Archive for the 'MP3s' Category

01
Jan
10

The 00s, The Noughties, The Decade In Music

I didn’t really want to attempt a list of my favourite albums of the decade – the list for this year alone was more work than I needed. Instead, I decided to hit some of the ways this decade dealt with music – how technology has changed the musical landscape further, what globalized capitalism has done to the music industry, and what media convergence did to help out. Then as a second part, I thought I should add some of my musings on the decade as far as my own musical development goes – after all, I became an adult in the 00s.

Once you’re done here, visit this excellent site put up by The Indelicates: The Noughties Were Shit. The post about Gary Barlow poised to take over the world was particularly enlightening.

1. Web 2.0 and Music
I suppose this point actually affects all the other points in one way or another. Technology has continued the major upheaval begun in the 90s with MP3s and Napster, and has now proved there is no going back for the music industry. The MP3 file has changed the nature of music and the way it is consumed in a completely McLuhanesque fashion. It made music infinitely clonable and portable, aspects which led to the rise of the iPod and the spectacular decline of the record industry. Now music is disjointed and serendipitous by shuffle functions while being omnipresent and essentially valueless (at least in the capitalistic sense). The MP3 has shown us what art becomes when it is immediate and free.

Whilst Napster and its variations like LimeWire created the new rhizomatic gift-giving structure in MP3 file sharing, torrents have taken it to a whole new level of decentralization. And now 99% of the music/films/TV you want is up for the taking. This fact in tandem with the rise of online shopping makes me quite surprised that all record shops haven’t just folded, although many of them have in this decade.

The advancements of Web 2.0 have also heralded the birth of the MP3 blog and its attendant aggregators and podcasts. It has become ludicrously easy to set up your own blog and utilize free file transfer/storage sites to upload music for others to sample. The upshot has been a severe fragmentation of markets and escalation of taste wars while also a fantastic break from traditional music press. And in spite of a nasty rash of Blogger DMCA takedown notices, there have also been some really positive outcomes that proved the power of fandom, including this year’s Paul Haig Day, which was arranged by JC of The Vinyl Villain. Arguments over intellectual property and copyright laws in a digital world will continue to rage on, and I will follow them with fascination (who better to keep you posted on things of this nature but Cory Doctorow and his team at Boing Boing). Of course, no doubt MP3 blogs will suffer/are suffering the same fate as all countercultures. If you survive long enough, you end up as part of the establishment. It’s a bit Batman that way.

As we increasingly became a “peep culture,” social networking came into the forefront with sites like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and last.fm. You could define yourself strictly by taste and choose your “friends” accordingly. And then ignore them in real life. Just as importantly, now any band could have a website with minimal work and funding. They could also market themselves directly to the type of people they conceived as fans through as many channels as possible. Combined with the technological capabilities of recording software, anyone could produce and market their own music, which is good and bad. Bands who wouldn’t have made it on a mainstream label, but who had a cult sound worth hearing, could get their music our there; unfortunately, many more mediocre bands clogged up the Internet with their soul-sucking tripe, making it a hard slog through cyberspace to find the music you actually liked.

The Internet imploded the world into solipsistic niches, which ceased to feel the collectiveness of mass-mediated moments. Even news of Michael Jackson’s death shattered into millions of pieces as everyone wanted to be the one reporting rather than receiving. Live 8 couldn’t be what Live Aid was to the 80s. The global village is taken for granted and too much access to information and entertainment has made us fairly lazy and impatient. Is music still the universal language? I suppose so, but it’s also become something to be hoarded and collected indiscriminately, as meaningful as soundbites for many people. And with music built directly into communication devices, it has become integrated into our fragmented lifestyles.

Related Posts:

The Medium is the Music: An Essay on Digital Music
This Is the Industry, But For How Long?: Thoughts on the State of Music Today
Of Resurrected FOPP and the Importance of a Real Record Shop
MP3 Blogs vs. Music Blogs: Different Purposes?
Has the World Changed Or Have I Changed?: Musings on the New Musical Express Train to Nowhere
MP3 Blogs vs Music Blogs: Part II
iTunes & I
Does NME even know what a music blog is?: The rhetoric and social meaning of MP3 blogs
The Pirate’s Dilemma: Selling Out is the New Cool
Sound the Last Post, Then Unite and Take Over
New IAMX Album Leaks and Chris Corner Reacts
Twitter-Pated: Music and Information Overload
Michael Jackson, Media Convergence and The Decline of the Global Superstar
A Monkey Wrench in The Hype Machine: Music Marketing and Integrity
Everyone’s a Critic: Fandom and Subculture
The Non-Interview: Music PR in the Blogosphere

2. Fan Investment in Musicians
In a rather positive turn of events, it has now become possible for fans to have a direct impact on the musicians they love by investing in albums before they are produced. Artists, including Einstürzende Neubauten, Patrick Wolf, frYars, and Morton Valence, have allowed their fans to buy shares of future albums to fund production costs. These artists have then rewarded their shareholders with various freebies and exclusives along with a right to some of the record’s profit. It cuts out the label middleman, which I think is a step in the right direction.

Some other bands decided that more was definitely more and added further value to their music and ethos by diversifying their art. One of my favourite discoveries of the decade, The Indelicates, have sold books of their poetry, tickets to a musical they’re involved in, art prints, and even fudge. This rather multidisciplinary approach to music is fantastically refreshing and holds fans’ interest while waiting for new album releases.

With a different twist on the new value of music, Radiohead decided to make their In Rainbows album available for whatever you deemed it should be worth this decade. Although it’s quite a forward-thinking idea, it isn’t exactly as feasible for bands who are not called Radiohead.

Related Post:

The “New” Music Industry: frYars and Bandstocks

3. Decline of the Music Video
Throughout my childhood and teenage years, the music channel played mostly music videos, live performances or interviews with musicians. Frankly, I’m not entirely sure what music channels play anymore, but I know it’s not really music. It’s not even like they’re playing the expected mass-marketed tripe that I would expect on a music station; they’re playing teen dramas about rich kids, reality shows about rich kids, and programs about kids competing to become celebrities, and thus rich. I reckon the marketing model for music has changed quite drastically since the 80s and their MTV heyday; as with much advertising now, products need to be more quietly and deeply entrenched in other products to be marketed effectively. No more blatant streams of music videos/ads for bands. Now you just have to make sure your music gets into the television shows and films of your target market. You want disaffected indie kids, get your music on a film like Garden State. You want romantic emo kids, get your music on the latest vampire product. You want to appeal to the shallow emotions of middling women with no imagination, play your song in a particularly heartwrenching scene of Grey’s Anatomy. Or you could just get Apple to use your music in an iPod promo.

YouTube, which started up four years ago (as unbelievable as that seems), changed the television landscape forever (along with DVD box sets of course). You could now watch music videos literally on demand and without other ads in between. Albeit the halcyon days of YouTube are also over and not every music video is available, nor are they ad-free anymore thanks to the Google takeover. And artists like Prince decided fans are the enemy, prohibiting any of his videos to be uploaded anywhere. However, YouTube has led to a new music video experience, which frees up the music video market for bands who would never have had the clout to get on a television screen. And YouTube sensations could cross into the consciousness of television watchers, which is what happened when OK Go performed their Here It Goes Again video routine for the MTV VMAs.

