In last week’s column, I reflected on what television has become over the last decade—a trend that has become even more solidified in 2012. With the rise of DVRs and streaming video-on-demand, we’re seeing a pronounced rise in serial dramas, shows with complex storylines and impeccably-developed characters. As television shows are devoured, in many cases, a season or two at a time, writers have begun to cater to “binge viewers,” and are worrying less about writing to viewers who are tuning in after missing an episode or two. They can be less concerned about dwindling viewership as the season progresses—as viewers miss a few episodes and don’t bother to come back.
In other words, the creators and writers have been unchained from the restrictions that conventional viewing once imposed upon them. Their creativity is less stifled, the writing is better, and we all benefit.
Similarly, we’ve seen a trend emerge this year in the world of music, as musicians—struggling in an environment of huge label conglomerates that are barely getting by—break free of the industry conventions and resolve to blaze their own trail. In 2012, it seemed more possible than ever to break out and make a name for yourself without the backing of the industry’s big machine.
Writing for Vulture.com, music critic Nitsuh Abebe recalled: “The spirit of 2012 seemed like a good one. The world increasingly stopped worrying over the complex infrastructure of music—press, labels, scenes, career arcs, ‘relevance,’ chart performance—and embraced the notion of a messy, tangled wilderness one tramps through in search of meaningful experiences, not mapmaking.”
And again, we have the digital revolution to thank for that. We now live in a world where independent musicians can seek out and foster a community of fans from across the globe. Projects can be funded through Kickstarter campaigns, and distribution is no longer a factor. Songs and videos can go viral instantly, launching careers. We saw it with Gotye. And, for good or ill, the Korean star PSY became a global sensation overnight with his video for “Gangnam Style.” At last check, PSY had banked more than $8 million off the success of “Gangnam Style.”
This is the world we now occupy. This is the world that gave us some of the biggest stars on the planet—like Justin Bieber. Which isn’t to say that Bieber is not, in many ways, a product of the record company that swooped in and signed him, or the artists who have helped mold him along the way. But Justin was discovered the way that countless other great talents are hoping to be: by sharing their music on the digital street corners of the World Wide Web and hoping that someone notices. As Abebe notes, “Musicians seem ever-more aware that if there’s no safe route, no label or publicist that knows better than you how to get ahead, the richest course is to create the music and the community you want.”
The world of independent film is very similar, as up-and-coming filmmakers pursue their passion. As major studios have come to lean so heavily on franchises and remakes—which are proven money-makers—the odds of one taking a chance on a genuinely innovative and smart film by an unknown crew is almost nonexistent. Nevertheless, with Kickstarter and Indiegogo fundraising campaigns, many films are being bankrolled by their intended audiences. And with 24-hour online rentals and digital downloads, independent filmmakers are no longer forced to live and die at the whim of selection committees for a handful of film festivals.
Make no mistake—the world of entertainment is, and always will be, feast or famine. But in 2012, we have continued to usher in an age in which more voices are able to be heard. It’s never been easier for independent artists to create the content they love, to follow their passions, and find an audience for it. And that can only be a good thing.
Originally printed in “Pulse,” 12/20/2012.
© Damien Willis, 2011. All rights reserved.