Knock on wood, but I’ve been lucky with the internet. My email address, though prominently featured on several websites, has never really been subject to spam. I’ve never actually been privy to any of those emails about erectile dysfunction, modification, or alternate usage of any sort. I haven’t been sent one of those forwards about saving the seven year old from internet-cancer since high school. Nobody has ever tried selling me anything involving ointment, cartilage, or cell phone batteries being used for things unsanitary in nature. It’s nice, really, to only get emails from people who read this column and people I know personally (these two groups seemingly never coalesce.) However, a couple of weeks ago, I got this email from someone who supposedly read this column and decided to give me some free information, some survey information, taken from the audience of people who drink these people’s beer.
I was being solicited by a beer company, and at once this was exciting and detesting. They gave me several paragraphs of “useful” musical nuggets that I could use, free of charge, on this website. Naturally, if I were to dedicate an entire column to this beer companies’ survey information, then surely I’d at least have the common courtesy to give them a plug. It never said that in the email, but I could tell it was implied. I could also tell it wasn’t complete spam. The beer company exists (it’s British), the phone numbers check out, and the names all appear real. I asked some close colleagues of mine as to what exactly I should do with this opportunity. Oddly, just about everyone told me to ask this beer company for money to sponsor the column for yet more information. This was odd because these people had read my articles (when goaded, they read) and I’m not sure at any point have I ever claimed a wish to have giant corporate sponsorship. Actually, I’m fairly certain I’ve wished for exactly the opposite.
Before moving any further with the column, I decided to email this beer company and ask them exactly what they expected from me. As of this point I have not received a response, and since I think two weeks is a fair estimate to assume that if they haven’t responded, they ain’t gonna, I’m going to go ahead and do a little responding of my own in the realm of this column. I’d like to think I’ve got my finger on the pulse of what music is on people’s minds right now, or at least the demographic I’m a part of. However, if this survey information I’ve been given is to be taken seriously (though there are certainly parts of the information itself that bring itself into question) then it shows that not only do I not have a clue what I’m talking about, but neither does anyone else either.
The information they gave me was based on 3,500 votes tallied somewhere, at some point in time, while likely in a bar in England at one in the morning. At the top of this email is a quote that states “Our online survey series continues to produce incredibly surprising and entertaining answers that reveal the humor and colorful personality of drinkers, paralleling the brand’s unconventional personality”. After stating that their drinkers have clearly unconventional tastes, they give me their first survey result: “It wasn’t too surprising that the majority of those surveyed (24.9%) felt that Coldplay’s new album, “X & Y,” was the most anticipated album of the summer. However, we were thrown for a loop to learn that the second most anticipated new album (23%) was Willie Nelson’s forthcoming reggae album, “Countryman.” The newly created Rastaman, who is set to co-star as Uncle Jesse in the long-awaited remake of “Dukes of Hazard,” smoked out Foo Fighters’ “In Your Honor” (19.3%), System of a Down’s “Mesmerize” (11.8%), “Monkey Business” from the Black Eyed Peas (11.1%), 311’s “Don’t Tread on Me” (5.8%), and Kanye West’s upcoming album “Late Registration” (4.1%).”
I’ll let slide that they called Willie Nelson “Rastaman” as well as calling Dukes of Hazard “Anticipated”, but what catches me as problematic in this survey is that there are seven albums here, all of them extremely mainstream, and yet only one of them released during “Summer” (In Your Honor was released in July). The fact that there are seven albums shows me that this survey was likely not a fill-in-the-blanks sort. The answers were on the page, and all the drunkards had to do was circle one.
The second survey result was actually scarier: “Although they haven’t recorded a hit song in years, the Rolling Stones’ concert tour is the most highly-anticipated of the summer according to 25.5% of drinkers surveyed. Dave Matthews Band (18.3%), Green Day (16.3%) and Coldplay (13.9%) were among the other top vote-getters. Why do the Stones keep touring? Far as we can tell, it’s because every time they hit the road people still come out in droves to fill the stadium seats. After all, at 300 yards the band still looks like they’re in their twenties.”
At 300 yards, the Stones do not look like they’re in their twenties. They don’t look like anything from that distance. What repulses me most about this sort of commercial-in-disguise is that it doesn’t even do it right. If you’re going to place a sponsored ad in the midst of ‘information’ the idea is to at least appear objective. These guys are clearly shilling product as only a beer company can these days.