Related Posts:

I Don’t Want My MTV. The Tweens Can Have It.
If a Gallagher Falls in the Forest, and No One is There to Film It…
Not Down With Prince
A Post-Mortem on Patrick Wolf’s Dead Meat: Music Video For Vulture

4. The Transformed, But Nonetheless Continued Presence of Diabolical Disney Music
The latter half of the 90s saw the massive return on Disney’s investment in ostensibly squeaky-clean popstars, who were raised in their Mickey Mouse Club stables like cute, little, doe-eyed cash calves. These were the years when Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and NSYNC were royalty. And just when we all thought they had gone away to morph into the realms of crasser sexuality, we were hit with High School Musical, Hannah Montana and The Jonas Brothers. And they went global. Disney was no longer ubiquitous because of their animated projects, but because they had tapped into the tween market once again. This time, they made sure they used media convergence to its extreme. What these franchises also appeared to be espousing was the doctrine of the 00s: anyone could be a pop star. And they should start early.

5. The Reality Pop Star
It seems difficult to remember a time when there weren’t reality competition shows, especially the Pop Idol/X-Factor-types. Now it’s big business for the advertisers who slap their products and commercials into the programs, and usually brief big business just as an “idol” releases his/her debut album. Then he/she usually fades back into the obscurity from whence he/she came, and the cycle begins again, neatly representing our superficial, throwaway culture while making regular people think they’re entitled to more than they actually are. And all along the way, we had to stare at Simon Cowell’s smug, stump-like head.

Related Posts:

Christmas Number Ones: A Measure of Christmas’s True Meaning
Am I a Music Snob?: A Matter of Taste

6. Guitar Heroes and Rock Bands
Along with the wave of reality celebrity culture, video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band also made it seem like everyone could be a star. And so we all learned what it was like when air guitar was dumbed down to a series of coloured buttons. I’m not being that critical – it’s more the bitterness seeping out from the fact I still haven’t learned how to play the acoustic guitar I got for Christmas two years ago and the fact I don’t own any video game systems.

7. The Renaissance of Vinyl
Here’s something we should have seen coming. As music grew less and less tangible, and thus, less and less valuable, music fans started looking for ways in which they could get more out of music when paying for it. CDs are pretty obsolete because they offer nothing more than MP3s, which are either rather cheap or free. Vinyl records, on the other hand, offer an entirely different listening experience, and one that cannot be replicated unless you have the capability of producing your own vinyl (not likely). Not only is the sound of analog warmer, but vinyl records also allow you to focus more on albums as wholes, including the larger scope for artwork. Vinyl records aren’t meant to be transportable media; they’re meant to be tied to a particular spot and require a different sort of listening. There was a time when I could only buy used vinyl unless I was in Europe or ordering from Europe; now I can buy brand new vinyl records on the Canadian Amazon shop and in several shops in the city. I hope this trend continues.

Related Post:

Sleeveface: Celebrating The Flipside of Vinyl’s Other Artform

8. Concert-Going in the 21st Century and Ticket-Touting
Along with the online revolution in music came the rather unfortunate rise of online ticket purchasing. No one lines up nor phones ticket lines anymore for gigs. If you don’t have a high-speed Internet connection and presale passwords, you either won’t get a decent ticket to your favourite artist’s show, or you’ll have to pay extortionary prices on auctions to ticket touters or the original ticket highwaymen themselves, like Ticketmaster. Or you may just die of a heart attack in the process. It’s why I favour rush seating gigs, where the spot you get is directly proportional to your leg strength, ability to combat boredom, and sharpness of elbow. What would you need to get a seat in the first to third rows at a seated gig anymore? It’s not a rhetorical question – I would really love to know.

Related Post:

It’s Not Fair: Ticket Sales in an Online World

9. Comedy and Music Became a Cooler Combination Again
This was the decade in which musical comedy duos like The Mighty Boosh and Flight of Conchords gained ascendence. There’s no shortage of older acts that made music funny and comedy musical (Monty Python and Spinal Tap spring to mind), but it’s nice to know that it all gained a surreal airing in the 00s. While both duos are in uncertain places as the decade closes (The Mighty Boosh haven’t said they’ll ever do another series and Flight of the Conchords said they definitely won’t), they provided me with many of my laughs in the last half of the noughties, and many of my catchphrases, too. The duos were delightfully different: The Mighty Boosh was like an intertextual acid mixture of Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa with increasingly more London hipster thrown in, and Flight of the Conchords was like a monotone chameleon, able to capture any musical genre perfectly while delivering hapless adventure after hapless adventure.

Related Post:

Music Can Be Funny and Comedy Can Be Musical: The Mighty Boosh and Flight of the Conchords

10. Re-Packaging and Re-Fadding: Emo and the (Yawn) Ensuing Moral Panic and Mark Ronson and the (Yawn) Retro Revival
This decade saw the transmogfrication of the genre called emo into something more than merely Sunny Day Real Estate and Dashboard Confessional. If you want a decent history of the subculture (well at least up until 2003), read Andy Greenwald’s Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo. By the end of this decade, emo had come to mean some adolescent subculture obsessed with gothy aesthetics, poppy but melodramatic music, and self-harm. And probably vampires. What’s odd is how we got from emotional hardcore music to Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance in the matter of a few years. In the end, emo is just goth repackaged for the ADD digital generation. Gone are the gloomy dirges and swirling sadness of bands like Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil; now boys in eyeliner can play pop-punk with extremely long, but no more intellectually stimulating, titles and somehow unite the outsiders in their identical floppy fringey skunk haircuts. Ultimately, emo has come to mean goth lite, which can be easily marketed.

As with all teenage subcultures that adults don’t understand and which get seized upon by the media, emo suffered a strange moral panic by the latter half of the noughties. Parents were nonsensically alarmed at the propensity for self-harm amongst these dissatisfied angsty teens, and for the love of all that is sacred on this Earth, why did they have to stand out from their peers like that? At the end of the day, Morrissey and Richey Edwards would have been emo, but luckily for them, they escaped the tawdry tag before it became popular. People still don’t understand me, but I’m not going to cry about it.

On the other end of the spectrum, another bizarre revival occurred: retro brass sounds, largely the responsibility of Mark Ronson. With Amy Winehouse stumbling in tow and any number of celebrity guests covering songs for him (God forbid Ronson have an original song), this self-satisfied producer added horns to everything and was proclaimed a genius. Bumping along on his bandwagon of manure, were singers like Duffy and Adele. Singer/songwriter Tom Rosenthal (I wrote about him here) expresses the Mark Ronson phenomenon better than I ever could:

Oh, I’m the coolest man in all of the land
And all my friends are famous
And all my songs are bland
I’m akin to a thief
Like yoyos, I’ll be a fad
For I take quite good songs
And I make them bad

And I don’t know if I’m English or American
And if I can win a Brit Award, then anyone bloody can
I’m a glorified DJ
A riches to riches story
I borrow from the talented and I take all the glory

They say anyone’s grandma could do what I do
By putting a different drumbeat on it
And adding a few trumpets, too
But they don’t have my panache
And they don’t have my celebrity mates
And if I ever get round to writing a song,
God, it will be great

The other day I was asked
If I had a motto
I said yes, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know
I’m living proof you don’t need talent to succeed
I’m the George Bush of music
I’m the Prince of the Thieves

Now to my own personal experience of the decade. I should start off by saying that I found it hard to believe it had already been a whole decade – something that it seems most people haven’t noticed nor been too fussed about (aside from one two-part program on the BBC, I haven’t seen all that many retrospectives of this decade). It’s hard to fathom that, at the turn of this millennium, I graduated from high school. That makes these last ten years (supposedly) the most productive part of my life thus far: I got several degrees/diplomas from post-secondary education, I travelled more than I ever had before, I learned much more about the world and about this thing we call humanity, I read books I never thought existed, I got crap retail jobs and finally a proper grown-up job, I made friends, I lost friends, and most importantly of all, I expanded my love of music beyond anything I had in high school. When I think about it, this decade actually quite demarcated my life between adolescence and adulthood (the arbitrary age being seventeen/eighteen years old). For me, this decade was truly one of self-discovery and self-creation. With the same tenacity and interest that I applied to my academic studies, I dove into a music world that I hadn’t been acquainted with through high school (my exposure was generally confined to music television and Top 40 radio). Unfortunately, I didn’t have too many muso friends growing up – in fact, the majority of my friends had very limited taste in music. And my immediate family didn’t really encourage music – my father was the only one who had any sort of musical leanings. So, when I was seventeen, I started the search on my own, equipped with reams of music magazines, books, and new CDs. I didn’t have a computer at home until I started university, and I didn’t have cable Internet access until a few years ago; these facts made my search for music a much slower affair than it might have been, but perhaps it also made it more meaningful.

