As much as I appreciate streaming services, I think the limitations on mobile data bandwidth (as well as the threat of this in the world of wired services) and people’s familiarity with downloading translates into the death of the mp3 being much, much farther off than some are saying it is. I know when I see things like “the new ___ track STREAM is out!!”, I typically just click away. It almost makes me angry. Why tie up all that bandwidth EVERY time you want to hear a song? And why would someone hosting a file want to stream it over and over when they could just as easily send it once and then the listener can listen anytime she or he wants? Why pay for that bandwidth as a distributor, over and over instead of just once? Control? Oh come on, we know you’ll never get that again. At least not like it used to be. Besides, it’s not like streams can’t be captured. It all seems so wasteful. Especially with storage as cheap as it is now and bandwidth under constant threat of being more expensive/metered/capped for consumers.
As long as streaming is one of many options rather than the ONLY option, I’m fine with it. And please do not misunderstand, I realize the benefits of streaming music. I listen to Pandora here and there, at least until its cold, mechanized nature rears its ugly head. That usually takes about an hour or so. Spotify seems like a great service, and yes I know there’s more human interaction and curation there. I still prefer pure, absolute human curation, but they’ll do in a pinch and I have actually discovered some things using Pandora. It has its place. But for the most part it makes some really wild, inaccurate assumptions about my tastes that just end up frustrating me far too easily. (aren’t you all proud of me for not taking another cheap shot at Coldplay and bands that sound like them here?)
I realize there are streaming services that have social aspects to them, but I’ve honestly never found very much that’s compelling about any of them. Not even the most popular services. Its probably just me.
You can be sure, downloads are here to stay for quite a while. Many, myself included, will always prefer having the option to be offline and listen. Besides, do you really trust a few larger companies and services with archiving what will one day, without question, be obscure or even lost? Individuals are just as, if not more important for preservation. Collectors often consider themselves archivists, and rightly so. Many works thought to be lost have been rediscovered either on purpose or accidentally in the collections on sale at swap meets, estate sales and garage sales. It warms my heart to know that there are people out there digitizing their vinyl (and CD) collections. Eventually, most of the vinyl out there will simply disappear and to be honest the CDs will deteriorate even faster. I have CDs that are just a few years old that are falling apart, even in protective cases and after being treated with kid gloves. The losses will be gradual, and most people will react in the same way a frog reacts to a slow boiling ( I know..eww ). But what of works created after the mp3 revolution? I remember naively thinking back in the days of Napster that very soon there would no longer be such a thing as a “lost work”. Now with this whole “have everything, own nothing” movement, that bright future is fading away again.
We luckily have that growing movement of people taking great care and pains to “rip” lossless copies of older and more obscure works (and the relatively obscure ones too). The copyright police will no doubt be wringing their hands and sweating over this, but even they will someday appreciate these people’s efforts. The way things are going with copyright, chances are “orphaned” works (music at least) will never reach the public domain. In a post-physical-media world, it will be profitable for lawyers to “haunt” our culture to watch for revivals of certain works for the chance to license or re-claim ownership to works they didn’t care enough about to preserve themselves. In a way, our love for the music itself will be turned into a sort of crowdsourced monetization game. We as a culture do the work, they reap the rewards through insanely long-living copyright, repeatedly extending it until no-one ever sees any works they grew up with fall into the public domain in their lifetimes. If they lighten up about fair use, I’ll take that trade. But we must value ownership, as consumers, if we are forced to live in a world of perpetual, infinite copyright. It’s only fair. Don’t buy into the whole “have everything, own nothing” concept so easily. Really think about the impact of that before embracing it.
We have to say loud and proud… I want my data where I want it and when I want it. And not just when I’m connected. ( yeah it’s a mouthful and it’s not quite as catchy as.. say “we’re mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore”, but we still need to say it ) Sites and companies go down all the time. While I think cloud services by Google and Amazon will be around for a very, very long time, even they could someday just decide to stop. We need services that help us get legal, downloadable files in addition to streaming services. It’s not like solid state drives are going to have less capacity at higher prices in the future. Quite the opposite. And they will take up less physical space as time goes on. To stream everything will make less and less sense rather than more and more. And those cloud services will be used for what they should be used for primarily anyway, BACKUP! Streaming is a nice, convenient, secondary use. The people who want to monetize your metered and limited bandwidth love the idea of going back to markets with limitations again, no matter if the limitations are bandwidth (that they meter and charge you for) or the concentrated, corporate-controlled curation, ultra-limited scope of selection and minimized diversity this will bring about. Probably both. Fewer choices coupled with concentrated media ownership that also profits from metered bandwidth equals endless, focused profit guarantees.
For a while.
Because all good things come to an end. Even when they’re evil.
But I’m just an optimist.
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You can catch The Dears doing live performances of “Yesteryear”, “Thrones”, “Blood” and “5 Chords” (video) on Oregon Public Broadcasting HERE. There’s a 2 part interview as well, but you may not notice it as it’s audio-only and sort of at the bottom of the page. Also be sure to check out the newly (and nicely) re-designed TheDears.org HERE. The performances are great, but a little messed up in places by a bad mix (where are the keys hiding?) . Overall, really good though. My fave is probably Blood, one of the best tracks from Degeneration Street, which is by far their best album yet. See my review of it HERE. I really hope they come back through California again.
I like the OPB music site, too. There you will find studio sessions with a variety of artists including Annuals, Blitzen Trapper, The Decemberists, Foreign Born, Loney Dear, M. Ward, Neko Case, Patrick Watson, Viva Voce, The Wooden Birds, and tons more. Many of them very , very good. I especially liked the Loney Dear session. Dig in, it’ll be worth it.
