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Please stop calling music 'content'

In the internet age content is king. But music means so much more

  • 18 June 2024

Records can be described in many ways. From songs to sounds, tunes to tracks, bangers to bombs, stinkers to steppers, our culture has more synonyms and nicknames for music than any other genre. And most of them are vital, in the right context. But there’s one word that is never vital – in any context. It’s a word that’s detrimental to the future quality of the music we’re blessed to be hearing frothing out of studios around the world each and every day. That word is ‘content’.

You probably don’t say it yourself. You’re cool, you’re a music fan, you appreciate what artists are creating and putting out into the world. But trust me, people are using it. Working with online music channels I hear it all the time: a plugger proffering “premium, exclusive content”, a brand eager to engage with youth culture requesting “playlist content that fits our desired demographic”; managers explaining how their artist is “working on some on-point content”. In industry jargon, it’s been accepted for several years. But now it’s seeping out of marketing and corporate lingo and into the general vernacular. And the repercussions are more than just a blow to the vocabulary.

Here are a few incidents I’ve experienced lately, names removed to protect the guilty: I’m interviewing a well-known DJ about his son, who is also a DJ and starting to pick up momentum. He explains to me how the next step for his son, who so far has only put out a few remixes, “is to crack on in the studio, get a load of original content down and he’ll be on his way” (sigh). A headliner-level UK producer who hasn’t released any music for three years. I ask what he’s been up to. He nonchalantly replies, “just working on loads of content, really” (shudder). When wrapping up with a very popular drum ’n’ bass collective I ask what’s coming up next. “We’re going to get our heads down and work on the next load of content” (facepalm).

These artists are calling their creations – compositions that can take months to fine-tune to a standard they’re happy to release – ‘content’. Not music. Not even tunes, or tracks. Content. Surely they don’t mean it? No artist would ever willingly describe their creations in this way if they consider what the word means and what it’s become in the internet age. Content is that jokes tweet you just retweeted, that video you just liked on Facebook, that meme, that product review, that opinionated, moany article. Content has become a by-word for stuff. Fodder. Filling.

It’s the alcohol in your beer, the salt in your Nandos: the stuff that only exists to make you go online and have your clicks monetised. So to hear musicians who I rate and respect use this term about what they create is a little heartbreaking. It’s like they’ve been harangued by their manager or PR or social media team so many times about “finishing off that content” they’ve somehow picked up the word themselves. Increasingly common, it now seems almost innocuous. It’s anything but.

Last year, one of Mixmag’s Stars Of The Year, LSB, released an album called ‘Content’. When I asked him about it, he explained that it was “partially ironic and provocative, but it does feel like music is now considered something to fill up websites or be used on TV ads and things. Its use seems to be prioritised over its reason” – the use being interaction, views, shares, likes, reads, reach, eyeballs, numbers, stats, data, sales. That’s content’s purpose. And there’s nothing wrong with that when the content is created for that one particular reason. That’s my job; I create content about the music that’s revolutionised and characterised my life (and your life) for websites and magazines to utilise commercially. It’s a massive privilege, and a deal I am fully complicit in. But when an artist emerges from the studio with a next-level track that full-nelsons your imagination and hurls you to places you’ve never even considered before, they surely haven’t made it to create engagement or impressions or hits or shares or likes; it’s pure creativity on their behalf. Sure, they’re subject to a contract with their label and manager and all the other processes the industry demands in order to be a commercial entity and so they can actually make a living. But never – even when the industry is as challenging and as fickle and as fast-paced as it’s become – should artists feel their music is generic and replaceable enough to start calling it ‘content’.

Music can still blow your fucking mind when it’s conjured in the right way. Goose bumps, emotions, a physical pull on the body: there’s no other art form like this. Music is a profound experience that stimulates billions of us mentally, physically and creatively. And the more we lose sight of the value of music, the more we’ll lose its magic.

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