24 min read

Virtual Unreality: Music Edition

What Did The Internet Tell You About This Song?

REOL looks at the rubbish on the Internet.

Charles Seife’s book Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet Told You, How Do You Know It’s True? inspired this post.

For the digital audience that loves music.

In 2016, Steven J. Horowitz from Genius published a story about one Cali The Producer, a 20-year old Austrian guy who edited Wikipedia pages to credit himself witha litany of smash singles” and contributions to major albums. Even music publications like Complex and FADER and official press releases fell for his ersatz resumé. It was only when certain passionate people bothered to dig a little deeper did the web of deceit begin to unravel.

What’s really interesting was how he reacted when interviewed by Genius. Not only did he deny editing Wikipedia, he went on an elaborate story of how was actually a ghost producer and other people were the ones who took and changed them – spite of contradictions, evidence and the fact that nobody from the actual labels even knew who he was.

At first, he used language that implied he really believed in his own story, that people simply refuse to give him credit. Then, slowly, curiously, but unsurprisingly, under legal pressure, he removed things tweets that credited him to producing Bieber’s song and other things. In the end, he went from ghost producer to ghosting – not replying.

Horowitz described the case as such:

It’s a perplexing case of creative ownership for contemporary times, one where an aspiring musician can falsely build his or her artistic profile with a click of a button and a few keystrokes, sharing glory for work that others did, without having to do any of the work.

Fraud on the Internet is nothing new, but stretching it out to this extent over such a long period of time, and continuously getting away with it, is something that the music industry had yet to see.

And yet, if the media and music fans are relying on the claims of a single individual who is updating crowd-sourced information databases, and taking those updates for fact, who’s to say what’s real and what isn’t?

This is the curious case of an aspiring producer who deliberately used sock puppetry as a marketing tactic and hopefully swindle his way into an actual deal. The ironically funny part is this: The internet tricked people, yet the internet also helped solve the case. The difference here, and the moral of the story, is this. Don’t be lazy. Always do your research.

And this is just the beginning.

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What did the internet do to music? What does it mean for us?

White Noise, Red Theatre

A pop star in the internet era is defined by a large view count, equally large following, high number of likes, high social media engagement. Add some songs or song covers, type in “music” or “singer” in the category or description and now *poof* an amazingly talented musician comes out.

If you want to get people to believe something really, really stupid, just stick a number on it.
– Charles Seife

The social validation that YouTube comments can give is insidious. You might watch a new music video by your favourite artist and then feel, just based purely on taste, that you might not like it. You then take a leisurely scroll down the comments section, see the number of overwhelming positive responses, see counter responses to comments that even seem negative, start doubting your initial thoughts about the song being not very good and subsequently change your mind.

Positive Comments

Music is an intimate, personal experience with the singer. If you judge a song negatively, be prepared to receive a harsh response – even if it was made in jest. From people you’ll never even meet in real life, whose names you will never know. They don’t react this way out of malice, but out of sympathy, respect, and admiration for what they believe these insanely hardworking individuals have gone through.

They react out of perceived malice from youThis is especially the case for K-Pop boy and girl bands, like the infamously cutthroat and cult-like ARMY, where fans are a bit more sensitive, because their idols are an image of perfection whose songs are venerated as biblical verses only they can understand and whose beautiful faces belong to them. For ARMY in particular, it’s also partly because they’re still reeling from the unfair, even racist, hate toward their idols from the BBMAs.

Also, having invested so much in supporting the musicians – like attending concerts, buying albums, watching tons of variety shows, making digital art, writing fan fiction – they will naturally take any attack on the artist as a criticism of their life choices, and hence themselves. Because hate comments are driven by emotion, younger fans are extremely vulnerable to false news or assumptions on the internet. Once the retweets pile up, and this is an especially large fanbase in the millions, an accusation that seems legit but may not even be true becomes a cesspool of “justified” hate.

Thankfully, at the heart of fandom, there are those like Hanbean who will address the issue. Their efforts will go a long way in nurturing a much better fandom. Once more, the moral of the story is. Don’t be lazy. Always do your research.

Hopsin FLY Criticism

Respectful or thoughtful criticism on the music itself might get a much less aggressive response.

Witty Comment [MV] 탑독 (ToppDogg) - TOPDOG

On the other hand, when you show some witty appreciation for the music, or perhaps just playful wit in general, you’ll likely get a lot of approval from the same group of people.