My magpie ways led me on a winding path that had me appreciating political and intelligent music; the first two bands that I really embraced after high school were The Clash and The Smiths. I absorbed a bit of musical influence from college peers and co-workers, but still made the journey largely on my own, trekking in my spare periods between university courses to the downtown A&B Sound shop and buying copious amounts of CDs to listen to whilst sitting in the university corridors (as all good shops appear to do in this city, A&B Sound closed its doors several years ago and became yet another retail husk in the downtown area). I bought up classics from The Velvet Underground, Joy Division, Kate Bush, Wire, and The Jesus and Mary Chain, alongside newer releases from Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Stars, Bloc Party, Idlewild, British Sea Power, and We Are Scientists. I started going to more and more live gigs. And the more I travelled over to the UK and lived there, the more I realized my preference for British bands. The last few trips saw me fill my suitcase and bag with CDs and vinyl.

I listened and I learned – to some people who know me, I became the Rain Man of music. I discovered I’ll never enjoy rap nor metal music. I discovered that I’ll always dislike Bob Dylan. I discovered how much lyrics meant to me. Music made me a more fully-rounded person and a happier person; it supplemented the myriad views of the world that I had also been gaining with books. It gave me something to cling to emotionally and it gave me something I could share with others. And it inspired me creatively. For me, MP3 blogs via The Hype Machine came within the last four years of the decade, and they opened my mind even further to more independent artists, and to the power of fans and DIY culture. Finally, there was something I could do that would allow me to write regularly (I gave up on the dream of a full-time occupation as a writer long ago), and it might even be read by others. Two years ago, when I started writing this blog, I was exposed to even more music and more people, and it was a fascinating learning experience as it became neccessary to try to articulate my thoughts and feelings about music (vigorously pirouetting and waltzing about architecture) and to attain a dialogue with some of the artists I wrote about.

In fact, when I tried to look back at the decade and what it offered in terms of music, I found it rather difficult because I spent a large part of the decade discovering older artists that I had missed out on. I returned to punk, glam, New Wave/post-punk, krautrock, folk, shoegaze, electronica, C86, synthpop, and many of the hyphenated hybrids in between. The only artists salvaged from my adolescent years were David Bowie, New Order, The Cure, Prince, Pulp, Depeche Mode, and Duran Duran, and a few other sundry 80s artists.

When I do actually try to put some perspective on the music that was released in the noughties, it becomes a bit astonishing just how many bands that I take for granted made their debuts. The decade seemed to begin with a violent shift from plastic pop, including boy bands and pop tarts, to legitimate musicians playing their own music, including The Strokes, The Libertines, The White Stripes, and The Hives.

A few years into the decade, the second-wave Brit Invasion happened with bands like Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, Keane, Maximo Park, Razorlight, The Rakes, The Delays and The Futureheads (to varying degrees of success and longevity). And the most pernicious of all invaders was Coldplay. When I first saw their video for Yellow over in the UK about eight years ago, I never would have guessed their eventual U2-like world domination. And then came the Arctic Monkeys, which seemed like the messiahs people were waiting for after the sloppy, pathetic demise of The Libertines. I enjoyed their first album, but never really went further with them. Then again, a lot of the bands I first liked in the noughties turned out like that.

Along with this British surge in indie bands, I became more aware of Canadian indie artists, which largely coalesced around the Montreal scene. As music press is wont to do, the journalists hailed the largest city in Quebec as the new hotbed of musical activity somewhere in the middle of the 00s (just as they had done with Manchester in the 80s, Seattle in the 90s, and Brooklyn now). The world took note of bands like The Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene, and suddenly bands with sprawling orchestras were in vogue. I also duly took note of these bands and Stars, which led me to other Canadian bands like The New Pornographers, Hexes & Ohs, Allegories, The Rest, Archivist, The Dears, Metric, Death From Above 1979, The Stills, and many more.

It also seemed Sweden became increasingly adept at producing dreampop bands, each sweeter than the last, and I fell for The Radio Dept., The Mary Onettes, Twig, The Sound of Arrows, The Deer Tracks, Twiggy Frostbite, and Club 8 to name a few.

Additionally, I will remember the decade as the period that introduced Modular Recordings to a wider audience. Though the Australian label was founded in 1998, it really took off with a multitude of Australian electronic acts like Cut Copy, Van She, and The Presets, along with releases from Wolfmother and Bumblebeez. Along similar lines, this decade saw the formation of Kitsuné Music, a French electronic music record label, and at around the same time, Get Physical Music, a Berlin-based label releasing similar music, was established. New York’s DFA Records also came into being at the beginning of this decade. Between these four labels I developed a deeper love for electronic music.

There are too many bands that began their careers in the noughties to list here. Instead, I’ll just put up a handful of tracks that will always remind me of the first ten years of the 21st century (the restriction being that these bands had to have debuted in the 00s.

This is it for me for now. I realize that the Day of 200 Songs still needs to be done, but we’ll see how quickly I can get it out there. It might be some time next week.

Like Eating Glass – Bloc Party

Take Me Out – Franz Ferdinand

That Great Love Sound – The Raveonettes

Wake Up – The Arcade Fire

Somebody Told Me – The Killers

I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor – Arctic Monkeys

NYC – Interpol

We Only Stayed Together For the Kids – Luxembourg

The Great Escape – We Are Scientists

We Are Your Friends – Justice vs Simian Mobile Disco

Here It Goes Again – OK Go

Time to Pretend – MGMT

Remember Me – British Sea Power

Lloyd Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken? – Camera Obscura

Mercy – IAMX

Your Ex-Lover is Dead – Stars

You Are the Generation That Bought More Shoes and You Get What You Deserve – Johnny Boy

Giddy Stratospheres – The Long Blondes

Destroy Everything You Touch – Ladytron

All My Friends – LCD Soundsystem

Pulling Our Own Weight – The Radio Dept.

I’ll Be Next To You – Vanilla Swingers

The Modern Leper – Frightened Rabbit

We Hate the Kids – The Indelicates

The Magic Position – Patrick Wolf

Consolation Prizes – Phoenix

Snakes and Martyrs – TV on the Radio

Can’t Stand Me Now – The Libertines

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07
Jun
09

Twitter-Pated: Music and Information Overload

twitter network

Information is killing me. My brain buzzes with bloat and there are nights when I can’t sleep for it. In the last few years, I’ve had more panic attacks and woken up feeling like I’m forgetting something than ever before. It’s like I can no longer keep track of all the details. The devil definitely lives there, taunting me with my insignificant cerebral capacity. Between the number of books, fiction and non-fiction, that I read, the Web sites and blogs I visit, the daily advertisements and mass media I consume, and the copious music I listen to, I feel like I’m drowning in a sea of trivia and connections. I have a crazy need to organize myself somehow, and in doing so, I can now see that I seem to crave hierarchies when surrounded by networks. And both ways of organizing information are seemingly natural for humans, especially since both types exist within our biology. However, technology and new access to information and its architecture are affecting me more than I can possibly affect them, and the activities I love are being forever changed by them, not necessarily for the better.