Today is a sad day for me, and as it turns out, probably not a huge number of others. While watching the latest Windows Weekly (yes, I am a nerd), I heard it finally confirmed. The Zune is no more. You can still get them, but there will not be another Zune. That’s the news coming out of Microsoft, allegedly internally yet still denied publicly. Bloomberg is reporting this as well, and I wish I could say they’re probably wrong, but they most likely are not. This really is sad, because although Apple’s offerings do offer some advantages, my own Zune experience has been overwhelmingly positive in the long run. This little cheap baby (39.95!! refurb!!) has been to hell and back, and still runs beautifully. In fact, it even has a huge crack in the screen. Still works perfectly, still looks good and still sounds fantastic with my headphones of choice. (while in fact, my headphones simply didn’t sound as good on an iPod Nano I tried a while back) I also grew to love the interface with some small caveats. First, the podcast integration was a little wonky, and I missed some of the things my previous players had, such as “most played” and “rarely heard” automatic playlists.
It’s even more frustrating because if they would give it more time, and perhaps just a tiny, teensy-weensy price drop, even if it’s a short lived one, along with more major media ads pointing out it’s advantages (Zune Pass is fantastic, and while not free is as close to a true Spotify as you’ll get while waiting for the popular streaming all-you-can-eat service to come to the US, at 14.95 a month WITH 10 monthly free mp3 downloads you can keep included in the price), it has a chance at a chunk of the market share. Apple WILL dominate for the foreseeable future, especially with the prices being so reasonable while continuing to innovate. You just cannot deny that the iPod touch is a whopper of a deal for what you get now. But not everyone wants to plop down OVER 100 bucks for an mp3 player(for an 8g Nano, even refurbs are about 129.00). And for around 60, they want a screen and if possible more than 2 gb ( although the shuffle is 44.99 at 2gb) . There’s no doubt that if you want the Apple … experience?… the price of entry is much lower than it ever has been.
It’s all a matter of personal tastes, no matter how much Apple-Trekkers will try to tell you differently, but after trying the iTunes and iPod interfaces, I prefer the Zune software and interface by a huge degree. Something just feels right about it all. It will be missed. We’re losing it far too soon. Perhaps they will simply offer a windows phone that can be purchased at a reasonable price that is simply a Zune HD with added features like a camera for stills and videos. I just hope that if this is the way they go they do not lose the HD radio. Sure, there’s not a lot of good programming out there in HD Radio, but it’s going to be around for a while and the offerings will improve with time. (especially as College and Indie/Non-Commercial radio jumps on) Time will tell. I hope this isn’t the last we see of the Zune brand, as long as the Zune software comes along with it and is improved.
However, sadly, I have lost a certain amount of trust with this move and I will soon be the proud owner of an iPod Touch. I just can’t invest in a player that, even discounted to 150 bucks or so (The price for a 16gb Zune HD is now about 164 bucks, and is sure to drop now), will not be improved/developed for, will not be supported and delivers a service I love that may just go “poof” in the near future after that investment of time and money. No thanks. I’d rather spend the 15 bucks a month at iTunes on apps and tracks, or maybe even skip part of that and buy some wi-fi hot-spot access. Besides, have you seen the display on that thing? The retina display is wondrous! I’m sure some people will snatch up those cheap Zune HDs when the price drops and they clear them out finally, but I’m bypassing it and jumping finally into the cult of Apple. Now I must procure the employment to support my new habit. That IPad 2 is lookin’ mighty fine, and why bother getting one of those without a Macbook Air to go with it? So I must be going now.
Goodbye Zune, we hardly knew ye.
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It’s a short artist, producer or curator interview conducted via e-mail that can either be 6.9 questions answered through a single e-mail exchange or more conversationally through several exchanges, 1 question at a time. I’m having fun with it so far, I hope it’s entertaining and/or informative for you, the reader. I’m also proud that my first interview is with one of my favorite artists, William Doyle. He agreed to the conversational style, thankfully, and here it is…be gentle this is my first.
William Doyle is lead vocalist, songwriter (in his band, along with Ben Clarke-multi-instrumentalist, Michael Goozee-Bass, and Alex Urch-Drums-Percussion), and guitarist/keyboardist. Doyle and the Fourfathers are from Southampton and were formed some time after William’s debut solo work, Born In The USB (my pick for album of the year in 2009). The band’s debut full album release, “Man Made”, was released on Feb 28, 2011 and can be had by mail through Rough Trade(CD or Vinyl) or digitally through 7Digital, iTunes, and Amazon (and soon eMusic). They are touring starting at the end of March, supporting The Undertones through the month of April, followed by some summer festival gigs. Find more info on the tour dates here by clicking “gigs”.
Indie69 – As you know already, I was a big fan of your first release, “Born In The USB“. Looking back at that time, do you recall your expectations for the direction of your music career and musical style being similar to what they are now? Or did you see something different for yourself back then?
I’ve probably made my love for radio fairly clear on this blog. But I’ve never really explained it in detail, given my reasons and my hopes. Your imaginary curiosity combined with my lack of mp3s to easily and quickly post this week means my chance has arrived. This will be a long read. But the rewards will be many.
My love for radio started when I was very, very young. (yes, it’s going to be THAT kind of blog post,sorry) It all began with AM, oddly enough. Those weird stations you could pull in across the country on just the right night, with just the right weather conditions. UFOs, weird religious shows, oddballs, really old music, all of it. Then I found my first truly independent AM station, which was probably a pirate radio station considering most nights they played noise music and strange stuff like the joyous Residents and a bit of the old Throbbing Gristle. I remember thinking “you can do this on the radio?”. Turns out you can. Then I found left of the dial FM and I was hooked. There were a couple of years there when so-called “alternative radio” kept my attention, until they became the Limp Bizkit/Korn/Sublime networks.
