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Memeification

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Tuesday, Mar 24, 2009

Ordinarily I confine my Hipster Runoff commentary to this blog, but this post, an apparent reaction to the environment of desperation at South by Southwest, thick with media consultants and other assorted douchey brand-management types, warrants further attention. It’s an elaborate recognition of the fact that bands don’t have to worry about making music so much anymore; they need to generate internet memes.


In our modern world, 99% of ‘bands’ could be defined as groups of people who created a myspace page and uploaded 1.5 songs. These people have no vision of the modern landscape, and do not understand what it takes to grow into a ‘band worth following.’ While the ‘live performance’ is eventually a critical element in a band’s rise to prominence, there is a game which can be played on the internet to achieve success.
Your band must invade the Perception Economy. Your Band must no longer be a band. Your band must be a meme. A Meme Which Generates subMemes. These memes must be compelling, intriguing, and interesting enough for people to ‘follow’ or at least think that you are ‘worth following.’


If Twitter is the hot medium, in other words, than content producers of all stripes must change their output to accommodate it. People need to be able to “follow” what they are doing without having to devote more than an instant of their time. Relative to memes, songs are cumbersome. And music has never determined which bands are important to know about—instead there are certain bands whose names circulate as currency with no regard to their music. This has always been the case. I’ve found that the best thing about not trying to be up-to-date with pop music is that I’ve lost touch entirely with those sorts of bands; I know there are such bands as MGMT and Grizzly Bear but feel no need to find out what they sound like or confirm that they suck just as much as I expect them to. I’ve moved on to a different status hierarchy, I guess. But memeification, as Carles, the proprietor of Hipster Runoff, depicts it, is a good way of conceptualizing how the shifts in the music hierarchy have accelerated, asymptotically approaching realtime, where memes would be instantly outdated the moment they are broadcast online.


Carles augments his argument about memeification with several charts, parodies of the sorts of things marketing gurus presumably present during actual conferences at SxSW. He diagrams, for instance, the “music memeosphere” and details it with this account of the cultural food chain:


  * BAND GENERATED MEMES - These are units of information which are generated by the bands themselves. Bands with more creativity and personality tend to create the best memes. However, bands have been successful being ‘cryptic’ and ‘weird’ in recent years. The bigger your band is, the less you have to do to create a gimmicky meme that people want to follow. The MP3 is pretty important, but not always as important for certain bands.
  * THE TASTEMAKING MEME AGGREGATING & CONTENT FILTERING SERVICE INDUSTRY - These have replaced magazines and the radio as the optimal sources for music. These services & openly-biased news/meme sources are meant to build trust with consumers. Whether it is an algorithm to filter new music, a team of bros who love music writing about new bands, or just some bitter ass hole who ‘couldn’t make it as a band’ and decided to ‘cultivate influence’ any way he can, these are all providing a service to consumers. They all work together. While it may seem that they are covering ‘different niches’, they all sort of balance eachother out.
  * MUSIC MAGAZINES AND RADIO - These make modern people feel sad and constraint. These put a bottle neck on consumer individuality, feeling like they only see a ‘limited snapshot’ of what is available. Minimal ‘personal relationship building’ means less authenticity and less trust. When a band is viewed as ‘relevant’ from these sources, people who like them are either ’stupid’, ‘just want to fit in’, or ‘ironically like the band/artist.’
  * REGULAR PEOPLE/CONSUMERS - These are consumers like you or me. We want to listen to music and populate our iPods for different reasons. Some people enjoy ‘hunting for music.’ Others just get it from friends. Humans are at the tail end of the meme trail, but they do create a demand for memes which can sometimes force a band to exhaust their presence.


As with virtually everything on Hipster Runoff, it’s hard to tell the degree to which Carles is joking, or even whether that determination would have any meaning. He’s basically guilty of everything he mocks, making his blog a sort of self-consuming artifact. It points two mirrors at one another and records the infinite regress: a blog worth blogging about. Memes as memes. Consequently, there is nothing exaggerated about what he reports here—this really is a pretty accurate portrait of the “music-meme economy.” It lacks only the oozing cynicism.


In its way, Carles’s discourse is far more performative than anything Derrida ever managed. I’m wondering, though, if Carles’s style of discourse, the mode of proceeding by tautology and negating irony by both fully indulging it and entirely rejecting it simultaneously, is the only creditable form of discourse for addressing the contemporary cultural scene. It captures perfectly how every phenomenon is already processed and accepted as a strategy, and the possibility of appreciating any given thing in earnest is always already in quotation marks, without the presumption of there even being a reason why.

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