I’ve come to the realization that computers have re-wired my brain and altered the very way I communicate. Computers have encouraged me to be non-linear in my thought processes and not only through the infinitely hyperlinked world wide web. I may not have had a computer until my first year of university, but I did have a shoddy word processor through high school, and so since I’ve been writing essays and papers, I’ve composed my thoughts in non-linear fragments – you can always go backwards and forwards in a digital copy. My essay-writing style is such that I plug in all citations and quotations first before building the argument around them. I’ve worked without an outline for so long now that I didn’t really think about how strange it was. Until I attempt to write a prolonged linear thought with a pen on paper. I then look back at my bulleted fragments and singular lines and realize that I haven’t actually written one fluid thought or argument at all. I’ve become so accustomed to composing piecemeal on the computer – my mind darting in and out and around thoughts while multi-tasking – that I cannot form a fluid piece on paper. Not only has my writing process been affected by technology, but my consumption of music has as well.

Last summer, I wrote a post addressing this issue of listening to music in pieces via something like iTunes and shuffle functions. MP3s have made it possible for music to be a non-linear experience. Perhaps to balance this non-linear chaos, I use what could be constituted as OCD methods of organization. For my physical copies of music, I first place them on the shelves alphabetically by artist name. If the artist is a single person, I file it by the last name. Within artist, I order them by release chronology – studio albums, then live or bootleg albums, then singles. Compilations are filed under the name of the compiler; for example, any compilation released by NME goes under “n.” This anal sense of taxonomy extends to my digital collection as well; I’m still in the process of creating the database that holds all of my thousands of tracks in it. While I may not have nearly as much music as some fans, I need these systems to gain control of an otherwise spiralling-out-of-control glut of music in my life. I initially thought that it was the mass media giving me too many options and polluting my brain with “choice” regarding music; that has completely changed, yet stayed the same.

I rarely take note of music by any mass media source, yet I still feel like I’m being pummeled by the tsunami of possibilities and new artists. If anything, the choice has just escalated exponentially with the Internet access to independent labels and artists and their myriad promotional tools, including MySpace, Bebo, Facebook, and Twitter pages in addition to e-newsletters, bulletins and forums. I can’t hope to keep up. I can’t even keep track of my favourite artists. Along with this proliferation of music and access to it, the innate human need for taxonomy and labelling takes over and creates a ludicrous number of hybrid, hyper-hyphenated genres like anarchist-folk-rock, Bhangramuffin, blackened death metal and 2-step garage to cope with it (Paul Morley actually just recently made a radio series on the subject of these fragmented genres and what they actually constitute – I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these sub-subgenres grew exponentially as access to music grew). And while MP3 blogs and their aggregators have been quite helpful in terms of filtering music choices, they are becoming more and more like otakus.

Otaku is a Japanese term for people who obsessively collect information about the things they’re fans of; however, according to Speed Tribes: Days and Nights with Japan’s Next Generation, a book by Karl Taro Greenfeld, otakus can very often end up collecting information just for the sake of having and then sharing rarities in a bid for increased (sub)cultural capital. Some may not even really be real fans, but more like people who get off on being able to access information that no one else can. Many MP3 blogs wield music as informational power without any particular connection to the music being discussed or featured, and with very little discussion or commentary, period. I can’t really criticize this method of blogging because as I learned while writing my MA thesis on it, everyone’s got a different purpose for his/her MP3 blog; some are just using it as a global mixtape or broadcast with music being the primary content. But the result of all this is the fact that music has become just more information to process, transfer and file. My bigger problem with this style of MP3 blog is the fact it places the onus of persuasion on the MP3s alone; I don’t have time to download every track I see on blogs to have each of them try to convince me of their worth. I actually need a little more rhetoric in order to survive. As alarming as the idea of depending on rhetoric, the art of persuasion, is, it is necessary. As a species, humanity has come to use filters throughout time to cope with the influx of information; these rhetorical filters have come in the form of social mores, religion, educational systems, culture, government and mass media. We can’t possibly learn/know everything, so we break off into specialist fields and expertises and come to rely on the power of others’ arguments to make sense of the world and process it.

I, myself, have gotten caught up in the subcultural capital gone mad. I’ve tried to keep tabs on bands I discovered via blogs, via MySpace, via the promotional emails in my inbox, and it’s all driven me to distraction. When I was a teenager, I listened to full albums all the time on my stereo and thus learnt them as coherent pieces. Rarely do I get to spend that kind of time on one album anymore, let alone really “learn” a record. I’m too busy slogging through thousands of possible life-changing bands and what Kathleen Hall Jamieson calls “the normalization of hyperbole”; everyone is vying for attention, including musicians, which can only lead to exaggeration and disappointment, and eventually, apathy and cynicism. Because of digital technology and the advent of the MP3, music has increasingly been treated as information, as binary code to be collected and stored rather than simply enjoyed. And with it, you become expected to keep track of all of these disparate pieces, including their daily communiques via services like Twitter, in order to maintain dialogue and your own music collection.

Twitter has made a communication model from the sound bite, something that most people aren’t capable of making interesting in the first place. How much do I need to know about each artist I listen to? How many are worth being that interested in? When do you stop being interesting and end up being trivial? I can’t even bring myself to follow someone like Stephen Fry on Twitter. If Stephen Fry isn’t interesting enough to keep minute-by-minute tabs on, then who is? Are we all really that bored and strapped for finding new information that we need to get updates on strangers’ mundane details? I don’t have enough time to process the information I come into contact with on a daily basis let alone the updates on people, famous or not. I don’t want to watch people live abbreviated lives and engage with art in short, transient bursts anymore. I don’t want to keep contributing to the trivia virus – it blows the networks of my brain and makes them useless for actual thinking and literate linearity. Between back catalogues and new discoveries daily, I’m getting more music than I can effectively comprehend. I want to be able to make the leap from mere perception to consciousness more than I currently do. This may mean having to extricate myself from the superhuman race on the information superhighway, and I think I’m okay with that. I may end up not knowing as much as others or being quite as up-to-date and cool, and I may even still occasionally have the nagging feeling that I’m missing something, but perhaps I can then practice this quality over quantity method in my music listening and collecting as I try to do in my blogging. It’s for the sake of my own sanity.

As much as music is numerically encoded and is probably one of the most mathematical arts, it should not be reduced to ones and zeroes. I wouldn’t mind being waylaid by the occasional information highwayman/woman. As long as their music stands and delivers.

Useless Information – Apparat

Blogspot – Paul and the Patients

08
Apr
09

New IAMX Album Leaks and Chris Corner Reacts

iamx-logo-cropped

There was a blog post entitled “STATEMENT” on IAMX’s MySpace yesterday. It read:

I WANT TO SAY SO MUCH BUT I WILL KEEP IT SHORT.

