I went to see the Alabama Shakes last night in London.
If you’re not familiar, they’ve quickly shot into the spotlight over the past six months after the release of an EP on Bandcamp last summer.Fronted by Brittany Howard, a modern day Janis Joplin who plays a rocking guitar and can belt a tune like Aretha Franklin, the band is an eclectic mix of soul and Southern rock n’ roll.
The power and global reach of the Internet were evident on the band’s first trip to the UK. Initially booked for three nights at the Boston Arms (capacity 200), the band sold out Friday’s show weeks in advance, with Wednesday and Thursday filling to capacity as well. Friday’s show was moved to a 500-person capacity room around the corner. Russell Crowe came out to Wednesday’s show, and they received a five-star review in the London Evening Standard and a glowing review in the Guardian as well.
And they WERE fantastic. I haven’t seen a young band with this type of talent and this level of energy, on-stage and in the crowd, in a long time. There’s no gimmicks or tricks, no electronic mixing, sound filters, or synchronized lights. Just real music that resonates (you can listen here).
In an age of constant chaos and lightning-quick attention spans, it’s easy for all of us to get caught up in the throes of Pinterest, GetGlue, YouTube, MySpace, and myriad others. Musicians are encouraged to spend their days promoting themselves on Twitter and Facebook, and “engaging their fans,” resulting in consumers bombarded with information. Sorting through it all can be a task in itself. I can’t tell you how many Facebook invites I receive for bands about whom I’ve never heard a thing, nor do I care about seeing. I don’t have time to listen either.
So while I’m not dismissing the amazing power of the direct-to-fan business model, or fan engagement, it shouldn’t ever detract from the quality of the music. Alabama Shakes proves one thing – the Internet and self-distribution can work for you as an artist, if you make good music. Without it, you’re just another one of six million musicians trying to frenetically promote themselves online.
We need to rethink the music business. But let’s never forget that it’s the music that matters.