Numa Numa Syndrome: WTF Is Wrong With The Music Industry
Dear reader, I’ve got some humble advice for you if you’re in the music-making business and intend to get your hands on a pile of cash as quickly as possible. Don’t try to land an album deal with that special someone of a label. Don’t play lots of local shows to build up a loving fanbase. Instead, why don’t you try making an obnoxious single with an even more obnoxious music video (bonus points if it’s a fan-made video for that extra cringe), and hype it like you’re Billy Mays?
I’m sure you’ve heard your fair share of internet-only Big Hit Singles—Still trying to forget Friday, anyone? You know the type; it’s the kind of track you’d hear late at night at the club to a groan from the audience, the type of track that plays on repeat and gets on your nerves the one time you’re hanging out with your friend who’s an expert on cool stories and being a tool and stealing your money.
They were probably catchy in all the wrong ways, and belovedly yelled by Skullcandy-wearing young types at every opportunity. A lot of these singles have a shelf-life that’s surprisingly short, but some of them don’t have the decency to die. And that’s what I’m here to yell about today: just how much time people waste listening to these things over and over, and more importantly, why that’s troublesome.
Don’t get me wrong, I respect and am appropriately admiring of artists who go from zero to hero by tweaking that magic dial on the Internet Hype Machine, but this is NUTS. Ylvis’s The Fox has got the band 55+ million views on YouTube, and that number is still increasing rapidly. In about three weeks. A month ago, almost nobody outside of Norway even knew the band’s name, and this week they were on Ellen DeGeneres, gettin’ eyeballs from millions of Americans. So what’s the big deal?
Well, let’s think about just how much time people have spent wasted listening to that same song. If YouTube’s viewer stats are to be believed, about 75% of some 55 million views of the video have been from Americans, or about a twentieth of our adult population. The average American listens to about 2,920 hours of music a year, and we’ve already spent more than two million of those hours listening to one song. TWO MILLION.
Those two million hours could’ve been spent doing…something, anything, productive, goddamn. Of course, we could have collectively been doing wonderful things like saving the environment or raising money for local charities, but even if all we spent those hours on was listening to music, if they all avoided the obnoxious meme single du jour, we could’ve had people expand their horizons, listen to hundreds of new tracks, and generally feel like real musically-knowledgeable individuals.
In real life, according to Youtube and Soundcloud viewer statistics, the majority of people who listen to a viral single like The Fox or whichever one you happen to loathe the most aren’t doing it for the first time. Uploaders know this—after all, some 90% of people who upload videos to YouTube want them to go viral. But what kind of message does this send to artists that we want to succeed?
Will the carrot of a viral single and insta-fame prevent artists from spending time on projects like concept albums or carefully-orchestrated singles and EPs? When a band’s single goes viral, do they pretty much instantly lose their artistic cred? I don’t have the answers.