THERE ARE TIMES WHEN I AM CONFUSED BY THE MOTIVES OF PEOPLE.
I WANT TO REMIND ANYONE THAT LISTENS TO THE MUSIC OF IAMX , THAT IT IS A FIERCELY INDEPENDENT PROJECT. THAT MEANS WE, AS A CLOSE GROUP OF ARTISTS AND FRIENDS, STRUGGLE AND WORK INTENSELY TO GET IT OUT INTO THE WORLD. WE PRODUCE IT, PROMOTE IT, NURTURE IT AND NOW SELL IT OURSELVES. IT IS OUR BABY. WE ARE NOT BOUND TO A MAJOR CORPORATION AND HAVE NO MAJOR FUNDING . WE ARE NOT INTERESTED IN FAME AND WE ARE PROUD OF WHAT WE DO.
I BELIEVE THAT SHOWS IN THE CONSCIENCE AND SINCERITY OF THE APPRECIATORS OF THIS MUSIC.
I BELIEVE OUR FANS ARE SPECIAL.
BUT PEOPLE MUST BE WARNED OF THE DEPRECIATING VALUE OF ART.
MUSIC IS IRRESPONSIBLY AND DISRESPECTFULLY UPLOADED.
THE EMOTIONAL CONCERN ,TECHNICAL CRAFT , INTENSE CARE AND SPIRIT THAT IS PUT INTO IT, IS CRUSHED WITHOUT CONSIDERATION.
I AM NOT ONLY WORRIED ABOUT BEING ABLE TO CONTINUE MAKING IAMX MUSIC , BUT WORRIED ABOUT THE SLOW DESTRUCTION OF THE SOUL OF THE AUDIENCE. OUR HEARTS NEED MORE THAN JUST UNEARNED INSTANT GRATIFICATION. REWARD COMES THROUGH LONGING, WAITING, SUPPORTING AND DESERVING.

IN ATTEMPTING TO PROMOTE THE NEW IAMX ALBUM WE BEGRUDGINGLY SENT A LINK TO ‘IMPORTANT’ JOURNALISTS. A LINK WHERE THEY COULD LISTEN TO THE FULL ALBUM AND WE COULD DISCUSS IT IN INTERVIEWS.
THIS TRUST WAS ABUSED AND THE ALBUM WAS PUT ONLINE.
THERE IS NO MORE ANTICIPATION. THE GAME IS OVER.

THEREFORE I AM CALLING ON YOU, FRIENDS AND LOVERS.
WE NEED TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY TOGETHER TO PROTECT ART AND HOLD IT AS SACRED. I DON’T JUST MEAN IAMX . I MEAN EVERYTHING. AT SOME POINT WE NEED TO KILL OUR LETHARGY AND BELIEVE IN THINGS. EVERYTHING IS SO EASY. WE FEEL THE WORLD OWES US EVERYTHING NOW. THAT IS INSANE AND UNHEALTHY.
WE ARE SPOILT, CYNICAL CHILDREN THAT NEED TO GROW UP.

I HATE MONEY. I HATE THAT WE ARE MONEY DEPENDENT. IT IS A DISEASE OF SOCIETY AND THE CONTROLLING TOOL OF THE ELITE, BUT NEVERTHELESS IT EXISTS.
WE NEED YOU TO BUY THE RECORD , NOT DOWNLOAD IT . WE NEED YOU TO BUY MERCHANDISE AND COME TO THE SHOWS. GONE ARE THE DAYS OF HUGE RECORD DEALS AND ENDLESS SUPPORT. WE ARE TRAVELING SALESMEN AND GYPSIES.
IF YOU FEEL THAT SOMEHOW YOU DESERVE TO HAVE THE ALBUM WITHOUT PAYMENT OR CONSCIENCE THEN I AM OPEN TO HEAR YOUR REASONS. I WANT YOUR FEEDBACK AND TO BEGIN A DISCOURSE

ART HELPS US DEAL WITH BEING ALIVE. IT OILS THE BRITTLE WHEELS AND GIVES US A GLIMPSE INTO A DEEPER PURPOSE OF OUR TINY EXISTENCE.
IF YOU CARE, THEN DO EVERYTHING IN YOUR POWER TO HELP US CONTINUE MAKING IT.

LOVE

CHRIS

This was my comment in reply (it doesn’t seem to have been approved and put up at the time of writing this post):

As you say, online, digital communication has made people impatient, solipsistic and absorbed with instant gratification. Everything is available all the time, and because of that, it’s all lost value. In a sense, the Internet and its myriad developments are working against capitalism, demands are being immediately met by an endless supply without money changing hands; working against capitalism isn’t always a bad thing, especially when it allows for information and art to circulate. In fact, IAMX has used the Internet as a tool for promotion to fine effect. Most independent artists rely heavily on the low cost of online promotion.

However, the wholesale uploading of albums has crawled out of Pandora’s box along with the good, and it’s an unstoppable issue. Instead, laws like the DMCA, which were created to halt this, have continually targetted the wrong people, like individual bloggers who put one or two tracks up for a limited time in order to encourage people to buy music. These little victories for the industry and bodies like the RIAA are pyrrhic ones, and they do not stop the real perpetrators, who can find their way around any restriction and law. The Internet is difficult to police, and art is increasingly being turned into information – a series of zeros and ones – while contextless information has become a global currency and a means of cultural capital. Everyone wants to be the first one to prove he/she has a piece of information – the value is inherent in the fact it is coveted, new data, not in its emotional, human value. I suppose, in a way, we are all becoming more and more like data-crunching machines. And this whirl and glut of information feels like a disease in my brain.

It all comes down to whether art should be a commodity or art, and the way society is (d)evolving, I’m not too sure which would be a better idea. Or the more profitable idea. The future of the artist is a difficult one, including the musician, who, leaving the ludicrous, bloated major label industry behind, seems to have jumped from the pan into the fire. In the end, the leaking of albums is just one of the new, immutable realities of this online culture, and I’m not sure I have an answer for a way to combat it effectively. My only suggestion is to keep making art you love and communicating it to those who also love it, and trust that they will support you via purchases and seeing you live. And never trust a music journalist.

I’ve always believed that the true music fans, the ones you’d actually want as fans, are the ones who will always buy your music and merchandise. The people who download it for free are either people who never intended to buy the album in the first place, or fans who couldn’t wait – in rare cases, they could be potential fans, who will buy once they sample it. I have a feeling art is your way of being, and despite financial restrictions, you would continue to create, at the very least, for yourself. But I, for one, do not want to be shut out from it and its inspiration. Art begets art; information births databases. Rather than become obsessed with information architecture and organization, we need to re-embrace an aesthetic pleasure that engages all the senses. In the past, artists were supported by patrons, individuals who truly believed in the artist and desired and appreciated their art. I, and many others, believe your art has value – please consider us your patrons.

I could probably go on and on regarding this topic as my lengthy comment indicates and as the pages of replies on IAMX’s blog grows. Yes, in many ways, Corner and his management were naïve to think that they could trust music journalists and that a leak wouldn’t happen. Just about every album leaks these days – sometimes three or four months in advance. And while it will hurt independent artists more than major label artists and/or established artists, it’s become a part of the music industry, and efforts to stop it just end up hurting the wrong people. It’s a part of digital advancement that cannot be halted; it needs to be adapted to, and while everyone involved in the music industry tries to find their feet during all this, I’m not too sure what the ultimate method for adaptation will be. I do know that accusations and punitive measures against fans are never a good idea.

Maybe there will be a day when artists don’t make livings at selling their art, and instead, make art for the love of it and strictly because they can’t stop, regardless of who their audience is. There are already tons of artists out there, including writers and painters, who don’t rely on their art to make a living. And no one has condemned libraries for allowing anyone to read thousands of books without purchasing them. While the analogy isn’t perfect, it does point to a possible shift in the way people consume music. It’s often a try before buy culture, and with the sheer amount of “art” out there, this aspect can often be helpful. How many of us bought major label albums on the back of a few singles and then hated the rest of the album? I’m old enough to have not grown up with MP3 filesharing (Napster came into being during my last year of high school, and I didn’t have a home computer until I was in university), and I was burned many a time buying terrible records for $20.00 that I’ve now had to sell for a $1.00. At the same time, I try to imagine what it would be like coming of age in this MP3 world and having access to so much music so instantaneously and freely; if that’s all you’ve ever known, you’re bound to have a different perspective on consuming music. The music industry has always been dependent on making a quick buck, churning out one hit wonder, hyped singles that sell enormously well and fading into worthless obscurity once millions of people are left stood there with their useless single in hand. Maybe this digital revolution is the price we all must pay for an industry that hoodwinked and exploited everyone so long and so ludicrously. And who continue to do so whenever they can (see X-Factor singles and transient NME bands).

