Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Lowest Common Denominator

First things first - yes, I deleted a post with some videos from the weekend. I got mad that despite initially allowing me to embed their videos, then decided that they didn't like that and converted my post into a content free plug for their website. And seeing as the only reason I used them was because, inexplicably, there is no promo video for Countdown by Lindsay Buckingham available on YouTube, I pulled the whole thing.

So now I'll turn to the question that's been at the back of my mind for a while, and which was raised by The Vinyl Villain recently who was also quoting from To Die By Your Side - namely where on earth is this ringtone/mp3/USB disposa-pop ADHD lowest-common-denominator music thing going? Let me explain.

I am passionate about music. By that I mean I am passionate about the form of music I have gotten used to over the years, which includes concepts such as a silver platter, a case, and inserts and artwork. Oh, and a quality album worth keeping for many years is a plus. Over the last few years, I have felt like shouting out loud, "Hey people, mp3's are not the same thing as a CD. It's not even close. It's comparing a New York strip steak to a Sonic Burger. So how can you charge the same price for either and talk about phasing out CD's altogether?" What it comes down to is this: for me, music is not, has not ever been, and must never be, disposable. I was on i-Tunes yesterday and chose to delete a music file I had gotten for free as a Single of the Week promo - a decision which, oddly enough, hurt a little bit. Frankly, because I don't like the idea of throwing music away. If I don't like something, I will sell it, trade it, give it to the library or charity. I can't bear the thought of CD's ending up in the trash. It's like finding a body in the river - seemingly obscene or unnatural. So to imagine that the predominant means of listening to music in the 21st century is by downloading a ten second tinny ringtone that lasts a week or two is really a problem to me.
I'm proud of the fact that deserving artists now have an additional revenue source which hopefully will encourage them to continue to make music. But, as the bloggers I mentioned above both ponder, what happens to quality control? It brings up an interesting concept that I've been chewing over for the past few days in an abstract way - namely, that the demise of major label record companies may not be so much the tearing down of the Berlin wall but more like the Russian revolution. When all the barriers have been removed, are we entering some form of musical communism? There are opportunities for everyone, but what if mediocrity becomes the norm? Will all our musicians be wearing gray?

For all their faults, the major labels did do one thing, and that was to filter out a lot of average music. And while musicians can upload music to MySpace at no cost, no-one has the leverage to produce a well-co-ordinated advertising campaign, or produce a promo video that takes the music to a new dimension. Where would Rio be without the yachts, where would Vienna be without the snow, and where would Nothing Compares To You be without some tears, to name just three examples? And if there are no videos on MTV or elsewhere, and satellite radio is a jumbled mess, and magazines have no hope of keeping up with the sheer volume of new releases, how are we supposed to fall in love with music any more? What is going to demand our attention, capture our hearts, and keep us coming back for me? Can you imagine that Madonna or Michael Jackson would break through in the same way today?

Here's what I've noticed, and see if this makes sense to you. I was flipping through a music magazine recently and saw an ad for a band called Wire Daisies. Sounded interesting, I thought. Checked out the MySpace page, heard a track I quite liked. Next, I'm looking for a Vegas CD on eBay (Vegas being the Terry Hall/David A. Stewart collaboration from 1992) and instead I find a CD by Leeds band Your Vegas, go to Rhapsody, check them out, quite like that as well. Look back at the various new music I have discovered in 2008. Lots of things I quite like. Either I am getting easier to please in middle age (which I will concede is possible) or bands these days seem to be able to punch certain buttons that produce likeable music without challenging or producing the jaw-dropping effect of bands like Joy Division, The Stone Roses or even - I can't believe I'm saying this - Oasis. Where's the revolution at? We are living in an age where the most radical music is determined by the delivery method (i.e. In Rainbows). Shouldn't I be scratching my head, stroking my chin and complaining that I have no clue what kids are listening to today?

I've been getting into Britpop in the last week or two, and I have to say that by comparison, a lot of that music still jumps out at me today. I'd forgotten what a good band Suede were. I've had the Sleeper track "Sale of the Century" in my head all week. I've started listening to Gene, and Dodgy and a lot of bands I never had time for back in the 90's. As I'm writing this I'm watching the Britpop documentary Live Forever. So am I just a nostalgia buff? Maybe. But here's the question. How will this decade be remembered? Which bands will stand tall? When music becomes disposable, why should anyone remember anything at all?

