every time I contemplate it – which is how is it possible that black music is currently wallowing in a cesspool of homogeneous coonery while simultaneously producing so much solid, forward thinking material that I can’t keep up with it all? If modern black music was mapped out like a Venn diagram, the circles would rarely touch, much less overlap.
I guess the important thing is not to allow the convenience of insularity to breed contempt. It’s just so hard to avoid, especially when you’re marginalized by what’s popular.