Love music? Then love the internet
On one hand, you could say that the internet is crushing the music business. Record companies struggle to control the channels by which tunes reach the music-loving public; while billions of songs are scattered around file-sharing networks for people to grab for free, non-lucrative deals are reluctantly struck with the likes of YouTube and Spotify in an attempt to minimise the damage and generate some minimal, ad-funded royalties.
On an emotional level we value music as much as we ever did, but financially it's suffered from over-supply. A whole generation is growing up without much interest in paying for recorded music, and the industry is hastily diverting resources towards live performance and merchandise in an attempt to get a grip on the situation.
But on the other hand, if you've just formed a band or you're an upcoming solo artist, the internet has revolutionised the process of getting your music heard. The musical DIY revolution happened a long time ago - in the aftermath of punk - but the internet has placed even more of the means of production and distribution in the hands of the individual artist. DIY isn't just an attitude these days, it's a necessity; if you're looking to make a musical splash, you don't just need good songs and a sharp image; you've got to be skilled at online marketing, too.
That might sound like a tedious administrative headache, but the way it puts you instantly in touch with appreciators of your work makes things infinitely more rewarding than they were in the 1990s, or earlier. Back then, you were operating in a bubble, communicating with handfuls of people via the postal service. Today, you don't need a record contract for hundreds, thousands or even millions of people to hear your music.
MySpace has traditionally been a go-to destination for a) bands needing a quick and easy online presence and b) those within the industry looking for young talent. MySpace has undergone a much-reported decline in recent years but has attempted to repurpose itself as an exclusively music-driven site, and it's still worth establishing a page for yourself there - not least because it tends appear high up in Google searches for artist names.
But the torch is now largely being carried by a three-year old website called Bandcamp, which has replaced MySpace in the affections of the DIY musician: it's better designed, allows people to either listen to, download or buy your tunes (depending on your preference) and offers detailed statistics about your listeners. Yes, the site takes a 15% cut of any money you receive, but it's probably the best set of tools yet devised for the independent artist.
The holy grail of monetising your music is something that's discussed at length on the web, particularly on sites like musicthinktank.com. Many musicians are happy enough to upload their tunes to a site like soundcloud.com and let people listen, download and comment as they wish, but if getting the dollars rolling in is a priority, there are options. Just don't expect it to be an easy ride. 'Crowd funding' has been much talked about in the past few months; websites like Kickstarter, Pledge Music, Feed The Muse and RocketHub offer creative projects the chance to be funded upfront by the internet community in return for signed copies of the finished product, special concerts or various other enticements.
Then, once your album is made, websites like emubands.com can assist you in putting your release onto iTunes and Spotify, the two pre-eminent sources of music online. But needless to say, unless you do a lot of work while sat in front of a computer, no-one's going to know that your music is sitting there. A bit like having a telephone line installed, but not telling anyone the number.
Letting people know you exist is the most difficult task of all, and it's about building communities. Facebook, with its 600 million members, is an obvious place to start. Twitter, if you can get the hang of its idiosyncratic style, is another. Don't ignore YouTube, either. You might not consider yourself a film maker, but putting visuals together is much easier and cheaper than it used to be, and really important from a promotional point of view; 9 out of 10 videos researched on Google are music videos, and people are undoubtedly keener to watch a music video than listen to an mp3.
Then, after you've built this intricate social network of fans eager to hear a new masterpiece, all you have to do is come up with it. After all, it's about the music, not the glory, right?
Visit the WebWise guides to audio and video for more advice on enjoying music online.
Rhodri Marsden is a writer and musician who regularly details his fascination and exasperation with modern technology and the internet for both The Independent and BBC 6Music.