My Bloody Valentine's Website Crash Shows What it Means to Be Indie in 2013
My Bloody Valentine released a new album over the weekend, and by all accounts it's very good. There are a lot of thick, quavering guitars on it, you can't really hear the vocals, and nothing goes much like you expect it to, which is to say that if you enjoy My Bloody Valentine, you'll enjoy m b v. But on release day, a lot of fans who'd already waited 22 years for the follow-up to Loveless were stuck whiling away another few hours without it--because demand had crashed the band's website.
Between 1991 and 2013, working musicians--like every other set of entrepreneurs--have gained countless new ways to get their music in front of the people who care about it. But they've also found themselves with a lot of new jobs. This is the first My Bloody Valentine album in which Kevin Shields has also had to micromanage a webmaster.
This phenomenon isn't limited to musicians at all, but they're an interesting example because they started taking on these new jobs for themselves even before the internet became relevant. Indie rock turned people self-selected for their ability to play the guitar into marketers, and CD-manufacturers, and accountants, and contract lawyers. The story of indie rock is hugely dependent on some of those jacks-of-all-trades not being very good at some of those trades.
Now there are more of them. The jobs major labels are set up to do are growing more numerous every day, but every day more bands and listeners are leaving major labels anyway. The industry's increasingly built around it: If you take a look around your favorite small-to-medium-sized band's website you'll find logos and legal print for companies like Ning and Bombplates--or even just WordPress--that offer turnkey websites for getting news to fans, selling merchandise, listing tours, et cetera.
My Bloody Valentine wasn't going this alone, either--they use a company called Sunshine HQ to design the website and fulfill orders. So what happened? What did My Bloody Valentine do right, and what errors will the next group of impossibly reclusive rock heroes have to learn from?
Right: Uploading everything to YouTube. MBV beat the inevitable YouTube uploaders to the punch by doing it themselves; all the songs from their new album are on TheOfficialMBV, tagged correctly, linked to each other and to the for-sale page, and certain to be the "right" version of each track.
Already they've gotten as many as 50,000 hits, for the dancey "wonder 2." In addition to keeping everything in-house--and probably earning some additional revenue--they've recognized that many more people have heard they should listen to My Bloody Valentine than actually have.
YouTube is the default, low-impact way people discover music like that. It's where all the non-superfans were going to find the album anyway, and this gesture makes it easier for them to eventually become superfans themselves.
Wrong: WAV instead of FLAC. As you might expect from a band beloved by audiophiles, m b v came out in three formats: 320kbps MP3, for 99 percent of human beings, and then two flavors of lossless WAV file, for people who worry about the tone of their CD player.
For whatever reason, though, My Bloody Valentine chose to use completely uncompressed audio, instead of a "lossless" compressed format like FLAC. That probably played one percent of those one-percent audiophiles, but most people find the two formats indistinguishable--except that one is about half the size of the other.
So each of those website-crashing lossless copies of MBV was bigger and more bandwidth-hogging than it needed to be. WAV files also can't be tagged with album, artist, and song data, undoing all the niceties they got right on the YouTube uploads and infuriating people with well-manicured iTunes libraries.
Of course, a comeback 20 years overdue wasn't about to be stifled by technical difficulties; today the website is working without issue. But for all of us who aren't My Bloody Valentine it was a reminder about the indie worldview: Working on your own is liberating, but it also means you can fail in ways that have nothing to do with your art.