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Visions of '09

Uncanny visions of the future of music (local and otherwise).

by Tim McMahan










Music predictions are being handled a little differently this year because we’re on the cusp of monumental change in how music is heard, seen, purchased and integrated into our lives. Really. Say goodbye to the compact discs and radio as you knew it, and say hello to a new digital music paradigm. And it’ll all begin this year, forced to the surface by a shitty economy, the decline of the old-fashioned music industry and the rise of new technology that makes the Internet available anywhere.

But before we get to that, let’s briefly look at what I said would happen last year.


LY (last year's) Prediction: The music industry will continue to fall further into the abyss, helped along by popular, established bands releasing music on their own. To survive, labels will reduce the price of CDs below $10.

Reality: Well, a few more bands released their own music, but retail CD prices didn’t drop below $10.

LY Prediction: Indie record labels will see their business model shift from selling products to becoming service industries. It's not the majors who will rely on the "360 Record Deal," (where labels take a piece of everything, including concert and merch revenue), it's the indies, who will begin to treat bands more like clients than products.

Reality: Merge, Matador, Saddle Creek still don’t insist that bands sign 360 deals, but some majors, including Warners now require all new artists sign a 360. Warners CEO Edgar Bronfman said (at the Web 2.0 Summit) that 360 deals give labels the ability to give away music to spur event and merch sales.

LY Prediction: When it comes to downloading, music fans slowly will begin turning away from their computers and start turning to their cell phones, thanks to the iPhone and the plethora of iPhone knock-offs.

Reality: Apple made its iTunes store available from the iPhone last year.

LY Prediction: Following the success of Goo and Loom, venues known for live music will begin hosting more DJ-driven music events. You'll also see more cover bands playing in venues that never would have considered them just a year ago.

Reality: DJ nights are now standard at The Waiting Room and Slowdown, and cover bands like The Song Remains the Same and Secret Weapon have become familiar with both stages.

LY Prediction: "Heavy" music will return to mass popularity.

Reality: No discernable increase in the number of devil-horns has been recorded at clubs across the nation.

LY Prediction: Performers we'll be talking about this time next year: Yo La Tengo, Madonna, Husker Dü, The Whipkey Three, Prince, The Strokes, The Replacements, Tom Petty, Baby Walrus, The Faint, U2, Mousetrap, Aimee Mann, Sufjan Stevens, Midwest Dilemma, Death Cab for Cutie, Son Ambulance.

Reality: Madonna's on the market, Prince has three collections of songs coming out this year, and The Faint, Midwest Dilemma, Whipkey Three and Son Ambulance all released new albums.

LY Prediction: Performers we won't be talking about: Bright Eyes, The Good Life, Radiohead, Jay-Z, Beck, Josh Groban, The Arcade Fire, Interpol, Led Zeppelin, Hannah Montana, Linkin Park, Bruce Springsteen.

Reality: Bright Eyes is gone for now, and everyone else was dormant in '08.

LY Prediction: All of Amy Winehouse's problems will go away.

Reality: She went into rehab (again), but her problems are far from over.

LY Prediction: A new Omaha-based indie record label will emerge that will rival Saddle Creek.

Reality: Slumber Party Records could have, and then disappeared. This could be their year.

LY Prediction: Based on the success of the Omaha Entertainment Awards showcase, a two-day showcase will be held this summer in the same venues with similar bands.

Reality: The first annual Mid America Music Festival was held last summer.

LY Prediction: Watch for one-off reunion shows from a number of Omaha/Lincoln Golden Age-era rock bands.

Reality: I was hoping for Mousetrap and Cactus Nerve Thang, but got the Punk Rock Reunion show instead, featuring Cordial Spew, Apathy and Double-You.

LY Prediction: Music blogs will become an even more critical resource for music fans than old-line music publications and alt weeklies. The old-school press will react with blogs of their own.

Reality: These days almost every paper (including The Reader) has a half-dozen bloggers, getting paid nothing for their insights.

LY Prediction: A couple high-dollar music venues will open, looking to replace The Ranch Bowl.

Reality: I guess we don't miss The Ranch Bowl that much after all.

LY Prediction: This will be the year Bright Eyes finally takes the stage on Saturday Night Live.

Reality: I’ll never make that prediction again.