Even the way a video page on YouTube is designed is such that the comments would creep into our field of vision after a little scrolling. What’s more, top comments are usually eye catching in some manner, because YouTube has an algorithm that ensures the coolest comment gets served up first. Even if you were looking for related videos, the comments will peek at you – at least on desktop. After all, what’s the first thing you do after watching a video?

We do not watch a music video for the music. We watch it for a chance to show our adoration to our favourite musician. There is no difference between Mozart or a modern living artist. We watch it to pen a witty comment to farm likes. We watch it, expecting once more for the familiar faces to smile as they sing to us, telling us thing we want to hear.

SHINee Jonghyun Comments

If the artist were recently departed, like Chester Bennington or Kim Jonghyun, we watch to mourn them together with people we meet in the comments section.

We also watch it to affirm to ourselves that the ideal worlds they live in are actual possible realities, and that we shouldn’t give up on our own secret aspirations but follow them with all their boldness. We watch to return to this sanctuary where it is just us, the musicians, and our connected hearts.

If it were an internet article it’d be easy to ignore or refute ridiculous commentary, but this is music. Logical arguments and rational thought are powerless in the face of overwhelming emotion.

As their sound and personal branding continue to reinforce our definition of what should be considered good music, as well as what or vision of what an ideal man or woman should look like, a music video becomes a kind of validation. We nod in agreement to the lyrics, bobbing our heads to the beat, because we like the person singing it. When Demi Lovato chose to align herself with the LGBT people, they gravitated toward her.

But this overwhelming support is like the devil’s contract, for it has consequences for artists who attempt back out of it. And God forbid you reveal any guilty bias. For years, the Russian duo t.A.T.u were the heroic young girls the LGBT community loved, until Yulia made some comments an interview on how she wouldn’t want a gay son but wouldn’t mind a lesbian daughter as it was aesthetically more pleasing. Social outrage naturally followed.

To that end, we “tend to shy away from concepts” that challenge our image of what the artist, and what he sings, should be – our image of perfection. In doing so we effectively box these musicians into their genres. Once in a while, some artists might try to awkwardly break that mold, like Katy Perry or Miley Cyrus. Others do it to resounding applause, like David Bowie, someone who wasn’t even shy to use his swan song to turn his…dying into art.

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Loneliness, Connected

How many times have you turned to music as a form of refuge?

Perhaps this is too obvious to note, but when watching a music video, we are not watching people perform anything. We are simply looking at a time stamp, a digital product from the music industry that can be consumed forever, so long as it hasn’t yet been taken down. Our freedom to watch this music video on a whim, can curiously act as a melodic vice chaining us to the past, on a never-ending quest to satisfy our seemingly endless craving for good vibes.

Because it is much easier to access, the privacy afforded by headphones lets us not worry about prejudice, and the singer’s voice is familiar, we gravitate more toward listening to music first before seeking social counsellors in real life. If we do the latter at all.

mozart-requiem-music-sheet-musiceon

The incredible irony is this: When you listen to music cheering you up on your loneliness, insecurities, or failures, when you cuddle up to a song like Lacrimosa, be it from Amy Lee or Kalafina, or even Mozart himself, there’s probably someone else – close or far away, in the café or the library next to you – listening to the exact same song, or from a similar artist, having the same exact worries, and quietly wallowing in the exact same emotions for catharsis.

You’ll never know who, you’ll never meet this person, but in that time, or at least at some point in time, your thoughts and emotions are, or were, about as synchronised together as the group of people who sat together to listen to Vivaldi at an Italian theatre four centuries ago. The purpose for music consumption has not changed, but the audience has expanded – growing in number yet isolated from one another.

This why reaction videos are popular. Even if uploaded by a dorky grandpa. The joy of watching a music video together with someone is something we simply crave. Even in an ever-expanding universe, particles just coalesce together.

The internet allows us to access and enjoy just about any kind of music in the world, yet we are more likely to attend to our personal moods or tastes. Seife mentioned the irony of us having access to almost all information in the world, yet becoming more narrow-minded because we only choose to listen to what we agree with.

Because music is more nuanced, complicated, and emotionally charged. Music, as a digital art form, does not rely on logic. It’s not consumed in the same way as an internet article, instead it’s similar to wine.

It’s so much easier for us to look for different sources of information when looking for facts than trying to find music from different channels. It’s much easier to overcome information bias than taste bias. This is because there are cultural, spiritual, and deeply personal aspects to musical taste.

