Here I present to you a guide to Basement music for the beginner or for the experienced listener who would like to disagree or help to make this work more complete and inclusive (within reason). Either are, of course, welcome to dismiss this as just another attempt to coin an additional, pointless label. Whatever the outcome, my intention is to simply bring more ears to the music itself. All other interpretations restricted, use only as prescribed. May cause bleeding from expectations. Reclusive, anti-social effects have been indicated in double-blind studies but do not necessarily represent a definitive medical condition.
I’ve posted a couple of examples of home-recorded (and mostly home recorded) albums that have risen above expectations in Another Day On Earth and William Doyle’s recent releases. But there’s an entire universe of what I will call (in the service of attaching labels where none are needed) Basement Music, to be sampled, ingested and archived. You’ve probably heard of what many call outsider music (Jandek, Harry Partch, Daniel Johnston, etc), but what I will call “Basement Music” ( not to be confused with the various companies, studios and services calling themselves “basement music…” ) is probably closer to a home-made, DIY, “maker” attempt at approximating something a bit more mainstream, even if only a little. Or at least an attempt to reach actual ears, which isn’t really fair to label as mainstream. That’s just past “not hiding from the world” , really.
Now, Outsider music is almost the same thing. But not quite, as it usually includes artists that employ no attention to home studio techniques and sometimes merely record with a cassette deck in the room with them. This, to me, is not Basement. I would say that for music to fall into this category, it must be created by an artist that is striving for something, with or without success. While a recording of one voice in a room could very well be interesting, it’s not Basement.
I find it still slightly difficult to use the label since so much of the music industry now (that matters) more closely resembles a cottage industry than a major machine. Many bands you would assume live a certain lifestyle or record in famous studios have simply invested in high end equipment and record right where they live, sometimes just beyond squalor. This stuff I will call “Basement” from here on out is a bit of a different animal. It’s neither outsider OR mainstream/indie. It’s that middle ground. Some would say maybe it’s simply the fact that not many have heard of these artists/bands. Perhaps. Or perhaps it’s the fact that these artists will most likely continue what they’re doing, recording and releasing albums and EPs no matter if you listen or not. And there’s something pure about this, to me. Something that’s been missing in music for the last few years. Doing it not necessarily for art’s sake, or for a living. Doing it simply because they must, passionately. This passion means that these artists sometimes work within limitations imposed upon them. These limitations can facilitate new discoveries, techniques and creative arrangements that would not be imposed upon the music in a less limited environment. Everything from fixed incomes and noise laws to limited hours of free time and even physical or mental handicaps can have an unexpected impact on the finished recordings.
In the words of Brian Eno, “‘Regard your limitations as secret strengths. Or as constraints that you can make use of.”
It’s also pure in the true sense of what music has always been. Back before lawyers (whom I do NOT hate as many people do, but rather associate with cowboys and hackers. They can wear a white hat and save your life or they can wear a black hat and destroy all that is good in the universe. But to call them all evil while ignoring a white knight such as Lessig is just ignorance) started hanging around campfires demanding royalties and peddling mandatory representation/protection schemes, music was made to be heard and to be shared, period. No business model was designed around it, no expectations of payment regardless of enjoyment existed beyond a scowl aimed at an empty hat and singing another person’s song or even changing the lyrics was a compliment rather than a rip-off or” lost” revenue. (to be lost, a thing must exist and be found somewhere, IMO)
In your “10 for the next 10 “article, I found a lot I agreed with(and was inspired by), but I think your assessment of the entertainment (and news, lumped in there) industry was terribly far off the mark as well as reality. Perhaps the lack of insight from such an obviously sharp, passionate and compassionate mind is a matter of information not read, heard? You say that the people downloading is hurting are the people who are essentially unknown. People who cannot make a living off tickets and t-shirt sales. First of all, who? You get my point there? The reason we have no idea who you’re speaking of is because no-one KNOWS WHO these people are because they’re not famous. Of COURSE they cannot expect to make a living off t-shirt sales! How can or could they if their fan-base is 400 people on myspace spread out over the entire PLANET? (most of which cannot afford, as you are aware, clean drinking water, let alone t-shirts with unknown bands emblazoned upon them) But that’s always been the case. The only difference now is that they can actually HAVE 400 fans worldwide, unlike before when they would have trouble even reaching the people in their home-towns.
I do agree that we in the US should give more credit where it’s due when it comes to the entertainment industry. In California we are want to say “it’s the cheese”. Well, I don’t know about you, but when was the last time a hunk of medium cheddar made people want to snog in the back seat of a car, or inspire someone to write a novel? And when was the last time a gruyere was alphabetized, shelved and consumed 100 times in a year? Then again and again over a 50 year period? Not once. The entertainment economy of California (and the US) is a gift that keeps on giving. Take that, cows. Why don’t you try licensing some pepper jack for the end credits of a film sometime. I didn’t think so. Read more…
2009, you were quite a year. I loved you, you frightened me. And no matter how many times you hit me with some new surprise, some new fear, some new reason to stay inside and avoid people, I kept coming back. It was an unhealthy relationship. But this post is not for you. Nothing personal, I’ve just moved on. Knowing you, the pain will pass quickly and you will move on. That seemed to be your M.O. anyway.
2010, I have some questions for you and some demands. I know it’s a little early for demands, we’ve only just met. I feel tentative but full of promise, not unlike the vibe I get from you. But I have real concerns. You know this Internet thing? Yeah, still here in spite of everyone wanting to turn it into a one-way medium like TV. Read more…