I would be worried that music execs were taking this sort of information seriously, but thankfully there are more coercive business models at work that prove this sort of survey absolutely obsolete. If 3,500 people took part in this little debacle, that’s really just a drop in the water compared to what a company like BigChampagne does. This week, Pitchforkmedia provided an expose on the filesharing-watchdog company, and had this to describe the operation: “BigChampange didn’t promise to save the industry, but they offered to help the labels look past what they lost in sales and see what they had gained in raw information. By watching what millions of people were sharing, trading, and actively searching for, they collected reams of data that in turn fed artist development and marketing plans….On top of tracking who swaps what from what location, BigChampagne also searches the libraries of everyone who’s online. If a new artist starts to gain fans, you can tell what else those fans listen to– whether your new Lindsay Lohan is a bigger hit with teen girls or with their moms, whether it makes sense to push a new singer-songwriter through Starbucks, and on and on. Compare this to a few years ago, when you could sell a record to someone at a store and not even know what other albums they bought that day; now, entire libraries are laid bare and ready for dissection.”
The difference between these two types of information-gathering is a matter of consciousness. The beer company is gathering information through a pre-designed survey with pre-authorized answers led to skew answers into the favor of a mainstream artist so they can receive free advertising by this beer company so that maybe next time the band is in town they’ll hold up said beer in a photo-op (I can only assume). BigChampagne is more akin to Santa Clause; watching what you’re doing when you don’t even realize you’re doing it, and keeping a list of who’s naughty and who’s nice. Of the two, BigChampagne will always get the more honest information because they’re spying on us while we steal music (fair trade, some might say) without most of us realizing it. The beer companies’ idea is basically what music companies did before the advent of file sharing, and it’s something better referred to as ‘shooting in the dark’. With these watchdogs constantly surveying the scene and watching it unfold naturally, they will be much better equipped to sell us what we really want when the times comes (that time being when the music labels finally figure out a way to profit off illegal file sharing).
Not completely convinced that this beer company is all filler, no killer? Here’s the last bit of survey info: “When asked which band they thought would be the first to break up, the majority of respondents (36.8%) chose pop/ska favorites No Doubt, citing that Gwen Stefani would probably continue her stellar solo career and leave her bandmates behind. Party rockers Velvet Revolver came in second place with 29.4% of the vote, followed by the Black Eyed Peas (17.2%), a still popular band that just may be getting a little tired of “getting it started.”
In each of the options, there are flaws. Gwen Stefani hasn’t exactly had a stellar solo career (one pop album does not a career ever make). Velvet Revolver are not and never have been referred to as “party rockers”, and the Black Eyed Peas don’t have a song called “Lets Get it Started”. It’s called a Radio Edit, but that would only be knowledge privy to people who have actually listened to the album and not just the singles. And no band has ever broken up simply by a surveyed rumor (unless you count Oasis’ traditional split after every tour).
The wonderful part about all this is that word of mouth actually means something now. Since we know that there’s a big brother out there watching everything we do, every file we share becomes relevant stock information. The more you share The Arcade Fire, the more radio stations will play it. The less you share Jessica Simpson, the less chance she’ll have another season of that reality show. Everyone’s voices are being heard by invisible companies collecting stock data to sell record companies, but hey, it’s working. And while this beer company is probably right in thinking that the Stones will outsell everyone in the concert season, it’s not like they came across that information by great detective work. Most of the survey answers in the rest of the email were just as “Duh” inspiring as the ones I’ve shown you. They have the journalistic integrity of Star magazine’s rumor mill and the clever puns of something even less holy, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong in any large way. They’re just choosing the direction of the most obvious right, which thankfully gets leers in the music community (and the reason there’s a backlash against that Coldplay album everyone anticipated so much).
On the other hand, it was nice for a while thinking we all knew so much more about good music than the record labels and beer companies (oh, you know they share common ground). Now that these guys have hired spies to infiltrate our information so that they can sell us properly, it’s going to take a little fun out of it.
Still, I would much rather listen to a radio station full of songs chosen by companies after spying on all our personal play lists than the radio stations we have now. Part of me has a problem with Stars and The Arcade Fire and Bedouin Soundclash being played on major radio stations because now I can no longer claim exclusivity on the songs, but at the end of the day I’d much rather listen to them on the dial then another Green Day or Theory of a Deadman single. The music snob in me hates all of this, but the pure music lover in me is dancing, and really, isn’t that how it should be?