Above all else, I wish people would have the courage to say what they really think about music, and not be so eternally worried over what somebody else may think and say.
– Sigmund Spaeth (1933)

Streaming services at war don’t help at all. As services like Spotify and Tidal offer more subscriber exclusive content or offers to separate themselves with some kind of uniqueness or cultural gang identity, like Pokémon GO is cleverly doing with Team Valor and Team Mystic, we become more biased. We may have access to almost all music in the world, but cultural attitudes, our own personal likes or dislikes on the singer, or even our own personal changing tastes will continue to limit us.

We consume but do not care to discover. We’re not even the ones to blame, either. Not when the UI on our favourite streaming services keep pushing us to listen to their own curated playlists. We know that “Top 40” simply means popular or mainstream music, but finding new songs which we may fall for forever is hard. The fact that Forgotify even exists is a little sad.

We let an algorithm suggest songs we may like because who has time to find new songs amongst the millions in the catalogue? Even if we try, what do we even type?

It’s not a simple matter of being open minded – thoughts are powerless here. To explore new sounds, we need to open our hearts and clear prejudice, even if the new song we’re about to listen to is a blatant attack on our own selves. And that, is where human music curators become more valuable.

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ARMY of One

In August 2015, an interesting article was published on Cuepoint titled “Streaming Music is Ripping You Off”. It criticized the revenue models of popular streaming services, such as Spotify, pointing how they are vulnerable to “click fraud” easily manipulated by overzealous fans who want the biggest number of streams for their favourite musicians.

The K-Pop industry is notorious in its own way. In wanting to drive more global traffic to its own local CD shops, K-Pop media outlets have convinced the younger fans to buy albums only from their own online store so that it “counts towards the Mnet Charts”. This gives the impression that a fan who buys a K-Pop album from say, Amazon, is not supporting the artist they love – which is made even more pressurising by the charts being shown in live percentages.

To play with Seife’s own words, people don’t think twice (pun intended) about reflexively giving up their time to obsessively replay the music video – something particularly notorious with the K-Pop fandom – and transmitting their personal information to an online store in South Korea that’s trying to make them fervent lovers of Korean faces and culture. In other words, trying to sell them more albums, clothes, bags, and a trip to Jeju Island.

Unless the consumer is a music connoisseur with a lot of free time, it’s unreasonable to expect he will be able to refine his personal playlist too far beyond mainstream music. But it’s possible. On YouTube itself are hundreds of music curators lots of people are turning to, like xKito and Majestic Casual, with endless possible genres.

Music is a curious thing. An audience of one is still an audience. On the internet, one might become many.

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This is Your Brain

Mozart and Musiceon

Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.
– Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Tell me. Who do you think is the greatest music composer in history?

If your answer is to be derived from research on the internet, prepare to be deceived…by the truth. Because it’s likely to be Mozart. It could even be influenced by the above picture. The film Amadeus (1984) directed by Miloš Forman, André Previn fancying himself as a Mozart pianist, Joseph Haydn himself saying “posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years” about Mozart, even the fact that Beethoven composed after Mozart, all serve to uphold his reputation as a music prodigy. The scientific benefits of classical music are named the Mozart Effect. Google search for “classical music” and his lovely portrait is everywhere. In K-Pop, TOPP DOGG’s video for Top Dog favoured Mozart’s victory quite gloriously over a bitter Salieri.

Now it’s surely influenced by the above paragraph. Attention is a sparse commodity. Every second we spend hearing about how glorified one composer is, we’re not learning about the achievements of another.

Music does not care about your interests. Neither does music marketing. When the sound reaches our ears, our soul gets bargained and our heart is played like a fiddle stick. Music, by all terms and definitions, is a love spell, composed to hook you in and drive in feel good endorphins to create pleasant feelings.

Even songs that we initially do not like tend to worm into our brains after a few dozen plays. They do this by being ubiquitous – radio, YouTube recommendations, restaurants – they’re played everywhere. Songs we may never care for continue to intrude the peaceful silence of our minds. And these jingles are the kind ones. The most they give you is an annoying earworm.

It’s when music marketing and research come in that music becomes the sound of distress. Like the social aspect. As our friends excitedly talk about this band’s new song, watch videos together, or else drop a relevant meme in the group chat, we start to worry about whether we should have been in the loop. Them being fans of this band, while you are not, puts you in this awkward position where you either do your own thing or pretend to like the new song too.

Let’s not forget classical music’s desperate bid to outshine other music, by emphasizing that listening to or playing Mozart brings good benefits for the brain. Googling “benefits of classical music” will have the entire Internet conspiring to have you make listening and playing classical music a hobby with very seductive infographics. The research is real, the benefits are real, but not too significant that it makes you any less of a music connoisseur. It is not even life changing in a way that warrants your immediate attention – like love or health.

