Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Musicopalypse

A lot of people see music as a commodity.  There's nothing wrong with that.  A lot of men and women have put some good music into the world through the machinery set in place by the record and advertising industries. 

When we could buy a product, such as a record, a CD, even an 8-track or cassette tape, we knew exactly what we were getting.  The big LPs had album art, high-quality sound and the excitement of anticipation.  Music as a commodity was distributed, by and large, through brick-and-mortar stores.  You would pick up the media in your hands, turn it over, read the names of the song and examine the artwork through a thin jacket of cellophane.  Sometimes, there was a sticker that prevented you from seeing the media's whole container.  Whether by accident or design, this opacity--including the fact that you were usually only permitted to hear a few singles from the radio to engage your interest in the collection--created a sense of mystery.  You had to not only that period of excitement from the moment you committed to the purchase, but that period of anticipation often lasted until you arrived home with the media.  The cellophane was never easy to get through, though the folds and seams were often apparent.  Like gift wrapping, the cellophane was torn away and absently discarded as the layers secreting the media were opened and removed.  Finally, the naked media was in your hands and the excitement of the purchase had reached its apex.  An LP required a gentler, more ritualistic approach than tapes: the record had to first be cleaned, the needle positioned, then eased down into the outer grooves.  Seconds ticked away and all was silent, except for sound of friction, making its way through your speakers.  Then, quite unpredictably, the music began.

Music cost more, because more went into it.  Singers and musicians were recording to analog tape, which unlike digital media, won't stop on a dime.  This means the recording of the performance you paid for usually happened, start to finish, in real time.  Engineers mixed the analog tapes by ear; volume changes were spontaneous and manual.  Record companies paid for this studio and engineering time to generate a product with physical properties (as opposed to bytes).  Musical acts that toured, did so to drive album sales.  Fans who attended the concerts often paid a comparable price for the concert ticket as they did for the record.

The CD, which most audiophiles hailed as the greatest invention since the advent of high-fidelity, stereophonic sound, was the death knell for music as a product-oriented industry.  Ultimately, the CD merely contained sound files that could be saved to a computer and reformatted into other sound files.  This was nothing new to the industry: we'd been permitted to transfer our records and other media to mass-market cassette tapes (e.g. Maxell, TDK, Certron and Memorex).  But where a cassette copy of the record or other media lacked authenticity due to generation loss, a CD could be replicated: the copy sounded exactly like the original.  Moreover, CDs could be copied at several times normal speed.  And once reformatted, a sound file was easier to distribute and harder to track, making the collection of royalties more difficult for the people who had generated the intellectual property that the files contained.  If you made a substantial living from the production of music, this event was nothing short of an apocalypse.

Even so, I don't believe Napster or any other music streaming websites, were responsible for the dramatic changes to the business of music.  Case in point: for a few hundred dollars, I built N-7 ™ Studios in my own house.  Since 2011, I've been engaged in a musical project, known on ReverbNation, SoundCloud, Myspace and TwitMusic as Pawn’s Logic™.  The only goal I had for this "band" (if it can be called that) was to take advantage of the current online music distribution structure so we could share the music we made with folks back in Idaho (and elsewhere), without having to pay for it.  We never expected to get rich or famous and we still don't.  However, the unintended consequences of our behavior, no matter how altruistic, was that we created competition for all of the folks out there who really did nurture dreams of fame and fortune.  That being the case, it really won't matter if you sell your music on vinyl or if iTunes can copy guard your music so that no one except registered buyers can ever access it, because if you won't give your music away, somebody else (like me) will.  Technology might be what let this genie out of the bottle, but it's us online musicians and music consumers who've made it unlikely that he'll go back in any time soon.

There's a joke that the pessimist thinks the glass is half empty, the optimist thinks it's half full and the opportunist drinks the contents of said glass while the other two argue semantics.  The music glass has never been completely full and it will likely never be completely empty.  The music-makers now make a larger portion of their living from live performances than from music royalties and concertgoers attend fewer events and buy more music files, but that's just basic economics.  What's really come from the "Musicopalypse" for the music-makers and the music consumers is an opportunity to build a music industry--or not--from the ashes of the old.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Nice Surprise

Monday, November 11, 2013

Our Champions

It's November, which means Thanksgiving, and it's Veteran's Day, which means thanking the men and women who did us a solid when they served.

You don't have to share or repost or  like if you agree.  Just take the time to thank our champions.  It won't take but a minute and it's the right thing to do

Thursday, November 7, 2013

On Down the Road by Ted Elrick

One of the best things about this contest was the opportunity I had to hear such great music from so many different people.  This was hands-down one of my favorites.