The Superhighway to Musical Stardom

The music revolution is now ... and it won't be televised.


Sept. 8, 2007 — -- There is a revolution happening in the music world. The Internet has changed what we listen to and how we listen to it. Whether it's from up-and-coming stars or established bands that have been in the business for decades, the Web now seems to be the driving force behind what we hear coming out of the music industry. More people are turning to MySpace to find the next big star, and YouTube to watch and rewatch their favorite music videos. And musicians themselves are logging on to their computers to form connections with their fans.

One band that finds itself right in the middle of this Internet music revolution is My Chemical Romance. Only six short years ago, lead singer Gerard Way was a wannabe comic book artist working in New York City. He says it was out of the 9/11 tragedy that My Chemical Romance was born. "Riding the train home that day, there were all these businessmen calling their girlfriends and wives and asking them to marry them or saying, I'm gonna quit my job and do something meaningful," says Way. "And so it kind of hit me. I want to do something really meaningful. So I started a real band, and we have real practices and as soon as we had five songs, we started playing, and just didn't look back."

It wasn't long before this alternative rock punk band had gained widespread notoriety, much of which came from the Internet. Way says when the band was starting out, they would play little shows and give out their CDs for free. Soon they looked to the Internet to help get their sound out even more.

It wasn't just their music that was getting noticed online. Their videos became viral as well. They have two of the four most-watched videos on all of YouTube, with nearly 65 million hits. Gerard Way sees the Internet as a tool for listeners to find exactly what they want to hear. "The Internet in a lot of ways directly represents what people want to see because it's all based on choice. So they're choosing to watch this little underdog band, kind of get bigger and bigger."

More and more young people are turning to the Internet not just to listen to their favorite band and watch their favorite music videos but to discover the next big breakout star. Colbie Caillat is the perfect example of this new online phenomenon. A year ago she was working at a tanning salon, casually writing songs in her free time. A friend told her she had to post her songs online, and immediately her career took off. Now she is opening for the Goo Goo Dolls and traveling the world.

"Word of mouth happened because of MySpace, because people would add my songs to their pages," says Caillat, "That bumped me up to the top artist charts of unsigned artists on MySpace and that got record labels to notice me and so it kept going from there."

Going viral on the Internet might get musicians noticed, but it also can pigeon hole them into one, very specific image. The band OK Go became noticed for their silly choreographed treadmill moves in the video for "Here It Goes Again." The video became a YouTube favorite. While the band is enjoying their notoriety and success, they also know what image the video created for them. The band's lead guitarist and keyboardist Andy Duncan says, "We know that we'll be known as the crazy dance video guys."

The Internet is not only a tool for artists who are just now emerging on the music scene. Veteran bands understand the Internet is here to stay, and instead of fighting it they should take advantage and use it as a positive force. The legendary band R.E.M. has been around for almost 25 years, releasing their first album long before the Internet was a reality. Bassist Mike Mills says the band made a conscious decision to welcome how the Internet has changed the music business. Instead of panic about how their new songs could be leaked online, they see the phenomenon as a path to reach their fans in an intimate and meaningful way.

"Rather than resisting this change, we embrace it," Mills says, "We said OK, rather than worry and freak out if the music's going to get out before we're ready to release it, it's going to get out anyway, and there's no point in looking like a dinosaur, so let's go learn from this, and try to gain something."

The band is about to release an innovative and cutting-edge live CD/DVD born out of the Internet and their passionate online bloggers. They performed a series of live, interactive rehearsals in Dublin, Ireland. The music landed on the Web, and the bloggers on their Web site R.E.M. in Dublin 2.0 couldn't stop writing about it. The reactions and comments of their fans have guided R.E.M. in making critical decisions about upcoming projects.

"There was a song that we did at these Dublin live rehearsals that was we'd always planned it definitely as a B-side," said Mills, "The response was so great that it's definitely in contention to be on the record. We had people holding up signs: 'Not a B-side!'"

Ann Powers, a music critic for the Los Angeles Times, says the music revolution is undeniable. "Big sites like MySpace and YouTube are incredibly important. The diverse array of blogs and other music sites are very important. Building a great Web site for your artist is equally important as, you know, signing to the right label at this point. It's not about the future anymore. We are in it. We are in the revolution, at this very moment, for music."

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