By my skewed math, I’m 8 for 13. Not bad.

And so, here we are, looking toward '09 with hope while the world seemingly crumbles around us, while we face record unemployment, inevitable soup lines and the death of the Compact Disc. We are the last generation of the CD. Remember this well when your children turn to you and ask, “Did you have a CD collection when you were my age, grandpa?” It's the wax cylinder all over again. In our near future, music media no longer will take a solid form. And with the CD's demise comes the demise of "the album” – the collection of 10 to 15 songs related by either the time they were recorded or a thematic thread that runs through them. The digital single will be king. But even with the loss of CDs, music will never be more accessible. Here's how it happens:

Apple logo

  • The iPod Killer. No, Apple didn’t invent the digital portable music player; they perfected it with the iPod, a miracle of science and technology that allows you to carry a degraded copy of your entire music library with you when you go jogging. Sure, there have been hundreds of other digital music players, but the iPod owned the market. Then Apple went one step further by creating the first device that combined a music player, cell phone and minicomputer. Ironically, the iPhone would be the company's first step toward relinquishing its dominance on the portable digital music market, mainly because the device's phone sucks (blame AT&T). Now Apple can only watch as every other player in the phone market does what Microsoft did in the ‘80s – steal their idea and make it less stylized, less refined, but cheaper and more accessible by The Great Wad who have always been afraid of Apple products. The iPhone has become the ultimate iPod Killer. Can Apple to come up with another breakthrough before it’s too late?
  • The Descent of Satellite. Remember how excited we all were (well, not me, but you) with the advent of satellite radio and the prospect of listening to one radio station while we drive across the country? First came XM, then Sirius, and then the satellite wars. But now that the two stations have merged into Sirius XM, it’s only a matter of time before their programming merges also, just in time for satellite radio’s decline as automakers begin to Wi-Fi-enable cars, and 3G Internet car stereos hit the market.
Dr. Johnny Fever
  • The Return of Johnny Fever. As more devices are made that enable anywhere-Internet radio, we will see the return of the local DJ (or SJ, as in Stream Jockey). National media conglomerates (Waitt, Clear Channel) killed the DJ with their computerized programming – except, of course, for the moronic “morning zoo” teams that spend three hours laughing at their own boob and dick jokes – thank you Howard Stern. While Internet radio doesn’t have to be “live” (and usually isn’t) the good stuff will be even though you’ll be able to listen to it after the fact as streams, podcasts or downloads. The return of the DJ means new opportunities for bands that haven’t been able to get their music heard on “the airwaves.”

  • Join or Die. For Internet radio to take off, programmers and DJs will have to figure out a way to play music without fear of getting sued into oblivion by record labels. Back in the radio days, labels were lucky if: 1) the station played their music, 2) the station remembered to identify the music, 3) the station implied that you could buy the music. With Internet radio, the problem goes away as users will be able to download the music they hear on demand -- before, during and after it’s played, for a small fee, of course. What would stop people from just stealing the music? What’s stopping them from stealing it now? The RIAA will either embrace this technology, or die fighting it. As a last resort, the RIAA will likely force Internet radio websites into buying some sort of inexpensive license that allows them to play anything.


Indie Rock!

  • The Return of Indie (again). Indie bands never looked to commercial radio for its lifeblood, mainly because dumbshit commercial radio programmers only played what they thought would appeal to the greatest (dumbest) common denominator (or whatever they were paid to play). With the demise of terrestrial radio and the rise of Internet radio, that barrier will fall. DJs will actively search out music they actually like, not what some suit-wearing drone in LA says they should like. And just like how bloggers have been embraced by the music industry, so will Internet radio websites, which will become the nation's (world's?) new tastemakers.

  • Record Labels as Banks and Brands: Aren’t they already? Yeah, but it’ll never seem more obvious. Used to be you got on a label to have someone: 1) pay for your recording, 2) market your music, 3) make and distribute your CDs. In the future, bands will be looking to labels to: 1) loan them money to allow them to tour and quit their day jobs, and 2) be associated with their brand (who doesn't want to be known as a Sub Pop or Matador band?). That’s it. Labels also will help bands get heard on the Internet, written about in blogs and old-fashioned (dying) print publications, and used in television and film. But really, it’ll be about lending bands money on the assumption that they’ll pay it back, in spades.

