Things to Lose in the New World – Volume V: “Content”

At some point in the last decade or so, art ceased to be art and became content. It marked a new era for artists, one that centered around a constant internet presence and high output. Music, movies, and television were almost exclusively streamed, and the “content” was updated daily. It’s often the argument of executives that in order to have a successful career, you need to constantly engage with fans and give them stuff to look at, listen to, etc. This, of course, is antithetical to being an artist of any sort.

            There could be nothing less inspiring than being told to churn out as much “content” as possible. Yes, we live in a world made both smaller and larger by social media connectivity, and artists do have a direct line to their fans – but should the advent of the various social media platforms, almost all of which are based on neediness, force artists to be something they’re not? An artist used to have an air of mystery around them, and that was a good thing.

            But in the “content” era, an artist’s integrity was cast aside for a quick fix, a nearly endless stream of content, much of which the artist isn’t paid for. But since when is the value of art in the quantity? It isn’t just this way for musicians and artists, writers are seeing the same shift. Companies are looking less and less for writers, but instead, they want “content creators.” Having interviewed for a few of these positions and feeling degraded, I know what they want. I was told that I had to churn out around six click-bait-like articles in the matter of a few hours. The point of which was to drive traffic to sponsored businesses. This is not why I became a writer.

            The same goes for artists. They set out to make their art, whatever it may be, but that vision is quickly sidelined in favor of “content” and appeasing the online fans. There is no emphasis on quality for the “content,” just sheer volume. What went wrong? Money. Money changes everything. And in the art world, be it music, film, or otherwise, money is king. Never mind that you have an artistic vision, we need content. This is especially evident in something like Spotify, a streaming music platform that pays artists a fraction of a cent per stream. That means that even one million streams only net an artist around $6,000. And that is assuming that the money even goes to the artist directly, which it rarely does. So, even the biggest hits are still only making a few thousand dollars for the artist. I don’t subscribe to any of the music streaming services. I’m one of the hold-outs still either buying records or buying music in the iTunes store. The artists deserve their money. 

            Artists are undervalued, they’re made to be content mills. If an artist doesn’t keep up on their end of the deal and provide content every day, several times a day, they lose relevance. It shouldn’t be this difficult to be an artist. You shouldn’t have to constantly wave a treat in front of your audience in order to keep them paying attention. But that’s what we have now, an attention economy for art. It’s not about the quality anymore, just the quantity. As long as the content doesn’t end, fans are satiated. And it isn’t really their fault. It’s the new model borne of the social media era. 

            As always, the entertainment industry is less about the art and more about the profit. And so, in the new world, we need to lose the concept of “content,” and favor instead quality output in the arts. To do this, however, we need to be patient and wait however long it takes to make something good. But, it’s worth the wait. 

Published by Christopher Goodlof

Writer, Visual Artist, Musician

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