MTV launched The Hive to give indie music fans a better online experience by putting the latest and greatest in one place. The number of good (and bad) bands has exploded in recent years, and the average fan could spend every waking minute discovering and following artists on Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and other sites and still not be able to keep up with the proliferation of awesome indie music.
Since the site’s debut earlier this year, MTV Hive has become the digital home to some great music shows. It has past episodes of “120 Minutes,” and it has “Weird Vibes,” an indie music show from Shirley Braha, who formerly produced “New York Noise.”
We recently talked with Shirley and Jessica Robertson, editor of MTV Hive, about the indie music scene, the role of curation in music discovery, and how the Internet continues to impact the music industry.
Ypulse: We’ve found that music is the single most important medium to today’s youth, far more so than TV. What are your thoughts on that?
Jessica Robertson: It’s really important for the generation you’re talking about to define themselves. People can relate through music; it’s one of the most universal ways to define yourself. It’s so personal, but also universal. You might not be able to articulate how you’re feeling, but a melody might be able to do that for you. And for this demographic, self-definition and expression of that is incredibly important.
YP: How has the music scene changed with the Internet and what is your vision of MTV Hive’s role?
JR: MTV Hive is really a destination for passionate music fans, music obsessives. The music space itself today is incredibly crowded and noisy. It’s a great thing, but there’s so much noise and there’s not necessarily one authoritative source for fans to turn to. Pitchfork and Stereogum are great, but they lack scale. There’s an opportunity for Hive to rise up and celebrate what others are doing, but to curate that and put a personal filter on it, we can become a trusted authoritative source that has scale.
With MTV in particular, there are people who come to our front door, but they’re coming for our shows. They might be passionate music fans, but they’re not necessarily being served with music. Hive is indie leaning and more focused on the young influencers and tastemakers. Hive wants to celebrate all the great things that are happening in music, from products and apps to musicians themselves, and put that in context use that as a prism through which we tell stories.
YP: What is the importance of curation today?
JR: It’s incredibly important. This (music journalism) space is crowded and noisy, and curation and editorial voice is what sets you apart from everybody else. MTV was one of the original tastemakers in the music space, and we want to maintain that role today. We’re not restricted by genre like other sites. We hope to earn our audience’s trust and respect with our curation.
With “Weird Vibes” in particular, we wanted to try new things. All of us on Team Hive have been big fans of “New York Noise” and Shirley’s work. Her voice is unique, funny, entertaining, and different. Being big fans of hers, we asked her to do what she does and we wouldn’t touch it. She could just be the creative genius that she is, we’d be happy to have whatever she creates as part of Hive.
Shirley Braha: I think what’s great about “Weird Vibes” is that there are no other indie music shows on the Internet, so this is something unique and special. There are hundreds maybe thousands of music blogs that feature a few music videos, but there are no music video shows that give viewers a curated experience where they can just sit back and watch a bunch of great videos in a row, with funny original content between them.
YP: How do you find the artists you feature on the show?
SB: Generally, they’re bands I’m a fan of. It’s a mix of stuff that’s a little more well-known in the indie music world and stuff that’s newer. It’s music I feel strongly about, but also that I think people will enjoy.
YP: I have to ask about the very “Saved By The Bell”-styled intro to the show. Was that a nod to nostalgia?
SB: When I was coming up with the show’s intro, I was thinking about what shows had openings that I really enjoyed watching, so I saw myself being drawn to old shows like “Yo! MTV Raps,” “Saved By The Bell,” and even the “Mickey Mouse Club” that had really cool graphics. Graphically, a lot of shows were way cooler looking back then, and that animated graphic look went away in the late 90s. I missed that.
YP: How do you think the music scene has changed with the Internet? Is it better or worse?
SB: It’s very different and a lot more fast-paced. Even 10 years ago, people would say it’s so hard to keep up with indie bands, but it’s even more true now. To stay in touch with everything, you have to dedicate a lot of time to it, and not everyone can do that. Some people can be disenfranchised by it. It’s overwhelming.
On the flip side, there’s a lot more opportunity for bands, and for fans to hear a lot of different bands. But fans have to weed through a lot of stuff that they’re not that into. And music sites want to buzz about new bands, and some brands get buzz that they probably don’t deserve.
Spotify has made things a lot easier. If you want to listen to a whole album, who wants to pay $10 for an album. If you think you might be interested in an album, you can find it in five seconds and start listening to it. Spotify is a big game changer for me.
YP: In terms of music ownership, with Spotify and cloud services, does anyone need to buy music anymore?
SB: If Spotify has proven anything, it’s that people now don’t need to feel like they need to own a physical product or even have it saved on their hard drive. As long as they have access to it, that’s all that matters. I don’t even see the point of having a cloud services; I have my Spotify playlists, and it’s on my iPhone, so I don’t need anything else.
JR: I think it also affects how artists now more than ever have to be on the road. I can access any song at any time, I don’t have to own the physical product, but I can’t substitute a live show.
YP: How do you think social media plays into all of this?
JR: Personalization now is more important than ever. That walled garden no longer exists, and artists — whether they are into it or not — have to use social media because it’s the best way to directly reach the consumer. This generation is avidly consuming music, and they’re used to having that sort of personalization, so there’s an expectation. Personally, I think it’s awesome that I can follow the musicians that I love. I don’t care if they’re talking about having a taco for lunch, but it’s cool that they’re engaging with their audience. I appreciate that. It creates a sense of community.
YP: Is there any such thing as “rock music” anymore?
SB: Good question. I never thought that being the age that I am, there’d be a time in my life, especially this early, where rock is a minority genre. At least in the mainstream, rock is not a popular genre at all right now. That’s a major shift that’s happened over the past few years. We weren’t even aware it was happening, but looking at the charts right now, there’s hardly any rock on there.
JR: I think rock in general has become a catchall phrase for music or even a lifestyle. Shirley’s right, it’s not on the charts, and the so-called “rock bands” that are on the charts are really more pop.
How we define rock is different; we look backwards to define it and not forwards or even present day. It’s become a generic phrase, it’s not actually about the sound.
SB: I think the word “indie” has replaced the word rock. When you ask someone what they listen to they won’t say, “I listen to ‘rock.’” They’ll say, “I listen to a lot of indie stuff,” and that encompasses a lot of bands.
YP: Where’s the hot seat of music right now?
JR: I don’t see any single region right now that’s putting out most of the interesting music. The Internet has made it so that if one person in one town is making something, and someone on the other side of the country can discover it and be inspired by it. It’s less relevant now who your actual neighbors are when you have so much access to all these different bands on the Internet.