I recently wrote a piece on changes in the music industry brought on by the migration of virtually everything from creation, through promotion to distribution and consumption online. I used the rise of Gen Z phenom Billie Eilish, and the role played by social media in her ascent as an example of the powerful changes that are reshaping the industry. I left one set of observations to treat separately in a short follow-up piece. Although everyone under thirty is familiar with what I will call the web multiplier effect on the popular song, I would like to draw out some implications and just see where they go.

A Video Eco-System

In the digiverse when a song sparks enthusiasm and broad audience interest, several things happen with astonishing speed.

Pull-Up the Covers

Within days fans will be able to watch renditions of the song across the musical spectrum from classical guitar, to heavy metal thrash, to many iterations from people just sitting in a bedroom doing their imitative thing.

Move to the Dancers

Almost as quickly web-based choreographers get hold of the song and turn it into modern dance.

Reaction Reverb

Add to this the less creative but ubiquitous ‘reaction videos’ wherein everyone from other artists to vocal coaches to the average online Joe sits there with the song in a window in the corner of the their screen and well — ‘reacts’ to it, sometimes in emotional overdrive, sometimes actually making insightful points about the piece.  This reaction dynamic seems to have no natural limit. You then get the original artist reacting to the reactions and then other reactors reacting to the original artist reacting to the ………

It is kind of like throwing the original song into a deep canyon and listening to it echo endlessly off the walls.

Is Interaction Changing Original Content?

Now I know that many of these iterations are attempts to capitalize on song momentum for self-promotion; but that is not the aspect of this phenomenon that primarily interests me. What this digital response does in effect is thrust the song itself into a hall of mirrors where these imitative reflections can actually bring out aspects of the creation that may have only been latent in the original — turn the song into something of a collective enterprise. Where does this go in the future? For years critics have noted that TV and movie making are fundamentally collaborative creative exercises. Will song creation move in that direction?. Will an artist leave the fourth verse unfinished and throw it out there to a coterie of devoted acolytes for lyrical input? Will alternate versions of the original creation be embraced by the artist, adapted in their own right and thrust back out on the web in a continuous feedback loop ? How will this adaptive panoply colour original creation itself? One thing is very clear, if you admire a piece of current popular music, you can go far into this hall of mirrors to enhance your appreciation and critical reaction (this journey can also include trenchant comments in various comment threads on Reddit, YouTube, etc., if you have the intestinal fortitude to wade through rivers of drivel to find the occasional gold nugget). Or you can just fan up, view the song you love from many angles and work on your dance moves. Excuse me, I have to go now, someone is reacting to me reacting to someone who reacted to me after I……………..

Confirming Talent -- Not Just Finding It

An Added Thought

I mentioned in another piece how disappointing it can be for fans to see artists live whose music is the product of layer upon layer of overdubbing, autotuning and glossy studio production.  This let down happened to a certain aging concert goer more than once. (The Moody Blues were just not the same live.) In the old days dedicated fans would learn through the grapevine which bands did great live shows, but you could still get burned.  Now thanks to the endless iterations of a song that can be perused on YouTube including your latest enthusiasm live anywhere from a small venue to a stadium, you need never come home cursing the waste of a ticket price again.