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Gorillaz – ‘Song Machine’: In the age of streaming

Is the music industry forcing bands to rush their releases, or are Gorillaz creating a new normal with their ‘Song Machine’? 

People have discussed the “death of the album” for a long time, but now it feels more likely than ever. In the age of streaming, the way we consume music has changed dramatically, we now have a seemingly infinite number of songs and albums available whenever we want. This has led to an industry where artists have to be continually releasing new music in order to stay relevant amongst the crowd. Spotify Founder and CEO Daniel Ek came under fire earlier in the month after he said artists cannot “recording music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough.” I, and many other people within the music industry, thought was a bit rich coming from a man who pays musicians £0.00318 per stream. Daniel even said “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single artist saying, ‘I’m happy with all the money I’m getting from streaming.’ This is especially worrying at the moment when during the pandemic, artists have lost out on one of their main sources of revenue, touring. Business Insider reported that in 2017 U2 were the highest-earning musical group in the world, making $54.4 million. A shocking 95% of that came from playing live shows and touring. This stat highlights how concerning these comments from Spotify’s CEO are.

So where do Gorillaz come into this? 

This year, Gorillaz have been releasing something that could prove to be revolutionary. Their latest project, ‘Song Machine’, is being released in the form of a series, rather than an album. Meaning that they have been putting out a new single every month, rather than the traditional way of releasing a few lead singles before dropping the whole album. 

So far, ‘Song Machine’ is made up of six brilliantly unique singles. It is a great project, but it could prove to be far more important than that. This innovative way of releasing music is perfectly fit for the modern age of streaming. If they had released the album at the start of the year when the first single was released, it might well have fallen from relevance and conversation by now, however, because this release is being stretched over a much longer time, each song is given time to be fully appreciated and the project remains relevant for much longer. This way of releasing the project falls in line with some of Daniel Ek’s controversial comments, “The artists today that are making it realize that it’s about creating a continuous engagement with their fans.” The songs are accompanied by “Machine Bitez”, which are small snippets of the characters talking, creating a story for dedicated fans to follow, adding extra interest for people who want to follow the lore of the band. Showing that Gorillaz seem to be very much in tune with keeping their engagement up and keeping themselves relevant for longer.

As much as I love this project, the implications of the method of release troubled me. It leans into the increasing commodification of the music industry, an industry that is treating musicians more and more like “content creators” rather than artists. An industry that values quantity over quality. However, the name ‘Song Machine’ alludes that Gorillaz are doing this on purpose, using this release schedule as a form of satire on an industry that forces artists to rush and crank out music before they are ready to do so. The music industry is changing, Daniel Ek, and Spotify seem to be at the forefront of this – they are changing the way artists are releasing music and are doing this not in the hope that artists and listeners will have a better experience, but in the hope that their own profit margins will go up as a result of it. Daniel Ek concluded his interview by saying I feel, really, that the ones that aren’t doing well in streaming are predominantly people who want to release music the way it used to be released.

These changes, along with the effects of the worldwide pandemic, are putting the livelihoods of many artists at risk, which is why as music fans, we need to do as much as we possibly can to support them through this time, whether that’s through buying merchandise, tickets to rescheduled gigs, donating to small music venues, or even just sharing their music on social media. 

I love Gorillaz’ project, it’s innovative, unique and it is an exciting new way of releasing music, but I hope it is not the new normal.

ALEX THOMSON
DEPUTY EDITOR

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