Having said all this, phenomena like the recent renaissance in vinyl show us that there are still true music lovers out there, and there likely always will be. I think it comes down to people themselves and how much they value art; I believe the real, discerning fans will continue to buy from and support their favourite artists, especially those who continue to create quality music. In that regard, I don’t think Chris Corner need worry. Trust your fans. Not music journalists.

You Stick It In Me – IAMX

You’re the Conversation (I’m the Game) (Acoustic) – Chris Corner

10
Dec
08

Hearing is Believing or Believing is Hearing?: Experimental Music


One of my MySpace friends is part of a band/musical project called Ear of the Rat, and listening to their work prompted me to think about experimental music and ask some important questions of myself that I haven’t done in awhile. You see, Ear of the Rat produces highly experimental pieces, some more accessible than others, and provides them all for free download. Are these people the true artists? They aren’t doing it for any financial gain whatsoever and they have uploaded their work to Open Source Audio, a site where music is truly shared for the creative good of everyone participating. But what is music as an art? Is all this endless criticizing, reviewing and proselytizing about music a load of rubbish in the end?

There have many experimental music projects, especially since advances in both communication and music production technology. The early 20th century saw French composer Erik Satie become the father of both ambient music and muzak. He called what he was doing “furniture music,” and for him, it represented the aesthetic of boredom, music deliberately produced to be ignored. Then, decades later, John Cage pushed music in a different way by developing the I Ching into a strategy for making experimental music. Of course the likes of people like Brian Eno then took this concept further. In many ways, Ear of the Rat reminds me of early Pink Floyd (in fact, they do a version of Interstellar Overdrive) and The Velvet Underground with their seemingly endless experimentation and spontaneous musical “happenings.” There’s also something vaguely Ariel Pink about them. Like many bands from past and present, Ear of the Rat don’t appear to have an agenda except to continue being creative. They plunder samples and ideas from other pieces and produce them as lo-fi as possible. What’s one of the terms for music like that of Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground, and Brian Eno? Art rock. Isn’t all music art? At what point does it become sufficiently “arty”?

Whenever I think of aesthetics and questions of art theory, I’m reminded of Tom Wolfe’s book The Painted Word, his criticism of modern art criticism. Essentially, Wolfe argues that the art came first and then the people in the ivory tower and at the top of the social ladder created a reason for it. In order to see a work of art, in this case a painting, there has to be a persuasive theory behind it. As Wolfe states, “Not ‘seeing is believing,’ you ninny, but ‘believing is seeing,’ for Modern Art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text.” Isn’t this what most pretentious art critics, including those who write in-depth reviews of music, work off? The potential to get bogged down in academic musings and theories when discussing art is massive. It’s as though the world has said “art serves no practical purpose, thus it must be justified.” In fact, every faculty of arts in university is dedicated to analyzing and developing meaning for things that can’t be put to practical use. It is this kind of education that leads me to write babbling propositions like this about modern art. I’ve been effectively trained to look for meaning in everything, which while enlightening, may have also killed my ability to feel art for art’s sake and nothing else. So, to attempt to answer my earlier question of when does music become art, I suppose music becomes art when enough people with influence agree it is. The modern art critic is the equivalent of the indie hipster.

Does theory and the meticulous extrication of meaning from art matter? Is it all part of experiencing art? Do I need to understand art before I enjoy it? Replace the word “art” with “music.” Do the answers change? If pushed to answer, I would have to say that there are pros and cons to theorizing and understanding context. Back when I knew much less about music and its history, every album or artist I listened to sounded new and I responded to it on a purely emotional level without overthinking things. Now I find myself comparing the music I listen to with others and placing it in some sort of context for myself in order to evaluate its worth. Like the critics in Wolfe’s book, I sometimes realize that I’m trying to make excuses for certain music and trying to understand why it should be considered valuable. Of course it becomes very reassuring to have the artists themselves come to me and say that I completely understood what they were trying to do (this has happened more often than I would have expected) – at least in those cases I know I didn’t shoehorn them into some sort of pre-meditated framework. Oh, the occupational hazards of being a music critic, as amateur a version I may be.

Along with the pushing and testing the limits of genres and musical possibilities, artistic advancement has also developed alongside the capacity to participate and share in music creation; the line between listener and performer has blurred. A strong, and perhaps simpler, example of this process in action is Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night, where people in a particular locale all bring out their portable stereos to blast whichever Christmas music they happen to have and walk through the streets together. Supposedly, the ever-shifting soundscape comes to represent community and a non-hierarchical performance in which everyone’s ability to perform is equal. Musical communism in a way. Via faster computers and Internet service, sharing information, including music, has become possible at an unprecedented level. But aside from wholesale downloading of completed tracks and the sampling done in the hip-hop and electronic world, would all that many “regular” people bother collaborating on musical projects over long distances? Do artists need to bother? Isn’t creating music always going to be an indirect collaboration anyway?

Art comes from art. It took me a relatively long time to learn that, but it’s true. There’s nothing original in this world, just original ways of re-assembling. To declare some band as utterly revolutionary is always a fallacy. They didn’t create in a vacuum (and if they did, they may be suffering from the lack of necessary gaseous elements), so like John Milton said, plagiarism of a work occurs only “if it is not bettered by the borrower.”

But does this highly experimental music have a chance at resonating more than a tightly produced four-minute track with that many people? There are times when listening to a twenty-minute track of noodling and improvisation that you start thinking this is what reading Finnegan’s Wake would be like. If I’m completely honest, most of the music I own and listen to on a regular basis is accessible. I would say 90% of it is based on some recognizable semblance of musical structure and the songs are usually under eight minutes long. Is it pretentious to love and champion the music that pushes the limits so far that it becomes inaccessible just because it is inaccessible? I think it only becomes pretentious when you’re not being honest about it.

I’m not going to attempt justifying Ear of the Rat’s output, nor am I going to explain why I would likely listen to New Order or The Smiths more readily than Ear of the Rat, or even Pink Floyd for that matter. Nor am I going to worry too much about what that says about me as a music lover. I think there’s a difference between finding a piece of music interesting and truly loving a piece of music; some music is meant to be furniture music for me. I admire artists like those in Ear of the Rat for doing the art they do for the reasons they do it for, but I don’t want to fall into a “believing is hearing” state of mind. I live for those songs that I will never be able to explain my reactions to. It’s that incommunicable connection with certain pieces of music that keeps me listening and believing.

Wind Cries Mary – Ear of the Rat

Interstellar Overdrive – Pink Floyd

02
Nov
08

Read All About It

Through life’s strange twists and online accessibility, my MA thesis, Does NME Even Know What a Music Blog Is?: The Rhetoric and Social Meaning of MP3 Blogs (see earlier post), is now available as a book published by VDM Publishing. That’s the good news. The perhaps not-as-good news is the fact it is priced at $64 US – I have officially become a part of the artificially inflated academic book market. Currently, the only place where it actually appears to be in stock is on Amazon US and Target, and is listed, but not yet in stock on Amazon UK and Amazon Germany. I definitely don’t intend to get rich from this, but at least it feels like I didn’t sacrifice a chunk of my sanity for nothing, and I still feel the current technological climate of the music industry and its counterpart of music journalism is a fascinating area that needs far more exploration, academic and otherwise. It’s exciting to think that I’ve contributed in some way to this global dialogue, especially since I couldn’t find any secondary academic sources about MP3 blogs when I was researching. It’s funny how, as a child, I always imagined my first published book would be a novel – then again, I also thought I’d grow up to be both a scientist and an artist.

