It is a valid question, really. What happens to those who aren't in love with Britney Spears? Those who simply don't feel the urge to drool when she pushes back an unruly strand of hair, while panting about the pain of lost teenage love. What happens to these people? Do they curl up and die? Do they swallow their pride and decide to spend the rest of their lives listening to Christina Aguilera? Do they grow old hoping for a third greatest hits box set from the Backstreet Boys?
In the words of my friend, Preetee Brahmbhatt: "Noooooooooooo wayyyyyyyyyyy, baybeeeeeee." Which brings me to a well thought-out reply to that question. If mainstream pop music doesn't make your heart skip a beat, you can always count on the Internet to bring you the kind of tunes that do.
Take me as example number one. I'm not into Britney Spears, see? I like my music to take me by the knees and shake me till I feel the need to shriek like a lunatic. I like my music to use melody as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. Which is why I fell in love, at the ripe young age of 16, with the music of Tori Amos. All I saw, way back in 1992, was a video for the track Crucify. Which is when I knew I could burn my Wham albums and die happily.
The only problem - her music wasn't available in Mumbai, India, where I live. So I visited some record stores, called others, begged friends with aunts in the United States, and failed miserably on all counts.
Years passed. I managed to get hold of a couple of dubbed cassettes featuring Tori's music. As for the larger part of her repertoire, no luck. Then, sometime in 1996, I went online. And found Tori. Lots of Tori. Tori music in copious amounts. I was saved. God was alive. I would never have to listen to Laura Branigan or Belinda Carlisle again.
I didn't really find audio files, primarily because the concept of P2P sharing meant nothing back then. What I did find was the 'Dent in the Tori Amos Net Universe' -- a one-stop site for anything and everything Tori-related. It had news, views, and access to hundreds of like-minded fans logging on religiously to discuss the meaning of life after Tori. Some recommended albums, others explained why a track was special to them, and one of them came down to India with a couple of albums in her suitcase, just for little old me.
See? Solid proof of 'Internet power'.
The point is, if it's non-mainstream music you want, you can find it online. "Sites like mp3.com, IRC rooms and discussion boards have helped me find unusual or hard-to-locate music and msicians," says Parul Gupta, a 23-year old student living in Los Angeles. Parul loves music. She doesn't hate popular musicians, but likes her music to provoke thought. Which, going by the Top Ten these days, means it's difficult to locate. "Going online has helped me connect with like-minded folk who, in turn, have recommended other artistes and Web sites," she adds.
This works for the artistes too, for who it's all about control. A major label can get you attention, but for a huge cut from your profits. In an era of rapid technological flux, copyright issues and more, going independent and relying on the Web has proved to be more rewarding for artistes like Aimee Mann and Jonatha Brooke, both creatively as well as financially. Mann, for example, bought back her third solo album, Bachelor No. 2, from her record company, and released it independently. She earned more, using her site as a tool where fans could mail order the album or download it for a lower price.
Ian McLagan has been around. From playing with the English band Faces in the 70s to the hugely successful Small Faces with Rod Stewart, he has done his bit with everyone from Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan and some of the biggest names in rock. Ian continues to play in Austin, Texas, and fronts the Bump Band that was formed in 1994. I decided to ask him a couple of questions about music, musicians and the Internet.
Has the Internet helped you, personally, reach more people? Has it helped new generations of people find out about your music?
Yes, it has made it possible for me to contact people all over the world. The interest in Small Faces and Faces keeps growing because of it.
Would things have been radically different, musically, without it? Has it helped shaped your musical sensibilities in any way?
I don't think music has changed because of the Internet, and it hasn't changed my musical sensibilities at all. But being able to search for music is very useful.
What about issues like money? Do you think the Web helps listeners bypass this issue completely, while enabling artistes showcase work that would otherwise garner little attention?
I am in two minds about this. On the one hand music can now be heard internationally and immediately, but you have to get people to come to your site first. That's the hardest thing for young bands. For well-known artists to give away tracks on MP3 is fine, but lesser known acts are still unknown. I haven't heard of any band making it through the Internet yet.
Releasing music independently lets you control your own promotions, distribution and marketing. Most importantly, it lets you do your own thing without interference from annoying marketing honchos. A Web site also helps a large number of artistes stay in close contact with their fans, giving them access to the pulse of their audience.
Speaking of unusual music, a gentleman who goes by the moniker 'Blatant Bill' knows a lot about not sticking to convention. 'If you are fond of Bach, house, or other popular contraptions, there is still time to change your mind and leave,' his Web site warns. Would things have been radically different, musically, without the Internet, I asked. "I don't think that music 'as heard on the radio' would be different," he replied. "Most pop music is made according to formulas that make it sell. I tried selling some of my music, but record companies weren't interested. The Internet gave me access to software, to manipulate sound. Without this, I probably would not have made my unusual music at all."
Small artistes know a good thing when they see it. Which is why you can find everything from English folk and traditional music to global innovative communities, experimental new music galleries, underground and unusual music and even a Web site that offers Fractal music -- the musical representation of fractal equations!
Parul concurs. "The Internet has been helpful for small, independent artistes. It hasn't necessarily been bad for major artistes either. Record companies now have to do a lot more than just sell the music. They are compelled to be more creative. At the same time, I don't think the Internet always enables artistes to showcase their work, because radio stations often control that."
As for me, I spend my days happily enough, picking my music like a connoisseur does cigars. On Mondays, it's the alternative rock of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds followed by some opera, courtesy Montserrat Caballé. The feminist rock of L7 and heavy percussion of Zak Starkey is for Tuesdays.
For the rest of the week, it's Tori Amos, and then some more. All thanks to the Internet. Who the heck needs Britney Spears anyway?