Can we just come to a mutual understanding that Sublime (or at least its surviving members) doesn’t practice Santeria and leave it at that? It’s pretty clear and they’ll be getting no argument from me anymore. And we are all clear on how many joints you smoke in the morning as well as at night. It’s 2. Perhaps a total of 4 per day or more.
In my region, radio died a few years ago. We still have two truly independent stations in the area, but they are usually just out of range. In the city itself, you have to tune to obscure cable radio to find independent radio that is not the local NPR outlet or a jazz/classical only station. Pretty sad for a major area. I can think of at least 3 religious stations. Only one of them AM. I’m sure there are more. Then we have your usual 2 country stations, 2 classic rock stations and countless pop nostalgia stations focusing on the 80s and now even the 90s and 2000s. And those aren’t even over yet. One top 40-ish station (even if something that is not your typical top 40 fair crosses over and makes it to the top 40, they still won’t play it) and one rap station that honestly sounds more like the top 40 station than a real rap station. Your average normal will say that’s diversity. It’s not. Many of these stations are pre-programmed and identical no matter where you go in the country. Anyone who has taken a road trip recently can testify to this. Once you leave an area, you can count on another area having a station with different call letters and not much else. There’s a “The BUZZ” in every major area. (I just made that name up.. I think..) And their playlists are identical, as are their on the air personalities, if they even have any.
Living in southern California for a short period of time at the end of good commercial radio, I witnessed those last few years of radio personalities. DJs that still chose content to play, participated in playlists and actually had an interest in the artists being played. And they even expressed opinions. Those days are also over. The only place you’ll find DJs still talking about the music between songs is on geezer rock stations. And these classic rock stations are only doing it because they know it’s a proven formula for their audience.
Now I find out the radio industry would like mandatory FM receivers in every mobile phone. Some say this is a way for them to “save radio”.
You want to save radio? How about you actually bring radio BACK from it’s coma. I’m going to do the industry a favor and hand this over for free. You can even pretend it was your idea. I know some of you will be surprised at how money-focused some of this is. But the reality is that you cannot operate a commercial station in a major market and reach a large audience without considering the money side of things. Things just do NOT have to be the way they are. You need to bring the new audiences back to radio. And music needs radio back in order to bring back large-audience curation.
Here are the top 13 ways you can save radio and bring it back from the dead….
13. Start doing better research into your potential audiences. Yeah, numbers suck. Marketing sucks. Polls and estimations suck. But it’s a game none of us are going to be able to avoid now. Embrace it. But do it the right way. Listen! A lot of your radio audience is not part of the crowd that hangs at the mall or regularly frequents Starbucks, or even the local retail stores. I can guarantee you, whatever method you’re using to figure out what the radio audience wants is grossly inaccurate. That’s part of why no-one listens to radio anymore. You just got it wrong for far too long and delivered crap because you thought it was what we wanted. The truth is, probably a good 50% of the people you made contact with regarding listening habits wouldn’t know what they wanted to hear unless someone told them what it was. So what do you do? You ask those people. And what do they tell you they want? More of the same. Ungh! Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want you to go out and find a bunch of indie hipsters and only listen to what they want. That would probably be a worse disaster. But you need to find SOME of those people. And people who actually love radio.
12. Get rid of the anti-DJ creep that’s been going on for over a decade now. It all started with “less talk… more rock” BS. Radio programming by computer is worse. I don’t need to prove that to you now, do I? It’s obvious at this point because radio is dying or in some places dead already. It’s a nostalgia fest catered to state workers and soccer moms that love Coldplay. People whose lives ended with high school. Harsh? Yeah. But it doesn’t make it less true. The only way to get past this crap is to put actual people in charge of deciding what gets on the radio. AND let them TALK about the music they pick. And give them some time. Which brings us to the next thing…
11. Give new formats time to build a loving, loyal audience base. Like I mentioned above, many of these people don’t know what they want until they’ve had it for a few years and miss it when it’s been taken away from them. They will tell you NOW that what they have is fine. But the truth is, it takes time for people to warm up to any kind of new ideas or diversity they’re not used to. Arrogant? A little. But again, not any less true. When those first numbers come through, don’t drop the ball. And you MUST continually mix things up. Don’t over-play one genre, but focus on the NEW.
10. Once the programming feels like it’s found it’s sweet spot, don’t freeze playlists. I know it’s a temptation. But that’s how it starts. A year later when your audience is telling you they want to hear the same STP and Nirvana tracks over and over (of course now the bands would be different), you’ll listen. And then gradually your audience numbers will drop. See, that’s a great way to not gain a NEW audience. It can be a hard balance, and difficult to do when your audience die-hards are asking why “you’re playing all that new crap.. that’s ghey”. But you have to not listen at that point. That’s the bad advice that will spell your doom. That new song that pisses off 50 of your old fans (vocal ones) may be the ONLY reason 500 NEW listeners (quiet ones that do not give you feedback yet) are listening at all.
A Seattle Weekly article from the 20th of April asked this question. It then proceeded to make all sorts of assumptions, connections and reasons that made no sense and just generally made the writer seem like he was writing from a cave without Internet. (and TV, radio, or anything beyond maybe a studded club to pick up women, a bed of straw, firewood and perhaps some premium hair products) Let’s break it down here a bit. Why? Well, because this is a subject near and dear to my heart. And, since it’s said (in a *fairly well-received and respected book you can find here) you need at least 10 thousand hours in order to master something, I have to just keep writing every day so that I may someday change my blog’s name to “ULTRA MASTER OF WRITING! or I put in my 10 thousand, how you like me now?” I still have at least 3000 hours to go, so I have to get to it. Over-long, similar-to-all-my-other-rants articles are my bread and butter.
