the cost of free things part four: putting the hours in

February 1, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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I’ll tackle a few related aspects of the word ‘investment’ but let’s kick off with the obvious one: financial.  This is less of an issue now than it used to be back in the day.  Music has, as far as I can recall, never been so cheap – even allowing for inflation.  I remember my first ever CD, ‘i’ by AR Kane, being about 12 quid which is only a fraction less than a full price new release today.  A CD reissue of the Discharge album I mention in the post below can be had for £4.49 post paid from Amazon.  This can hardly be much more than an original issue back in ’82 would have cost.  I am reminded of when punk/thrash albums wore defiant stickers proclaiming ‘pay no more than £3.99′ (or thereabouts).  I imagine this gesture would flummox today’s hipster, leaving ’em thinking: “er, yeah… why would I?”

Now, on the face of it, this is a straight-up, no reservations, good thing, right?  More stuff available to more people for a much smaller slice of our ever-dwindling disposable income.  Well, yes, maybe, and to claim that music should be more expensive seems wilfully perverse but, but, but…  When I see new albums for sale at £3 post paid I can’t help thinking something has been lost or devalued.  Who can make any money out of that?  No wonder theft is so prevalent: act like your product is worthless and people will have no qualms about nicking it.

Next up is your time – one way of investing in something is to put the hours in.  I touched on this in the previous post when mentioning digging in the crates.  That kind of getting-on-the-bus, traipsing-around-the-shops, haggling-with-stall-holders stuff, once a pleasurable way of spending the afternoon and an invitation to Lady Serendipity to smile on your efforts, is now no longer necessary.  Just stick Nurse With Wound list into Google and get downloading!  Again, this should be liberating – who wants to pay £200 to some collector scum for a scratchy album of euro-twats pushing shopping trolleys down concrete stairs in a car park (actually that sounds quite good but you know what I mean)?  As someone who doesn’t really care about packaging, formats, ‘original’ issues,  etc. this should be a huge boon for me shouldn’t it?  But, but, but… that way lies the huge, unloved archive I want to avoid. 

This is also closely linked to the final aspect of investment I want to mention: commitment.  In the age of ‘preview all tracks’ the temptation is to make snap decisions.  Another way of investing time is to repeat-listen, to ‘play something in’.  Many is the time I have declared ‘what is this shit?’ (notably with Acid House) only to eat my words when it becomes a lifelong favourite, or vice versa, to proclaim ‘this is the shit!’ only to be bored rigid with it two weeks later.  I have excitedly downloaded 90minute mixes only to groan in annoyance when the DJ dares to spend the first 5 minutes scene setting.  So childish (me, not the DJ).  Especially so in my beloved no-audience underground where music may be opaque the first time around and only reveal its charms on repeat listens.  Anything worthwhile takes time but this is so easy to forget in a world of infinite choice. As Otto’s parent’s say in Repo Man: “put it on a plate son, you’ll enjoy it more.”

“OK then, you miserable old fart,” says today’s hipster, “what if there is something I want but can’t have unless I spend more money than I can afford on some ‘collector’s item’ or unless I download it from a blog?”  Here’s my answer: if that really is the case then you can’t have it.  How’s that for a breathtakingly revolutionary notion?

You.  Can’t.  Have.  It.

This has nothing to do with legality, as I’ve said before I couldn’t care less about copyright, what I’m basing this notion on is the ephemeral and ever-progressing nature of pop culture.  When something is gone, maybe it is best to just accept that it is gone.  Why not spend the time and money saved investigating something newly produced, or getting to know something you already have a little better, or thinning out some of the unloved elements of your current collection or, best of all, creating something yourself?  Why clog up the hard drive/spare room at all?  Spend some time discovering artists you like, maybe take a punt on an artist new to you, then spend a few quid supporting them.  No need to bankrupt yourself, but invest enough time, money and commitment to show some respect and to give yourself pause for thought.  As for that impossible rarity, remember: you can’t have it – unless, that is, you happen upon it at the bottom of a cardboard box at the back of a charity shop.  And how delicious and life-affirming would that moment be?

OK, I was going to write something about reviews but this seems a good place to finish for now.

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