Psychology studies do not help. Music has been categorized into genres complete with their own psychological profiles. It is said the lovers of pop music tend to be more outgoing, lovers of rock music are more emotional, and hip hop connoisseurs full of ambition. Not only does this give the impression that music lovers tend to stick to one genre, it reinforces certain cultural biases that may not be true. At the same time, musical genres do have cultural roots.

So, when listening to rap for example, remember that while Eminem, Yelawolf and Boondox have embraced this genre with great success, they did so respectfully. The reason they are respected by the community of people from whom they inherited rap music is because they don’t use it as a mic for cultural appropriation. They didn’t try to be another race or pretend to understand other peoples’ problems – they wrote the gangster poetry to tell the story of their own problems.

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Copy or Remix?

mozart-lacrimosa-beethoven-moonlight-sonata

How many modern songs have borrowed the melancholic sound from Mozart’s Lacrimosa or the contemplative keys from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata?

History has always been a bountiful place from where artists reaped inspiration for their future works, sometimes too greedily. It should come as no surprise that nearly every song that has been deemed popular across the world has been hijacked in some manner, mostly for profit. But parodies and covers are the innocent ones. Hell, songs borrowing classical overtures are usually incredible – they even bring more people to listen to the classics.

The un-funny part is when the remake becomes more popular than the original. Latin American music fans did not take too kindly to Luis Fonsi’s Despacito being attributed to Justin Bieber instead of Puerto Rican singer when the latter uploaded a remix to this hit single.

Then there are some…aspiring artists, should we call them, who would name their own songs very similarly to current hits so that when the song is searched for, their song would probably appear too. Also, about that band calling themselves Mew…

Listeners are discovering older songs from the past decade through Nightcore channels, most prominently rock songs. These dreamy, high-pitched renditions end up having more views than their original, partly because of how YouTube works. Some listeners even profess that they like this version better, and this appears to be backed by the view count.

But don’t let view counts fool you into thinking everyone really digs the remix. Rock songs popular a decade ago were consumed via MTV, radio stations and MP3 files. YouTube was born in 2006, and was certainly not the popular music video streaming platform it is today.

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Scarcity

Beethoven Musiceon Baroque Theater

The millions of fans worldwide will not be able attend the concert by their favourite band. It is always the few thousand that are lucky enough, fast enough, or saved enough money. Music gigs, concerts and festivals are the biggest money makers of the music industry.

Limited seats, categorized at different price tiers in proximity to the stage itself, a unique performance, and a chance to witness these artists perform live in their country will turn fans into competitors vying hard for seats to watch something that may only happen once every few years.

But people do not go to a concert to enjoy the music. They go to join an exclusive group of people who have attended that concert. Bragging rights on social media are a just an aftertaste. The very fact that they were present there makes them attractive, as an object of envy elevated by their social circle (who would have loved to attend) or a figure of authority whose comments about the show would be more “credible”.

For a time after the show, people flock to them, full of curiosity, eager to try and imagine what it would have been like for them too. Concert goers who get to meet and greet their idols or manage to secure an autograph get to flaunt on social media too – who wouldn’t?

But the reality of music concerts for the concert goer are not as romantic as they seem. The beautiful promotional videos pull you in to secure a ticket, but god forbid you go to a concert as a newbie without reading up on a concert survival guide. As one can expect, the typical atmosphere is crowded, loud and sweaty. Fans are overzealous with their phones and you’d better cover your ears with military grade earplugs the moment the artist appears on stage.

Does the artist on stage have the right to command their audience? They do. Because house rules apply! Just like in theatre or cinema. Admittedly, the internet has spoiled us into expecting the artist to bow to our every whim. So much so that if the artist requests that we put away our phones at their concert we don’t even care. We feel entitled because we paid, but the only thing we are owed is the performance itself.

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To conclude. Reconsider your relationship with music, and what the internet did to colour your perceptions of it. Understand why fans react in a certain manner when we choose to criticize their idols instead of their music or their circumstances. Know that view counts mean little to personal music taste. Be critical of sketchy information online about music, and everything else too.

Above all, know that music is a force that even the internet can’t tame.

Legit Trump Tweet

Here’s a totally legit like I swear by Internet Rule 34 definitely not edited tweet of Trump on BTS.

REOL - Gimme A Break Stop Now

Come on man don’t look at me like that.

❤ MUSELETTER
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