The article begins nicely enough. Then it forgets to mention that although the year 2000 was a peak in music sales for the industry, it was also in fact a peak for Napster and other means of acquiring music without paying. This is substantial and very, very important to remember. Millions of people were downloading millions of tracks for free on services that pre-date Napster by a few years while the industry was just beginning to sob about the losses created by file-sharing ALL while raking in record profits. Not exactly something to sob about. In the years between then and now, the industry sobbed again and again in public in many cases while doing VERY well considering how much they claimed to be losing. All while paying more and more in legal fees while dropping and failing to promote artists on their rosters. Major errors were made on their end by leaning toward fear rather than embracing optimism through technology that was way ahead of them in the game already. The article then insinuated that the quality of music was just as bad before file sharing as it was after, negating this excuse people use for their downloading habits, all while essentially ignoring the real way of answering those who choose to download what they claim to hate. See, I didn’t even have to explain it. Already hate it? Why download it? But to suggest that bad music is NOT one of the reasons why people do what they do by pointing out that things are as bad now as they used to be and nothing has really changed is disingenuous. And has very little to do with the subject in the first place.
What’s really happened is the death of diverse and trustworthy, mass-market curation. In part, the slow death of radio. As the music marketing machines re-focused and cut back on taking risks as a fear response to file-sharing, the result was less truly new music being played on radio, TV or even Internet portals. MTV slowly became the hazardous waste dump of the world’s worst reality programming concepts, eventually completely abandoning music. So-called alternative radio stations across the nation either changed formats to top 40 or froze their playlists somewhere in the beginning of the 2000’s, putting Nirvana and Sublime with a touch of RATM and Pearl Jam on rotation 24/7 to sate the baser need for easy-to-digest nostalgia by a 30-plus audience that had already stopped buying new music anyway. (but in many cases would, if given the chance to sample something new)All while ignoring a new generation of music fans just dying for someone out there to say “check THIS out” once in a while.
The key here is MASS MARKET. Sure, we have college stations out there for the die-hard new music fans, but we have almost no non-top-40 outlet for the latest thing anymore. The latest thing, instead of being pushed, promoted and spread with intent, is marginalized and ignored by the only REAL means of getting to huge audiences. Which still is radio and TV, no matter what the “netsperts” out there would tell you while they sit on their piles of imaginary Web 2.0 play money. You and I both know that the music industry, out of fear, is the one who really dropped the ball on the development of new music. Sure, they pushed the safe stuff. The Coldplays and Nicklebacks and whatever other bands were on the closing credits of shitty movies out during those years. In my part of the world we have 2 radio stations that play new music on a regular basis. One is a college station that barely comes in because it’s on the outskirts of my major market. The other is up in the hills and plays some new music, but not much, since it’s focus appears to be feeding the ears of ageing hippies more than anything, in spite of the fact that it’s a locally funded non-profit, indie station that’s supposed to be offering an alternative to what’s available on the airwaves already. And even they are almost impossible to bring in from the major metropolitan area. What used to be the local “alternative” station was abandoned for a computer-programmed lego-brick-like station that has the same DJs across the nation wherever else it’s unseated a real station that people under 40 actually listened to. Plug and play top 40 and 90s nostalgia radio. So if a new artist did begin to explode nationwide, in my area no station would be able to play them. Let’s face it, radio is still the best way to reach a huge, nearly captive audience begging for some kind of guidance. Instead they find themselves drifting around the chaotic Internet, unfocused and apt to not find new music they MIGHT like if they just found a way to sample it. Like radio used to do for them. I’ve tried services like Pandora, and it just doesn’t work for me as well as others claim it works for them. I gave it some time and eventually got so bored with it and so frustrated with its unneccessary limitations, I moved on.
But radio, radio is dead. It’s gone. And no-one appears to be willing to take a risk for longer than a few months to a year. Not like they used to. Everything is corporate now, with almost no room for risks in radio. It’s always the easy, comfortable option for them. And when things turn sour, they can point to articles like yours to back up their fear-based claims of THIEF! THIEF!! rather than face the fact that they dropped the ball and no-one has the guts to pick it back up and admit their mistake. It’s MUCH easier to blame it on the customer base, calling them thieves as they wander around the Internet doing their best to find something interesting in the billions of artists that are out there. Some online radio stations and sites have picked up the fight, sure. Pandora and service like them are satisfying to many, but not to me. It’s missing the human factor, that one voice out of the many you can trust to find that latest, coolest thing that you MUST hear. And it’s all too spread out. There’s no way in hell a site like Pandora, as successful as it is across the world, can reach a single, local area and get that one track out there so that it can reach the truly large audience it deserves. There’s no such thing as a regional hit that spreads out across the nation. Used to happen all the time. Not anymore. It’s all too unfocused, too spread out. And there are FAR too many blogs for them to reach the truly huge audiences radio can reach regionally.
So what do people do? They hit their favorite torrent sites and see what’s new. See what other people are commenting on, rating and most importantly, seeding. If I see something new with 100 seeds, I’m gonna grab it. Period. Even if it doesn’t ring a single bell. They hit Myspace and see what people are posting about. They check out what people are talking about on Facebook. Then, armed with that information, they find a blog with a sample (usually sent by the artists themselves for promotion) or go to the torrent sites or direct download sites and grab it. But what exactly does this translate to? Theft? Or are they simply groping in the dark for SOMETHING good to listen to? And if they think it sucks, instead of never buying it in the first place as they did in the days of radio, they delete it. How exactly is that theft? Ignoring the fact that taking a copy of something by definition is not theft. (reminder: if I copy your bicycle, you can still ride to work on yours) It’s actually more akin to something like a guy standing out in front of the county fair handing out free water bottles, except the guy in the fairgrounds SELLING water does NOT have other means by which to monetize his supply and does his best to get the guy giving water away thrown off the property. Music, on the other hand, can be monetized in more ways than retail sales. Concerts, licensing concert footage for airing on cable/TV, licensing to film, tv , licensing to advertisers, merchandise and ad sales on their web sites all the way to other artists licensing samples of their recordings. The list goes on and on. In a way, it’s simply more like what people already call it… SHARING.