At any rate, this will likely be the first and last time you’ll find me tooting my own horn, so to speak. I’d much rather promote other people, which I suppose I did inadvertently in the book as I used numerous examples from MP3 blogs and their aggregators. However, as I tended to argue in the book, promoting others really comes down to some sort of self-promotion anyway. I’m ready to go back to the more imperceptible kind.
27
Oct
08

Sound the Last Post, Then Unite and Take Over

I, like many MP3 bloggers, am deeply disturbed by the information gathered on a post over at The Vinyl Villain. JC has collected links to the following posts that all address the current censorship and bullying that is taking place in the MP3 blogosphere:

To Die By Your Side Post
Song, By Toad Post
Teenage Kicks Post
17 Seconds Post

I encourage you to read them all because each of them provides a slightly different insight into the rash of MP3 blog post removals, specifically by Google’s Blogger. I would also like to add a couple of my own links to relevant stories, including this story about Metallica and the Muxtape story. Now, as many of you know, I’ve been studying MP3 blogging with a fair amount of depth this past year, and as far as I could tell, most MP3 bloggers appeared safe from legal action because of the ephemeral nature of most download links, because of their disclaimers about asking for removal of MP3s, and because of the fact that as long as they posted only a few MP3s, and not full albums, they were operating under the following “fair use” clause of the Copyright Law:

“Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.”

As evident through the above bloggers’ stories, this safety net has been torn from under us. Now there are talks of blogs disappearing and/or going underground (ie: email subscription services), but what I fail to understand is what record labels hope to gain by attacking MP3 blogs. Have they heard of torrents? Is it because it’s easier to target a bunch of relatively small static entities rather than massive networks whirling around the globe? To treat MP3 blogs and their offshoots as though they’re the same as the P2P filesharing frenzy started by Napster in the late 90s, is utterly ridiculous. There are so many flaws in these actions on the part of both major record labels and Google, but I would like to point out a few pertinent ones.

Firstly, how can archaic copyright laws be applied to drastically new developments in technology? How can you steal something whilst leaving it with the person you “stole” it from? This process is one of cloning, not of physical products leaving one spatial location to be in another. And after being in academia so long, I know the copyright law well enough – of course you can’t photocopy a whole book, but you can definitely copy portions that you need for your studies. The reason why this analogy doesn’t quite work is because photocopying a book would be a lot more time-consuming than downloading and burning an album or several. But I would like to point out the fact that research and epistemological processes have been built upon the foundation of citation. You cannot write an academic piece of literature without references, citations and examples from previous works to bolster your argument. Well, MP3s are bolstering our arguments. We are not plagiarizing entire books, we are providing our examples. Consider our MP3 links to be inside quotation marks.

Ideas and art do not spring from a vacuum. This is the civilized world that literacy ushered in. Once thoughts and information could be recorded for reference, they could be easily used to continue building on, generating a sense of progress. Science and technology themselves couldn’t have gone anywhere without the free flow and dissemination of information. Knowledge generates knowledge, and by preventing access to ideas and cultural artifacts, big businesses are only killing civilization as we know it. However, when you take a look at the history of communication, we are merely repeating it. When the printing press became more widespread, copyright laws were created by those that feared losing power, and restrictions were placed on who could produce printed news and books, but eventually, progress broke the elitist hold and the presses were opened again. This is not to say that censorship isn’t alive and well and that “free” societies are actually completely free and democratic.

In the current state of the world, it is becoming increasingly apparent that information is the new power, not military. Wars shall be fought with information and gathered intelligence – knowledge is indeed power. Chomsky and Herman’s Propaganda Model makes the point that journalism is greatly shaped and filtered by restricting means of production and communication to only those who have the financial means to do so. These filters are firmly entrenched in the world of journalism, so much so that they tend to be invisible to most people. I suggest you read Manufacturing Consent to illuminate this fraudulent concept of freedom of speech. My worry is how these filters will eventually find their way from the world of “official” journalism to the world of “unofficial” journalism. In some ways, they already have. For those without the money for a computer or high-speed Internet, MP3 blogging wouldn’t be an option in the first place. But soon the privileged, but non-elite people who maintain MP3 blogs could be silenced, too. If more of the financial elite get control over the Internet and its applications, the supposed freedom of online communcation and creation will completely disappear. My only hope is that there will continually be innovative people one step ahead, using their individual brains and sources of knowledge.

The issue here is primarily MP3s – I highly doubt blogs that merely discuss music without free downloads are being targeted in the same way. In many ways, MP3s are art, but they are also literally encoded information, so by stopping bloggers from using a few samples, music labels are obstructing the flow of information and attempting to curtail individuals thinking for themselves. Music fans are gaining power through being able to sample before buying, so record labels need only fear if their artists aren’t good enough to convince people to purchase their product. It’s hard to believe that the people in charge of the music industry have any business acumen at all with the absurd strategies they’re using. These strategies include the hidden Copyrighting Board Private Copying Tariff on the prices of blank audio cassettes and blank CDRs.

Secondly, it seems mad that record labels haven’t learned from their first go-round in which they fought the very technology that affected the future of their industry/commodity. Now, they’re fighting the future of music publicity. It’s like reaching for the bail bucket on the Titanic. The removal of MP3 blog posts is a pyrrhic victory for the music industry and a classic case of the music industry gnawing on the hand that feeds it. To attack people who have provided disclaimers and expired links, is an exercise in futility and ends up infringing on the property of others. And these others are the “real” music fans -the ones who actually buy music and go to live shows as opposed to the casual music fans who don’t care whether they get all their music from torrents and who will likely never be the target market for excessive music buying.

It appears that Coxon of To Die By Your Side could have been targeted because he wrote a critical review of Cold War Kids’ latest album. Well, I did, too – here. And perhaps one of the reasons I haven’t had my post removed yet is because I’m still flying under the radar and not generating huge traffic. I, like most other bloggers, have had plenty of positive feedback from the artists themselves, who are happy that their art is being exposed to the public by people who are just as passionate about it as they are. Unlike the music industry, and to an increasingly greater extent, the music journalism industry, many MP3 bloggers view music as art, not as strictly a commodity. If the music industry is so in tune with the laws of capitalism, they should recognize the moment when a business has to adapt or die – that moment has already come and gone, but the industry has found no viable solution for itself; thus, industry people busy themselves by bullying those that can’t feasibly fight back so that they can feel proactive rather than the lumbering retroactive people they are.

Fear generates fear. The obsolete middlemen in the music industry are fearing for their livelihoods, and are thus using fear tactics upon both blog hosts like Google and MP3 bloggers. I refuse to be fearful. If and when it comes to sounding my last post, I, along with other music fans, will find a new way of communicating because the process that literacy set in motion cannot be stopped. If we are to be viewed as shoplifters, then all I have to say is: Shoplifters of the world unite and take over.

