Nothing is as Good as Something: Paradoxical Strategies for the Postmodern Guitarist

Recently I was whining that people like you and I no longer have an audience. What does it mean when I say that ‘nobody’ is listening any longer? Let’s put it into perspective:

From the end of August to mid-September 2010 I had 71 unique ‘listeners’ who ‘played’ 491 songs at my Reverb Nation page; from the end of Sept. through the first week of October I had 108 unique visitors who played 609 songs.  Without context these numbers are meaningless. I’m doing about as well as my friends making oddball guitar music. Here’s where I’m charting in the ‘Other’ category as of the end of September through the first week of October 2010:

Local: 1
National: 100
Global: 206

To find me on the national charts you’d have to go down to page four; at one point earlier in 2010 I had a brief fling with page two and three but have since fallen into ill repute.

Of course, this has all changed now but continue reading -- the punchline is amazing.

Among my circle of associates (virtually all of whom also populate the ‘other’ category and all of whom use RN) I found only three in the top 1000 on the national chart:

650: Marco Oppedisano
667: AlienSporeBomb
706: David and the Tiny Daggers

All of these guys appear to be doing remarkably well on the RN (Other) charts (they’re all in the top 5% of musicians and bands); the bottom of the national genre stretches down past 17,250 but as we can see from my numbers ‘remarkably well’ is actually pretty bad. Well before you get down to the bottom you find yourself in the land of 1 and 2 fans.

Now, some of these guys (like me) are using other music download sites like MySpace or Band Camp in conjunction with RN so they each do better or worse depending on the site they steer their listeners toward. If we were to examine the numbers from MySpace or whatever you’d probably find similar numbers with the order of musicians moved around. However, I suspect that RN is giving us a fairly accurate representation of the current state of affairs: doing ‘well’ at online music promotion is providing the left-of-center guitarist about as much monthly exposure as playing one or two small gigs a month at a local venue to an audience of approximately 60 warm bodies.

The optimist in me celebrates: 60 listeners without the hassle of booking a show, loading in and out, and best of all no wear and tear on my equipment (or back).

The pessimist in me realizes that the Internet is not all it was cracked up to be. I doubt that of the 60 people to visit my page in the last couple of weeks even half listened to more than a few seconds of my noise. But, then again, playing live can be much the same kind of experience. The benefits of live performance are not in the quantitative aspects but in the joy of playing and meeting new people -- not to mention the $12 in your pocket and a pitcher of warm beer. But that’s neither here nor there.

So the Internet has failed to live up to its potential? Let’s remember that the Internet was supposed to give us the opportunity to cultivate an ever-expanding international audience. Along with actively cultivating a fan base the fans were supposed to rely on searches and word of mouth to find you as well. Actually, it’s not that the Internet itself is the problem. Rather, it’s the way we use the technology that leads to our perpetual self-defeat. The Internet is only as good as the personality types that exploit it, or perhaps the way the Internet is constructed to accentuate unhealthy personality traits in otherwise normal people.

Of course, the original and unavoidable problem is that none of us are Lady Gaga or making commercially viable music to begin with. I guess a lot of people resign themselves to that fact, put their head down, and slog through it with low expectations. Others might not take their music very seriously, they’re just hobbyists after all, so they don’t take the music of others all that seriously. Fair enough. But I think most of the guys in my circle are pretty serious about music and music creation so there’s no excuse for this apathy and dissimulation among friends.

One of the characteristics of psychosis is that people cannot or do not apprehend other people as real and cannot empathize with them – they do not, in other words, put themselves in the other person’s shoes or see themselves through the eyes of the other. Psychotics live in a strange world of their own and use others as tools to further their own agendas. They know what the rules of interaction are, they know how to mimic social conventions and norms but they do not comprehend others at a substantive or emotional level. In short, the psychotic treats others as if they were about as real as cardboard cutouts. I think what you see going on at places like FB is a perfect storm of not simply narcissism, OCD, and ADHD (though, there is a lot of that stuff too) but a real kind of dissociation or virtual psychosis. They’re all normal and decent folks in the ‘real’ world but, online, they’re a bunch of psychos surfing along on a plane of dissociated signifiers: let's call it Internet Psychosis.

To put my thought to the ‘test’ I loaded up a new song that, in my opinion, was pretty damn cool. This new piece elicited the usual mixture of neglect, auto-liking, and a few welcomed and thoughtful comments from a few. I then followed this track with another that consisted of nothing more than silence: a non-song, half a minute of nothing. Just as if I had asked folks to listen to actual sound the reaction to this nothingness was consistent with any other ‘song’ I have asked people to listen to. Just by looking at the responses to my ‘song’ you’d never suspect that there was literally nothing there. Paradoxically, I think it is fair to say that I could achieve just as much online ‘success’ peddling nothing as I could something.

In a realm characterized by a kind of mild, technologically induced psychosis, nothing is literally just as good as something.

Taking the experiment further, I suspect a person could create a band account and, loading up nothing but track after track of silence, move their ‘band’ right up the charts with the same rate of friend accumulation and networking success, etc., as if they were promoting actual music. I doubt very many people would notice.