Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mass Media, "New Media" and Control of Space.

The music industry has been driven by a false, opaque, economic structure that pre-dates the much maligned mp3 piracy that has been blamed for its downfall. Fake to begin with, it's interesting to watch how the smaller, ambitious, new artists are to a great extent copying the old model and doing the same thing except they are releasing their content in a sea of exponentially more players. In the end, it is much less a matter of what is being played (music) or said (political news/punditry) than it is about:

1. (in the case of news): Who controls the space in which the discussion is being held combined with the aggregate amount of mental real estate that is accessed by the space

2. (in the case of music): Who controls the space in which the music is being broadcast combined with the aggregate amount of mental real estate that is accessed.

A loose formula: Total Media Space divided by the total amount of mental real estate.

A second consideration is on the value of the audience. Since 20th century media models are a market with a buyer and a seller, it needs to said aloud more often that the content producer sells the audience to an advertiser. Some loose calculation based on market forces determines the value of the audience that is sold to the advertiser.

For example, I'll use a traditional media valuation. CNN has fewer viewers than FOX news. Yet CNN generates more advertising revenue because the perceived audience has more income on the whole--and thus advertisers pay a higher rate to place ads on CNN than they do FOX since the audience should spend more on the advertiser's products, etc... The private media model is built around a content being used to lure access to mental real estate--and then the content controller selling that access to an advertiser. Straightforward.

With this in mind, it's easy for me to feel that whatever it was that kept the old musical social order in place (a discussion for another time), that system is in a linear state of decline. This has created uncertainty for those of us who have dabbled in varying degrees of thooper theriouthness in music. For many aspiring musical craftsman, the goals were never clear and how to even define growth or success in the music world was opaque. (Fans? Fame? Money, Live Shows?)

How big artists remained being promoted on MTV and FM radio has become a curiosity to me in the face of massively imploding record sales. If sales are dropping, why is so much spent on buying the space for the more famous pop acts? Why pay for advertising on the front end if you can't sell albums on the back end? In any event, the key to clearing something like this up is to mandate clear transparency and a clear money trail in the unlikely scenario without major political changes. Whether or not the entire industry is sustained at this point by money laundering and fakery is a matter for another day, so for now, let's take the corporate dominance of music at face value.

At face value, the American population gets its information from an aggregated amount of what I'm calling media space. Within this space, fragmentation has grown with the increase of channels (think of TV, more channels, more options, more niche markets, etc). Yet the dominant channel access to claiming mental real estate remains the capital intensive and arbitrarily expensive TV and Radio channels.

The music industry has long been a pay for play industry. The TV extension of this, MTV is still an extension of this scheme, which is what makes it, along with the rest of corporate branding, good targets for culture jamming media challenges. In essence, questioning the legitimacy of corporate financed brands, brands that we only know because some concentrated amount of capital financed or bought that access to the minds of many, but might have little material or social justification for their position in society. Coca cola sells sugar water yet it has a monetary value of $125,000,000,000, or 125 billion dollars or so. Like so many other things in capitalist economies, the material product is cheap to produce then marked up to an insane degree.

This is done through branding, and branding is done through media vehicles outlined above. The monetary and power value is derived through control of mental real estate. I am calculating that many music or other promoted brands, built on the above mentioned model, can be undermined in a number of ways. But since the mental and emotional power of many of them are so strong, tactical thinking will be required.

So this is my opening salvo for my new "marketing campaign" which I will undertake in the short and possibly medium term future. In the mold of Adbusters, Reverend Billy, and Ron English, understanding this control of space will allow a much more creative set of ways to challenge the legitimacy and power that must be justified to society.

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