Column: Music television – Web Exclusive

Thom Carter | Staff Writer

I’m curious as to when the last time so-called “music channels” placed a band deservedly into the spotlight through extensive airtime of things like music videos, interviews and live performances. The argument regarding stations like MTV and the lack of music it actually airs is one that has been chewed up and spat out since the network became populated with reality shows depicting what life would be like if you were sporting a bulbous baby bump, leading a sappy “true” life, or orange with a reasonably high tolerance for hard liquor. Gone are the days of the early and mid-90s where music genres like alternative and rap found footholds in mainstream music when MTV brought them to the masses. Music television has become reality television, and as fewer deserving artists earn the spotlight and viewers stop tuning in, exposure and discovery of new music has had to adapt, thus creating a revolution in a process where music channels once excelled. 

With the absence of actual music on T.V., new, exciting ways of discovering music have quickly filled that crevice. As waves upon waves of new artists exposing themselves on the internet fill it, publicity on MTV has been replaced by musicians sharing and uploading stripped down songs made in basements with budget recording equipment. All it takes is a keen ear and a listener willing to dig deep to make a band quickly become an overnight sensation. Take the Arctic Monkeys, a British band from the city of Sheffield. Enormous hype surrounded the band thanks to a few demos featured on their MySpace page until they signed with Domino Records shortly thereafter. The band’s debut album, perhaps the most anticipated ever in Britain, became the fastest-selling ever in the country with over 360,000 in its first week alone.

Atypical instances not involving the web have made some artists unexpectedly successful as well. M.I.A., the highly political Sri Lankan rapper, already had a pair of albums under her belt before her rise to prominence, namely in the States. Her song “Paper Planes,” with its addictive beat borrowed from The Clash’s “Straight to Hell,” became an international hit after it was featured in a trailer for the stoner comedy “Pineapple Express.” Commercials have made a similar impact. Nick Drake was a singer-songwriter whose untimely death at age 26 cut his fruitful career far too short. None of his three albums, released from 1969 to 1972, sold more than 5,000 copies each in their initial run. Decades later in 1999, Volkswagen used his song “Pink Moon” in a TV spot for their latest cabriolet. Within a month after the commercial, his albums had sold more than they had in the past 30 years.

As sad as it may be to see “Jersey Shore” and “True Life” define a majority of MTV’s programming, they come as blessings in disguise. While artists were limited in their ways of finding even remote success a decade ago, an entire wave of music is now thriving amongst a plethora of websites ready to accommodate any taste in music. It’s a quiet revolution, one that is thrusting the reins of creativity into the hands of the artist.