  • Live from Your Local Rock Club: Imagine The Waiting Room or Slowdown broadcasting live from their stages every night. Touring bands not only will allow their performances to be digitally videotaped and streamed live; they’ll expect it. In fact, house and touring sound guys will double as video producers, setting up the stage sound along with the venue’s cameras and stream technology. Next to the sound board will be digital video production gear in the form of an iMac or Macbook. These video and audio broadcasts will be streamed from existing, popular Internet radio websites, the band's website and the venue's own site.


It all sounds pie-in-the-sky -- downright philosophical -- but it’ll begin this year. OK, but what bands will we be talking about next year? What musician will die in '09? What's going to happen right here in Omaha?

Time for the lightning round:

-- Saddle Creek watched as two of its three crown jewels flew the coop in '08 – The Faint and Conor Oberst (though Bright Eyes probably will release something on Creek again, some day). To add to their woes, one of Tim Kasher's bands – either Cursive or The Good Life – will release an album somewhere other than Saddle Creek. But don't worry. The label will pull out a secret project this year that will not only blow your mind but also outsell every one of its past releases.

-- The economy will continue to take its toll on Omaha's music venues as another well-known club will switch hands (and yes, someone will eventually buy Mick's, but not this year). Meanwhile, an already-established venue will become red hot by hosting the ultimate celebrity open-mike night. PS: A West Omaha club will catch traction among the indie crowd.

-- Just as Marc Leibowitz and Jim Johnson began to book shows in the shadow of the Ranch Bowl's Matt Markel, another young entrepreneur will launch a promotion company to compete with One Percent Productions, booking underground, fringe and indie acts that have eluded the Omaha market. Initially the new "company" will focus on venues not locked down by Marc and Jim, but eventually it will nose its way into downtown and Benson clubs.

-- Bands we'll be talking about this time next year: Box Elders, Pavement, Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies, Cursive, U2, Titus Andronicus, Spoon, The Show Is the Rainbow, Replacements, Outlaw Con Bandana, Liz Phair, Talking Mountain, Alessi's Ark, Jake Bellows, Little Brazil, Denver Dalley, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fullblown.

-- Bands we won't be talking about this time next year: Girl Talk, Okkervil River, The Faint, Bright Eyes, My Morning Jacket, Nickelback, Britney, Kanye, Animal Collective, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Of Montreal, Metallica, British divas.

-- Conor Oberst will break the hearts of thousands of his female fans.

-- One of the city's three renowned downtown record stores – Drastic Plastic, The Antiquarium or Homer's Old Market – will close its doors. Meanwhile, huge national retailers like Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Target will continue to reduce shelf space for CDs as they quietly get out of the music business.

-- One of Omaha's under-the-radar record labels – Slumber Party, Slo-Fi, It Are Good, I'm Drinking This, Boom Chick, Speed! Nebraska or a new label TBA – will gain national attention when one of its bands breaks on a national level.

-- Due to the death of one of its members, we will say goodbye to one of the few remaining all-time classic rock acts that originated in the '60s and is (was) still performing today. The loss will be recognized as the passing of an era.

-- ARC Studios will host an arena-level superstar to record his/her next album.

-- Yet another 2-hour radio show will launch on one of city's stations that will feature locally produced music along with top-flight indie bands.

-- In an effort to attract new blood to the OEA's music category, one of this year's OEA showcases will be held at Slowdown.

-- A new online music news source will launch this year that will complement existing online blogs and webboards, but will actively compete with printed outlets for precious advertising revenue. The new website/blog/social media site will offer podcasts, videos, mp3 downloads, live streams and a Twitter feed, and will have a staff large enough to rival the local alt weeklies.

-- In an effort to bring more (younger) culture to the White House, President Obama will announce a one-day concert that will feature some of the hottest indie and hip-hop acts performing alongside the biggest names in rock and jazz. The event will become a cultural touchstone along the lines of Woodstock or the Monterey Pop Festival.

-- Instead of appearing on one of the usual late-night talk shows, a local band will break into television by scoring a commercial that will make one of its songs as notorious as Feist's Apple commercial or Of Montreal's Outback Steakhouse ads.

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Published in The Omaha Reader Jan. 7, 2009. Copyright 2009 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.