Incidentally, Louise Wener is still fine, and "Bittersweet Symphony" is still awesome.

Gene - Speak To Me Someone
Morgan - Miss Parker (Dust Brothers Remix)
The Hollow Men - Pink Panther


Miss Parker said...

I always maintained that there would never be a "generation gap" when I grew to be the ripe old age that I now find myself. But the problem you've so eloquently written about is definitely a generation gap of sorts.

I was privileged to grow up in an era when music was carefully "pressed," given some some great, unique artwork (and sometimes, if you were lucky, some added bonus pictures inside the cardboard sleeve), and displayed with reverence in a dusty, lava-lamp lit, incense-fogged record store.

To this day, what's left of my vinyl sits almost shrine-like in plastic crates in an environmentally-controlled closet. Destroying these plastic platters would be the worst travesty, even heresy, imaginable.

But, now we come to downloads. Shopping through the dusty bins, dealing with stoned, sulky, yet extremely knowledgeable music store clerks, feeling the music in your hands and rushing home to carefully unwrap and gently place this musical oracle on it's temple/turntable....well, fifty percent, that's just a thing of the past.

Mass production, instant gratification, file-sharing...heck, sheer laziness...has destroyed the complete music experience that I think you (and I know many others)are longing for.

The more "modern" we become, the more backwards and clueless we are...and the sad thing is, those that did not grow up with the vinyl experience couldn't possibly understand.

Rissan said...

Miss Parker has a point, although I have to honest so do you fifty percent. As you could read in my recent blog entry, Hunter and the hunted, in the eighties it was an adventure to go searching for vynil. I have to be honest I even like to go out and search for CD's, specially singles since the albums I buy through the internet. But we're from a generation that loved to have something in our hands. go through the lyric sheets while listening, watch the pictures on the sleeve and read a magazine.

Nowadays they download it from i-tunes, listen to it on an i-pod and when they're bored to it they delete it or file it somewhere on a harddrive or CDr ( I see it myself with the kids of my girlfriend). While it would hurt us to sell or throw away our collected vynil.

About the three examples you mentioned to show the good things of a record company, unfortuantly I know enough bands who will say they were shelved by the same record companies. In the eighties it was easier to get something released through a major, but the same major could be very hard if they didn't have f.e. the next Ultravox, Madonna, or Sinead O'Conner. And you were out of contract pretty soon. Just look at Two People or Fiat Lux to mentioned some. Bands which hardly got a change to release a decent album.

Or bands which were contracted by a major, and within a month were left on a sublabel, released an album which hardly was promoted and disappeared the way they surfaced.

And be honest the first thing you do nowadays is checking a band by the songs which are available on the net. If you like it you buy it.

Cos I think that's what seperates us from the new generations, we're still willing to buy the stuff on real disc's, which we can hold and which gives us the experience we long for

Brad said...

I agree with you on many of the points you raise. I can remember when music lost its magic for me, and it was the record companies fault, and well before mp3s were on the scene.
Remember when a new release would have 4 or 5 different formats and limited editions (certainly here in the UK anyway). Well I used to enjoy collecting all those with the 'exclusive' tracks, and the gatefold sleeves or picture discs. Then the chart rules changed where a cd single could have no more than 3 tracks, and no more than I think 2 formats. This would have been the early 90's and all of a sudden you could buy a cassingle with 2 tracks, or a cd single with the song (that you already had from the album), a lame remix, and possible an in strumental version. No fun at all. Mp3s and the lazy download generation are just a natural step from the record comps lack of imagination back then, I'm sad to say.

Anonymous said...

I have thought a lot about this the past year as i have watched my music interest gradually becoming thinner. It saddens me. I hate this disposable factor that music suddenly has become due to internet and myspace. And i don´t think it has to do with holding the articfact, being nostalgic, becoming older and so on. ok a bit perhaps as i am entering my thirties but no.

It is like bill drummond of the klf said recently(concerning mp3s, ipods etc ) that when we had finally cut the vast majority of music off from being about time, place and occasion, thus much of what gives music meaning was being castrated.