Soundscan does indeed claim that 489 million albums were sold last year. But when you look at the claims made in the industry vs the actual drop in sales from 2000, the losses are exaggerated.(and in fact, the article gets some of the numbers wrong. Soundscan reported a 12.7 percent drop in album sales in 2009, less than the drop the previous year of 14 percent, which translates to a lesser drop in sales than the previous year.. but that way of representing the numbers didn’t serve the article’s agenda, did it?) And more importantly, UNDER-EXAMINED! Many directly blamed what they called “piracy”, failing to pay attention to everything from the industry changing the way it promotes its artists, lowering the number of risks taken on emerging talent all the way to the absolute fact that consumers were spending a HUGE amount of money on video games and hardware. Consider the limited resources of your average young, passionate consumer and do the math. If it’s being spent HERE, chances are it’s NOT being spent OVER THERE. Look past the numbers alone and look at the personas that were the winners in 2009. Number one? A dead iconic pop star, Michael Jackson, was number one. Taylor Swift had the number one album, a distant second place from Jackson,followed closely by SUSAN FRIGGEN BOYLE!
What do those numbers tell you? Without insulting people? Not much. But if you’re willing to not be nice for a moment in the service of representing reality, what you have here is a buying public that is either too old to figure out how to download OR possibly too young to be allowed un-supervised access to a computer. And here’s the not-very-nice part. The Susan Boyle audience is either too old to figure out how to grab the stuff free or on iTunes OR simply too dumb. These musical choices also convey a certain lack of sophistication and taste. These are , for the most part, Target and WalMart impulse buyers. What these statistics are missing are the breakthrough artists you would have seen in the past. Some would say it’s because those thieving downloaders are preventing these up and coming artists from getting the exposure they need in order to be seen and heard. But we’ve been through this already. The industry has systematically dismantled the means by which these artists could gain exposure IF they were invested in on any level. The industry dropped this ball, not the customers. If they can market to the Fox-news worshiping, god-fearing, morally simplistic, reality-TV watching, science-hating, other-fearing, WalMart shopping, teen-idol adoring masses, they can market AGAIN to the portion of the population that’s never even seen an episode of American Idol. Which is a number much, much larger than they may think. Instead, again, they have decided to blame us instead of taking responsibility for ignoring the margins which in the past have led to massive sales. (see: the Pink Floyds of the past, the 80s under-then-over bands such as The Cure, The Smiths, all the way to the big grunge artists of the 90s who would have NEVER broke through without a music-playing MTV and alternative radio in essentially every single US market) Instead, now, we see very few artists beyond perhaps MGMT and a select few popping up into the charts from time to time past the Disneyfied artists, American Idol winners or runners-up, and other saccharine sound-alikes. And then you have rap-hip-hop, which continually chugs along at an acceptable pace while ignoring it’s own extremely talented, original underground.
While the increase in digital sales were not as impressive as previous years (45% increase in 2007, 27% increase in 2008) an increase of sales in ANY industry or single business of 8.3% (which was the increase in digital sales in 2009) should not be looked upon as a failure. But, considering that we live in a country that considers constant growth as the only realistic measure of success of any kind, it’s not that shocking that a decrease in GROWTH would or could be seen as a form of failure. Gee, do you think maybe it has something to do with the economy COLLAPSING!!?? Didn’t think so. Must be the pirates. Yeaaargh.
The article then quotes numbers estimated by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. The f^c(ing IFPI!! Do you think maybe there’s a motivation to estimate a bit high on their part? What scientific method exactly did they use to estimate the number of “illegal” downloads for 2009? Could they maybe have included some wild guesses? Why would they EVER do such a thing?? I’m sure their numbers are pure science, zero propaganda. I mean, they’ve never, ever shown any disdain for people downloading music off the Internet without paying for it, right? So there would never be a motivation to make that enemy look more substantial than it really is. (end sarcasm.. sorry.. it got a little ugly even for me there) THOSE NUMBERS ARE STAGGERING, the article then claims. Did you stop even for a second to consider that the numbers are staggering because they’re made up? Consider, instead, that it’s not virtually impossible to estimate those numbers with anything resembling accuracy… it’s absolutely impossible. Now, to be fair and not become disingenuous myself, everyone knows as well that MOST of the bittorrent and other file sharing traffic IS of the without-permission type. But an increasing number of that traffic is legitimate downloads coupled with downloads of artists who do not have any problem whatsoever with the idea of a potentially huge audience downloading their albums for free. As long as they show up for the concert, buy the t-shirts and tell everyone how amazing they were. Or send traffic to their web sites. (this is one area in which artists have not yet got the big picture.. why so many attempt to keep their audiences peeled to their Myspace or Facebook pages, handing those respective companies the resulting ad revenue, rather than doing their best to direct fans to their own sites, where they could display unobtrusive Google text ads, bringing in another smaller but steady income stream.. which is better than NO additional income stream, is beyond my brain and pay grade)
It’s easier certainly to just take a position, read the numbers with the slanted interpretation included by sources with a clear agenda and drop a fresh, steaming article upon your readers. But to me, that stinks. Not just because it makes so many outrageous assumptions and conclusions, but also because it’s so easy now using the Internet to get some idea of the bigger picture before plunging into a position. (wow.. lotta poop symbolism there) This is made even more sad and sort of odd considering Chris Kornelis’ other writing for Seattle Weekly. I took some time to really read a LOT of his writing and discovered a real love for music, local and otherwise. I found his writing to be witty, sharp, entertaining and filled with what makes the best music writing so cherished. Brief when appropriate, expanded and detailed when needed as well. I just wish this particular article were not such a run-of-the-mill, under-researched mess of judgmental, moralizing crap. At times, reading the article evokes an image of a man in a suit standing behind the writer at a computer with a gun pointed at a kitten saying things like..
