An Intimate Evening with Anthony Fantano
Fan art for Fantano’s successful Youtube channel, “The Needle Drop.”
On Jan. 25, in the strangest crossover episode since Family Matters x Full House, the Georgetown Lecture Fund filled the Arrupe Multipurpose Room for the Internet’s Busiest Music Nerd, Anthony Fantano (AKA Senthony Paitano AKA Deathony Gripstano AKA Melon). His PowerPoint-led lecture included discussion of the lyrical genius of “All Star” by Smash Mouth, the not-so-subtle toxic masculinity of “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers, and a narration of a semi-graphic fanfiction. However, the most enlightening points of his brief visit involved an in-depth discussion of music in the digital age.
The Internet quickly became a focal point for music culture in the 2000’s. From the very beginning, the Internet was a multi-faceted platform for discovering, listening to, advertising, and discussing music. Streaming services grew, became corporatized, and are now the primary source for music listeners worldwide. The documentation and digitization of an inconceivably large amount of music from all eras has made music discovery a much simpler and more passive experience. Large and diverse communities from all corners of the world discuss music freely on places like artist forums, Facebook, and various subreddits (not to mention \mu\). The rise of streaming services like Bandcamp, Youtube, and Soundcloud have propelled a large portion of underground music and have, to a degree, put this music in dialogue with pop culture. In projecting music’s harmonic frequencies onto sequences of binaries, the Internet absorbed music culture and made it synonymous with Internet culture.
Fantano’s successful Youtube channel, “The Needle Drop,” is an unabashed product of the union between the musical and the digital. He has amassed millions of views for his music reviews and a cult following in the Internet (and transitively in music culture). His videos and his surrounding persona are deeply entrenched in meme culture, and his success is indicative of the importance of memes in every crevice of modern music. In his lecture, Fantano emphasized the importance of memes in music marketing. He cited independent-artist-supportive streaming services like Soundcloud as mediating a form of music dissemination that is similar to meme dissemination; songs may become viral literally overnight and the accompaniment of memetic phrases and pictures help to create a multimedia listening experience (e.g. rapper Lil Pump’s catch-phrase, “eskettit”). Listening is less about buying records and enjoying them in private, and more about a shared endeavor. The sense of community built around artists by “stans” (common terminology derived from Eminem’s song, “Stan,” for overzealous fans) on the Internet is one of the defining characteristics of modern music culture, and memes are ingrained in the foundation.
The Internet has also made music discovery a much simpler task than ever before. However, Fantano stressed that using streaming services like Apple Music or Spotify to discover music has tangible drawbacks. First and foremost, streaming services are businesses, so they are more concerned with extending listening time. Therefore, their music recommendation algorithms are heavily based on what people who listen to your favorite music listen to. This explains the fact that, on many occasions, after Fantano offers a favorable review towards an album, Death Grips, to whom Fantano regularly gives glowing reviews, appears as a recommended artist. Furthermore, this narrow recommendation algorithm can create an artificial musical echo chamber rather than successfully expand listeners’ tastes. “Melon’s” advice is to receive recommendations from sources that are not as mechanical, such as by going to record stores, talking to friends, and using online collaborative music rating/cataloging sites like rateyourmusic.com.
Memes have brought a new understanding of art to music. They offer instant connectivity with the rest of the world and with the artists themselves. Artists partake in the memes to which they are attributed as a way of acknowledging the importance of their fans in propelling independent music in this digital age. Appreciation of an artist can rely just as much on the music as on the artist’s persona and the absolute absurdity of his/her/their fanbase. Fantano, himself, owes much of his success to the memes that gravitate around it: but such is the internet.
PC: Daniel Bressette/Flickr