Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan took to the stage at South by Southwest — not to perform, but to be interviewed by social media guru Brian Solis — on his views about how social media has changed the music business. Corgan, who has over 100 000 followers on Twitter, wants fans to step up their support and help create new ways of sustaining the music industry.
Corgan, whose band found great success in the 90s and helped break stereotypes with their diverse make-up of musicians, essentially believes the state of the music industry has created an erosion of culture, to the detriment of artists and society at large. Corgan spoke about how this new generation of music-listeners, who Solis calls “Gen C, for Connectivity”, has changed the way music is appreciated and consumed.
The ever-frank singer questioned why there is no MTV-like model online, playing videos of bands all the time. He cited the phenomenon that’s now been created where “people will watch a f***ing cat playing a piano” and how that has made it so difficult for artists to compete, so they have to do something ridiculous to get the views. And, he believes, many of them get lost among the noise.
Corgan believes fans need to do their bit and step it up by supporting the artists they like — re-tweeting their tweets, sharing their Facebook links, etc — because if they don’t, it’s a vote for what he calls the “robot class” of music that has been made popular in today’s time.
“Artists must create their own models for getting their music out there and fans need to support their journey,” he said. Corgan has a fan community that is helping him debate and set pricing for Smashing Pumpkins’ back catalogues and archives. “We don’t have a system to plug into anymore — unless you want to be a robot or a snarky guy in a basement.”
“We’re looking for systemic ways to advance the ball,” he says. “And create self-sustaining models.” Corgan calls Spotify a “transitional business model” and says “artists have to create their own worlds.” Corgan is calling for fans to be more sophisticated and for an end to the “culture of condemnation” he believes has been created and kills the music listening experience.
Corgan laments the state of the relationship between fan and artist now. “I would never sing the national anthem at a sports game,” he said, mentioning Christina Aguilera’s misquoting of the lyrics last year that went viral. “I’ve been asked to, but there’s too much of a downside. I don’t want my entire body of work erased by a single silly moment that gets recorded and spread around the world. I don’t talk much at my concerts anymore because I don’t want my whole career reduced to one comment that people post online and attack.”
He believes that “the only thing that endures is quality. But asking great artists to take this dumb ride up and down the social chain is bullshit.”
Corgan is fired up about the role fans can play in not allowing the status quo of the music industry to continue. “I’m up here not to sell myself but to sell the idea that we need to be responsible for the culture we’re creating.”
“Where is this great success? he asks. “Why aren’t there 5/6 monolithic bands putting Smashing Pumpkins to shame?” Instead, we’re left with what he terms “laptop rock.”