“NO! I want the word ILLEGAL at least 2 more times in there, and what’s that part about “sympathetic characters”? What the hell? I don’t think you like kittens very much, Chris! Don’t you like kittens? It sure doesn’t seem like you appreciate little kittens that breathe with lies like that, son! What we have here is what I perceive as a serious disconnect between you and the concept of healthy young felines in your vicinity! Or am I wrong?”
But the most frustrating thing about the article for me is the title of the damned thing. “Why don’t we talk about illegal downloading anymore?” First of all, who is WE? If by “we” you mean you and 4 or 5 people you hang out with who write about music, maybe. But if by “we”, you mean most of us, or even a large percentage of us, you’re clearly not paying very much attention. Seriously, WTF? Find any discussion on any forum or YouTube video comments section related to the subject (of which there are millions, growing constantly) and you will find heated debates about the morality, the numbers, the politics.. everything. And when I say heated, I mean the Hades-side of the river friggen Styx heated. And sure, a huge number of people still see a download as analogous to physical theft. Most of them will never change their position, no matter the evidence or reality. And another large percentage think that it’s perfectly fine to download an album from a band they profess to adore without ever paying for it, going to their shows or buying even the tiniest bit of their merchandise. But in between these two extremes lies the rest of us.
We see something that looks like it might be interesting and we sample it by downloading. If we hate it, we delete it. If we love it, sometimes we buy it. With certainty, we will go to see them live. We absolutely will tell others about how amazing they are. We’ll share the files with people we know. We’ll write about the band in our blogs. We’ll post about them on Twitter. In some cases, we’ll not only buy the download, we’ll actually buy a physical CD. Or vinyl! But we will NEVER buy a CD or a download after we’ve sampled it and found it to be horrible. The real important factoid here is… we NEVER did. Ever. (well, I remember a few turds at Tower records telling me an album was amazing, then purchasing it, taking it home and finding out it was in fact the worst thing ever recorded) The thing that’s really changed, as I’ve stated here repeatedly, is that we have limited ways in which to be exposed to new and non-mainstream artists. We look at the price of a single track on iTunes and scratch our heads. On average, the same price per track or in some cases MORE per track than we’d pay if we purchased it at the local mom and pop CD store. If it’s supposedly convenience they’re selling us, free file sharing has them beat. Exclusivity is an illusion now. In some cases, we pay more for a digital download version and get LESS control over the thing we’ve supposedly “purchased” through the wonderful innovation of Digital “rights” management. Guess what? If it’s managed, it’s not a right anymore. If we pay for music like the old days, we want to actually OWN it like the old days. You know, in sort of the same way the music industry expects profits, growth and demand-price relationships to remain static or positive in their favor. iTunes and Amazon have virtually removed DRM, but it still lingers out there in the shadows. If we’re paying for a “license” rather than a recording, the price should reflect that fact and so far it does NOT.. in any case, at any time, anywhere other than The Pirate Bay. I’ve said it a thousand times already. The next big innovation in technology will be price point. (Internet culture, in my opinion, complicates the traditional demand/price point equations and results) If you consider even the basic premise of substitution price points, consider that your typical iTunes single song purchase now begins it’s life as a substitution for the price point of $0.00 ! Now we see some places going over the 99 cent price point, which is another price point no-no. People are used to buying single items for the magical, great-deal-sounding 99 cents, which works against us. Many of us are just so “okay” with the 99 cent price, we forget that in the case of most albums, 99 cents is way, way over the price we pay per song when we purchase a single, physical CD. Especially if it’s on sale. We have here an industry that is using excuses to ignore that the demand for it’s product has continually and drastically reduced over a relatively short period of time. The problem is that we, it’s potential customers, are the excuse. And now they are going so far as to invest in and in my opinion pay for new laws and treaties which will assure that their product’s demand remains artificially high by restricting access to alternatives they would like to be universally defined as illegal. The big problem with this is that the methods of acquiring their product at the $0.00 price point are the same methods many artists are using to spread and promote their work in a way that does not burden them financially if their particular work suddenly becomes popular. Bandwidth aint cheap, Harvard. But bittorrent is a way to spread that bandwidth around a bit to make it affordable for ANYONE to reach millions of people without emptying your bank account. And that.. THAT has to make pretty much any middleman used to limited, exclusive channels very , very nervous. But as I said earlier, they already OWN the existing limited, exclusive channels and do NOTHING with them except push out the next ephemeral, bland, generic “artist” on their now short rosters. AND they want to put a stop to innovation in distribution simply because it can ALSO be used by average users to trade music these companies own for free. We have a name for this behavior in the business world already, it’s called anti-competitive.
Popular bittorrent site Mininova recently was de facto shut down. It’s still there, but the torrents are limited to approved uploaders. These accounts are being doled out VERY carefully and they are difficult to obtain. But that’s not what really killed the site. What killed the site was the audience being turned away. They were turned away by restricting the content indexed on the site. Once you start with those restrictions, the huge audiences run away in droves to other places. Mininova had many artist-approved torrents with HUGE audiences downloading them. By removing the larger audience for the unwanted content, the audience for the approved content shrunk as well. If “legal” content had any shot of being a major draw for the visitors to the site, that shot was ruined by the imposed restrictions. The artists and the labels tried to play along and as a result, Dutch anti-“piracy” outfit BREIN ruined it for them by leaning again on fear rather than optimism.
I know this can seem confusing if you’ve managed to make it this far. First he says we need curators again. (radio DJs, hip record store employees, etc etc) Then he says that the competition to the status quo is basically saying “we don’t need no stinking curators”. So which is it, Burbank Community College? It can’t be both, can it? Well, yes it can. We DO need both curators and a means by which anyone can reach a huge audience without said curators. See, once an artist breaks through using something like bittorrent, music blogs or Internet radio (or all 3.. or more), that’s when the good curators paying close enough attention stumble on these new artists and take it from there. But if one is made illegal and the other is under-used, what are we left with? Pretty much what we had this year in the mainstream. A dead pop star, a group that broke up in 1970, an old lady singing show tunes and a teenage country music star as the big winners. And how many albums do you have to sell now to crack billboard’s top 100? 150? And is that because artists cannot afford to make albums anymore? Heh. Hell no. The albums are being made, and sold. Many are not even tracked by Billboard and Soundscan. Bands are making money and bands are failing. Like they used to. It’s just that nowadays they have a decent scapegoat in US to blame for it. We’re YOKO! Without the cool,weird high voice and famous friends.
But finally (yes, I’m almost finished) the last thing that bugged me was the assumption that “illegal” downloading was and could continue to be responsible for taking down mom and pop CD stores. BRISTLE!
The same bad practices and abandoned risks coupled with a non-competitive digital price point account for a huge drop in sales at CD stores. And you also MUST NOT ignore the reality that the biggest music retailers out there are the big stores like WalMart and Target. This wasn’t the case in such an extreme way back in 2000. The big chain music stores were still around (although many were already dying.. even before the onset of Napster), able to buy in larger numbers so as to offer CDs at prices the mom and pops could not compete with without taking a loss. Same with the big stores like WalMart. The record companies and distributors didn’t have to allow this to happen, but they did. The inflated price of a CD must also be remembered. 14.99 for a CD? Outrageous but accepted. Up to a point. A point we reached when we collectively discovered file sharing. The small stores in my town are still around while the Towers of Virgins collapsed long ago. ALL of them with the exception of an amazing, gigantic one that still mainly dealt in vinyl. (RIP) And I think they will continue to survive. Why? Because they cater to people who LOVE music, truly. People like ME. People who actually both download AND pay for music. People who refuse to spend 13 to 15 bucks on something without listening to the whole friggen thing first. We do not JUST download music using file sharing. We also read blogs, download artist-provided sample mp3s, stream albums from artist’s websites. And yes, we still buy CDs. From stores. In person. In fact, other than Michael Jackson, Taylor Swift, Susan Boyle and Beatles fans, we may be the ONLY ones still buying music.
Do you truly think people turned on the major labels only when they started suing little girls and grandmas? Please, read up a bit. They were already hated for charging 15 bucks for something that cost about 4 bucks to create(yep.. even recording, mastering,marketing,paying the artist a share, etc), manufacture and ship. In the 80s, you could still get a new release album on a blue light special for $5.99 . Maybe $7.99 on sale if you went to a smaller store. And you can bet they still made money. Tons of it, in fact. The truth is, I can make a CD for 10 cents. I can ship it for a buck. I can pay myself 5 dollars a CD and spend about 50 cents on packaging. That’s about $6.60 . So I could tack on an extra 3 bucks and 39 cents to make it $9.99 ending in a HUGE amount of money made per CD. If *I* can do it that cheap, the majors certainly can because they can buy in larger quantities than I ever could. There’s absolutely no excuse for the price of a physical CD, let alone the hyper-inflated digital download. This isn’t new hatred and distrust. Ask Tom Petty, he sued ’em for it. This goes waaaaay back.
So could you maybe give us a break and think next time you decide to blame us for the stupid behavior of an entire industry and its supporting industries?
* Some of his peers believe he makes large assumptions based on less than traditional scientific method. But in my opinion, his work is the best so far on the study of mega-successful people. I can imagine it would be about as easy to herd them into double-blind groups as it is to do the same with cats. With huge egos and odd bahavi… oh I guess that pretty much describes most cats I’ve met.
The Dears came into my life during a time that was very transitional for me. Not that there are times in a person’s life that are NOT transitional, this was just one of those times when I was viscerally aware of it. In the midst of various personal losses and the drying of my own creative well, I had grown very tired of music. Radio had gone stale, I was surrounded by people who were mostly obsessed with their nostalgic comforts and I was about to just give up and throw in the towel in regard to many things. The Dears then snuck up on me. Like I’m sure a few others felt at the time (right around when “Lost in the Plot” was getting a lot of airplay and critics were being a little more lazy than usual), I instantly got a very Morrissey/Blur* vibe from The Dears. But then I heard “We Can Have It” and I knew there was so much more to this band than the kind of cheap, lazy references critics reach for at the bottom of their mostly pilfered idea bags. Here was simply an artist who was not afraid to wear some of his influences on his sleeve. But that track struck me, hard. When Murray and the rest sang the words, “you’re not alone” it felt like a warm blanket wrapped around me by a kind stranger after surviving a cinematic disaster/car crash. Like the closing crane shot of a blockbuster disaster film, the camera pulling up into the sky away from my body reclining on a stretcher. It was just what I needed at the moment, and I never forgot. It didn’t promise me the future would be okay, but it comforted me like a friend. Even if we might not all get what we planned for, someone out there would have my back and in the end at least I’d have that. Perhaps that’s an over-share. But oh well. It meant something to me. And when I listen to a Dears album, I can sense that they are at least a little aware of their utility in this regard.
The Dears, for me, are as close as I’ll probably ever get to a musical religious experience. There are few bands out there now that have that certain special something extra (no, not “tracts of land”), an intangible “thing” that you know is there but cannot put a finger on. And their albums are ALBUMS, rather than just collections of songs with some throw-aways added to pad it out. You can tell attention, thought and real consideration was paid to the order of the tracks. This is most obvious immediately on Gang of Losers, and less immediate but still absolutely true with Missiles. You can tell they care about making the kind of album that made them fall in love with music. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing, but they also achieve the difficult task of seeming both iconic and mysterious yet approachable and like-able. It’s a hard balance, and I can think of no other artists making albums right now that come across that same way. Some come close, sure. Still, no-one does it quite like The Dears. Music itself is so lucky that these people made it through all their struggles to survive and prosper artistically. Now is their time to prosper on all levels. And from what I hear, this next Dears album might be the breakthrough they’ve already earned.
With each new Dears release, my love for them grows exponentially. I have yet to see them live, coming close with a show in SF on the 2008 tour. A show that ended up being a memorable one for those who attended. At that particular show, the power(or rather, the lights?) went off and Murray took the stage for a short acoustic set, lit by flashlight (evidence of which can be viewed HERE and part 2 HERE). I will forever kick myself for missing that one. Towards the end of that second clip I can tell that if I were there, the power coming back on would have been a little bittersweet. Talk about intimacy! When they tour again, I will NOT miss it unless they somehow entirely skip the west coast and northern California. (beg!, plead!, please please! play Sacramento or Davis!! And please play HalfMast live!) Which brings me to the point of this post…
HalfMast (or is it Half-Mast?) continues to blow my mind. How it was left off the album Missiles is beyond me. I originally wrote a long, drawn out description of the song which was over 2000 words and , well, .. was just a drawn-out and pretentious sounding mess. It was to be the first of a planned series involving deep analysis and criticism of single tracks by various bands I love and like. After finishing that first one, I realized I had created a really horrible, long-winded monster that ended up sounding nothing like my voice and far too rock-critic-ey. It might as well have started off with “I have seen the future of rock and roll and its name is…”. Yep, That douchey. (I am not dissing the legacy of Mr Bangs, it worked for HIM) Instead I’ll just describe my first listen and how the song has grown on me, which might just be why it was left off Missiles. See, this is a song that on first listen might not seem right at all. And I don’t mean “not right” as in a Bono-Frank Sinatra duet, I mean “not right” as in the first time people heard Bohemian Rhapsody or Space Oddity on the radio. A good kind of “not right”. Like much of Missiles, it takes attention and repeat listens to reveal its genius. Missiles is one hundred percent a Dears album, absolutely, but it’s different and much more challenging to the listener. A great, striking but off-putting album by first full listen, a classic by the third and perfection by the tenth. By the 11th listen, it’s the best Dears album(so far). Murray Lightburn has called Missiles a blues album, and now I can say rightly so. I agree. Not stylistically as much as spiritually. Existential blues, perhaps. And HalfMast fits right in. The song feels like three songs. Starting with a great drum beat, pummeling the toms, it leads into traditional song form, to a bit of a midsection misdirection they are famous for, featuring the line seen in their (GREAT) documentary “somebody get me a bullet-proof vest, I think I’m running for president” via megaphone, then takes off on another journey into sparse,baritone harmony. And in true Dears form it becomes something entirely different, with the seductive yet distant, almost lamenting (the chant of trauma) “I’ve got the moves… to turn you on” again on what sounds like a megaphone. As it builds, we hear some of the best overlaid guitar solo work in Dears history. In other words, it would have been perfect for Missiles. And I think it’s my duty to “beg and plead” that it be included somewhere on CD, where we can finally hear it in all it’s mostly uncompressed, un-mp3’d glory. Is it? Out there somewhere? On a soundtrack or compilation? (or if not, maybe release in the loss-less FLAC format? I’d pay for that.)
Well, I guess that was still a tiny bit pretentious. But wow, you should have read the other one. (I might have even used that word Dangerbird used, magniloquent) So I’ll shut up now and let you listen for yourself. I think you’ll agree.. they’ve got the moves. (was that cheesy for me to type? Sounds like something a cheesy Top 40 DJ would say.)
The_Dears-Halfmast (right-click, save as) (track posted with direct permission)
*Morrissey is, in my opinion, one of the best lyricists as well as one of the unique voices in pop and rock history. If you grew up listening to him and found your voice took on some of his qualities, I say embrace it. It makes you far more unique than the millions of people who have aped the voices and harmonies of the various Beatles intentionally or otherwise. But as far as BLUR goes, it can be hard to avoid sounding a bit like that if you have a long habit of worshiping brit-pop, as Damon Albarn has embraced the history of the genre in his own voice. Chances are, rather than accuse yourself or others of aping him, it’s far more accurate to just realize he himself is most likely aping that history a bit. And there is the unavoidable fact that he is actually Brit-ish. Having said all that, I feel a bit guilty even mentioning the comparisons again. It’s got to be getting old now. The band has come into its own in a huge way. I just felt like setting the record straight from my own perspective. For what that’s worth.
P.S. – If you read this, please make the next album a double. The world needs larger chunks of Dears. As long as said chunks don’t block out the sun or come crashing down on the planet, making John Cusack drive an RV like a flaming maniac to avoid its debris.