Shoplifters Of the World Unite – The Smiths

Can the Haves Use Their Brains – McCarthy

12
Sep
08

The Pirate’s Dilemma: Selling Out is the New Cool

I recently finished reading Matt Mason’s book The Pirate’s Dilemma and I was struck by the positive tone of his analysis of the act of the piracy. He looks at piracy at various points in history, but with most of the focus on the latter half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, and he views it not as an anti-establishment act but as a fantastic capitalistic force. Mason is very careful to reiterate time and again that he is not proposing a digital communism (you wouldn’t want to be blacklisted by McCarthy now would you?); instead, he views pirates and their acts as business opportunities and sources of healthy competition for the capitalist system. Naturally, I have several problems with his argument.
While Mason’s subtitle is How Youth Culture Reinvented Capitalism, I would argue that capitalism isn’t reinvented in this case – it is merely sped up. Ideas are just moving about the world at a faster rate and we’re cycling through from one to the other at hyperspeed. We as the human race are not nearly as novel and progressive as we like to think. The way I see it we’re going around in circles but the circles are getting slightly larger every time, encompassing more cultural objects and practices for market exploitation. Subcultures are being snapped up by profiteers at a breakneck speed, but thankfully, it seems there will always be some truly innovative, interesting people who will keep abreast of it and give the best chase they can. Just as media conglomerates buy up popular web applications and sites, new ones spring up to fulfill the needs of those avoiding the trappings of a financial consumer-based system. This reinvented capitalism is merely pushing youth culture further and further underground until it pops up the other side in China, where it can be mass-manufactured by children.
It’s the classic case of coopting the cool kids, which has gone on for as long as there have been cool kids. Coolhunting kills what it finds, and is thus self-perpetuating, but hardly revolutionary. Reinvention implies creativity and innovation, which are exactly what is relinquished when subcultural activities go corporate and depend on advertising dollars. Capitalism at its very core has always been based upon creative and innovative people with the ultimate goal of making financial profit; you can’t reinvent the wheel, and you can’t reinvent capitalism.
Mason contends that piracy is good for the market because it demonstrates what people really want, and thus what can be most profited by, and then forces the bigger corporations to alter the way they operate to regain the market share they overlooked or misestimated in the first place. It’s a rather utopian attitude that ignores the disgusting hypocrisy in branding a revolution. We’ve always liked to be inspired by renegade heroes from Robin Hood to Captain Jack Sparrow, and Mason plays off this warm and fuzzy feeling of DIY pirates fighting the system, but in his version, the best heroes end up just as corporate as their enemies – Robin Hood trades in his jerkin for a business suit and becomes an executive. Success is still only measured in dollars, not in strengthened community, not in ethical improvement, not in intellectual stimulation.
Another issue that needs to be explored in relation to this book’s case is that of value. Most of the time, especially as capitalism grows older, value is an artificial concept. Money itself is a primary example of artificial worth – there is no inherent worth in the bits of metal and paper in our wallets. It is a universally agreed upon semiotic system that is no better or no more sophisticated than a game of Monopoly. Rules create value. Mason is rather excited by the idea of a 3D printer, which he mentions several times throughout his book and which is a machine which can basically produce anything you program it to – for example, you could print yourself your own pair of sneakers. Mason appears to see this invention, which can even replicate itself, as a boon for third world countries and those who don’t have access to the expensive means of production. Does he not see the potential disaster for the very capitalist system he’s championing? If anyone can print any object indefinitely, including the means of production itself, what worth will anything have in the current system based on artificial value assigned according to supply and demand? Does he not remember the financial inflation disaster of the Weimar Republic that ultimately led to Hitler? You can’t just print more money to make everyone richer; unfortunately, our system doesn’t work that way. And hasn’t this easy self-replication and self-distribution already proven its own results in the arena of MP3 filesharing?
People are increasingly less willing to pay for music, movies, etc. that can be available for free. This phenomenon is displaying in a rather palpable way the value placed on art and cultural objects in this time period. There’s no denying that art is subjective and its very worth is bound up in that subjectivity. What makes Damien Hirst’s pieces of art worth millions? An agreement by the elite (those with the capital and power to sway the masses) that it is valuable. Are we moving into an era in which we all realize this artificial worth? Will we end up only paying for those things with immediate practical worth like food, shelter or fuel? What kind of society will it be if art is perceived as public property and not a commodity? Without patronage, artists may cease creation in favour of actually making money doing something more profitable to survive. Or art may end up as strictly a hobby or career sideline, as it is for several artists already. Honestly, I don’t know if either of these options are good ones or not. All I know is that a world without art of any kind would be one without value, artificial or otherwise.
Mason notably uses several examples from the music world for his argument, including the musical styles/subcultures of punk, disco, house, dub, and hip hop, and musical issues like that of pirate radio, fanzines, and filesharing. Though I didn’t have too much of a problem with Mason’s writing style for the most part, I did feel cheapened by his little tutorial sessions at the end of many of these sections in which he “teaches” you how use these subcultural concepts to become a successful capitalist. For example, he takes you through how to use the DJ concept of the remix to “remix” your own business idea, comparing your target market audience to a dancefloor crowd. These rather useless “lessons” read like those crappy business how-to books that use ridiculous analogies to sell simple ideas to businesspeople (Ping the Frog, anyone?). Even more revolting is the “game theory” portion at the end of the book. No wonder Seth Godin provides the pull quote on the cover of the book.
Summing up the crux of Mason’s flawed argument, his entire chapter on hip hop seems completely contradictory – Mason maintains hip hop is the perfect subculture because it is both underground and market savvy. These two ideas don’t gel for me. Either you’re anti-establishment or you’re not, and that’s the true pirate’s dilemma if there is one in this argument. If DIY start-up FUBU (which stands for “for us, by us”) needs massive hip hop celebrity LL Cool J to give it the kick in visibility it needed to become a multi-million company, how is it escaping the celebrity endorsement that GAP used him for at the exact same time. Can you punk a system by using the same system that you initially refused to do so? And who is “us” in FUBU’s context now that the creators and owners of it are clearly not in the same position they were in when they began the enterprise? Would FUBU be okay with someone selling knock-offs of its products in the name of “punk capitalism”?
Selling out becomes an inevitability in a system where seemingly impractical goods and services depend on those in power to bestow worth upon them. Different audiences have different value systems. Once Pete Tong and Trevor Nelson made the move from pirate radio to BBC radio, the audience changed along with the artificial value in terms of subcultural capital – once everyone can access the same music and the underground moves up a floor, the original value disappears in favour of a general market value. We’re dealing in meaning, not numbers. Selling out becomes subculturally bankrupt in order to be financially successful.
As sad as it is to admit, human beings are greedy and self-centred and haven’t shown any growth or progress in overcoming this problem. It is why communism failed. It is why capitalism hurts more people than it helps. Overall, Mason’s book is a fairytale story of cooptation, not of beating the system. Don’t pretend that being a renegade can coincide with being a profit-driven mogul – you haven’t bucked the system, you haven’t even changed or reinvented it. There isn’t much of a leap between DIY pirate to corporate pirate. Piracy just seems to be a method of putting a neon sign around the loopholes in the system, so that those in power can continue to bulk up the regulations and stitch these holes shut. It seems the only dilemma in sight is a false one in which our only two real choices seem to be exploitation for profit or a largely ignored labour of love. Perhaps it’s not so false after all.

See The Pirate’s Dilemma Web site for more of Matt Mason’s “punk capitalism.”




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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave

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So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun

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Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head

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Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away

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Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners

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Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away

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You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender

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I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding

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You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black

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Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

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Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb

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Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape

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Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

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And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning

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My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it

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Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love

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We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

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Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south

Empty

Running on

Bravado

As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different

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LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell

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Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are

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You must let her go

She's not crying

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Baiting

Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times

Valentines

Hating

Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone

Whipcrack

Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't

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So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need

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The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest

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Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know

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No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more

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All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids

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Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome