Duff McKagan: Rock Has Changed, My (Facebook) Friends

Deanne Deesay
Watch a slideshow of McKagan's band, Loaded, at the Crocodile on April 9.Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb.
So here I go again; off on yet another of the by-now-countless rock tours required to support a new record (I think the count now stands at 10 records, hence 10 tour campaigns). Doing this for the past 20-odd years has afforded me a serious bird's-eye view of just how drastic this business of music has changed.

"Hey! I'm your Facebook friend!" is probably the most common greeting a band or artist hears out here on the road these days. For a band to even think about a mere modicum of success these days, they must know how to reach the listener or potential fan via the Internet. Back in the day, radio was the one-and-only vehicle a band or artist had to get any recognition outside their hometown. Today, pretty much all the rock radio stations are owned by one or two corporate conglomerates whose only interest is to sell advertising space. Advertisers don't want anything close to danger anywhere even remotely close to their product being pimped. This makes for really safe and REALLY boring radio. (We are lucky in Seattle, though. KISW has somehow kept a bit of individuality and honor, playing what they want on Joleen's show, etc.) You may wonder why it is that you hear the same 10 fucking songs on your local station. These 10 songs have been "tested" vigorously.

Song testing is a very interesting thing. Well, interesting if you like lame. At song-testing sites, they will find an audience (usually for free pizza and 50 bucks) and play a certain rock song for them. In front of each audience member, there is a sheet of paper that informs the participant to choose one of the following:

A) I would turn the channel if I heard this song

B) I would turn the volume UP if I heard this song

C) I would turn the volume down if I heard this song

D) I would do nothing If I heard this song

Interestingly enough, D is the answer they are looking for. That's right, if you feel no emotion toward the song, you are more likely not to touch the dial at all. Not unlike a sheep, you would just continue listening to that channel and be pummeled by the commercials when those came along too.

OK, so we as fans and artists have transcended commercial radio and other pitfalls of the major record labels and corporate bullshit. Bands have figured out that while, yes, they won't sell as many records because of illegal digital downloading, these same bands can get more exposure from MySpace, YouTube, and other Internet means of social networking. More visibility in the ether can mean more people at your show buying your T-shirts and maybe even your CD. (I have noticed that fans WILL buy your music at a venue. Maybe it is the excitement that is generated by the live show that pushes the fan to further support the artist. I dunno.)

Fans can now find really obscure and independent acts just by taking cues from links on YouTube, etc. My eldest daughter finds all the new music she listens to by these means. By the time an artist "blows up" in a commercial sense, kids like my daughter are WAY past it. Metal Sludge and Blabbermouth are popular places too to find the latest news and gossip about your favorite band, putting a strain on paper publications like Rolling Stone and Spin.

But maybe there is a grassroots backlash a-brewin'. Kids will come up to us guys in Loaded and constantly ask if we are going to put out our newest record on vinyl. Yes, vinyl is really making a comeback, even sparking the major labels to press older catalogues on vinyl again. Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart all have put up vinyl sections in their stores. Independent record stores are again becoming the "hip" place to hang out for youth. (I just visited a record store in Nashville called Grimey's that had at least 1,000 kids show up when some local acts played in their back parking lot. It seemed like every one of them had a new vinyl purchase tucked under their arm). Who knows, perhaps Cream and Hit Parader will come out of forced retirement?

Yeah, I guess it just comes down to the fact that EVERYTHING is pretty much cyclical. Whether it's economic recessions we are talking about, or the need to hear music in a warm analog. I just hope that '90s junkie-chic and skinny "boy-looking" fashion models never come back in vogue. THAT was a bad period that should just be forgotten.

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