the cost of free things part five: to stream or not to stream

February 2, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 4 Comments
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The final part of this series addresses a point on which Simon shows a greater fortitude than I can muster.  He writes:

‘Fortune favours the bold’, eh?  Whilst acknowledging that streaming cuts down the likelihood of being stung (bleurgh – I hate the sickly feeling that I’ve handed over good money for crap) it also nullifies the thrill of that first play.  I have to concede the point – he’s right – but I’m afraid I will continue to use Grooveshark, the previews available at Boomkat etc. to inform my choice of purchases.  This may appear hypocritical given my previous tirades against snippet culture but, in these straightened times, I’m simply afraid to waste money.

Also, I don’t just drift from one mechanically-generated recommendation to the next but use streaming as a way of checking out stuff I’ve been talking about, or have read about or is related in some way to what I have been grooving on recently.  For example: sharing a mutual fondness for hardcore punk, my mate Tim brings OFF! to my attention, I play a bit of this to Phil & Neil who both suggest I should check out Discharge, I wander off to Grooveshark and within minutes I am gobbing, pogoing and shaving a Mohican into my hair.  Serendipity in action.  Thus, I would be tempted to argue that this is an extension of the old digging in the crates behaviour.

Which brings me to my final point: I also have trouble with trusting reviews and can get behind Simon’s misgivings above.  Now, I love both reading and writing about music.  This may just be the rosy glow of nostalgia, but I think I was privileged to grow up during a golden age for the British music press.  Melody Maker versus NME, eh?  Sigh, anyway: the written word has moved me to seek out and listen to something god knows how many times – hundreds at least.  But here’s the rub.  Leaving aside Simon’s legitimate grumble that reviews can be exhausting verbiage, there is a wider philosophical point: words are not the music they describe.

Imagine two people who have never heard The Rolling Stones.  Poor lambs, eh?  Give one a pile of books and articles written about the band plus every photo ever taken of them and allow them a month of silence to bone up.  Sit the other one down and spend twenty minutes playing them your half-dozen favourites from Hot Rocks.  Which of them knows more about what the band sound like?  Yep, it’s lamb two.  Even the most accurate and helpful reviews become irrelevant the second you put the needle on the record.  A million words can be definitively trumped by a few minutes of sound.  This is where the internet comes into its own and why the situation today is infinitely better when we had to rely on the weeklies and John Peel.  If I want to hear something – not own it, not collect it, not archive it, not slide it into the bespoke shelving – just hear it then, rather wonderfully, I can.  All else follows.

The End – no more blogging for a few days as all this thinking has made my brain go tight and shiny.


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  1. I must have spent a small fortune buying crap as recommended by Sounds, MM and the NME. Reviewers eh?

  2. Heh, heh – yeah, is that why we do it? To inflict the same torment that was inflicted on us? Is giving in to the urge to review records perpetuating a cycle of abuse? I’m joking, of course (well maybe. I think. Am I joking?). P.S. Mark’s reviews are entirely trustworthy. Rob x

  3. Slightly interestingly, over the last year I’ve started going to many more ‘small’ gigs (local pubs etc.). Much of my ‘new’ music now comes from buying CDs/LPs/7″ singles at those gigs; whilst I use amazon to buy CDs of old albums which I either have on vinyl (and can’t be bothered to record into the computer) or to fill gaps in my musical history… It helps that there is one particular promoter who rarely puts a foot wrong in his bookings, so I can go to those gigs without having to hear the band beforehand – I just *know* they’re going to be good.

    I suppose this is how it’s always been – the NME journalist with good taste or whatever…

    (“Conquering Animal Sound” last night – they’re at Leeds Packhorse tonight!)

    • Yes! The stall at the gig is a great opportunity to take a punt. I’d forgotten this because, due to my illness/recovery, it is rare that I’m out of the house after dark. Hopefully my stamina will soon be at a point where gig-going will be feasible again… Rob x

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