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.

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.

the cost of free things part three: serenDDDDipity

January 31, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Posted in musings | Leave a comment
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(quick addendum to part two: just pre-ordered the Galena CD thereby not only paying for something but paying for it weeks before it is released.  Feeling super-smug up here on the moral high ground.  OK, on with the show…)

As mentioned in part two, the finest consequence of my initial post in this series has been the response it provoked in the mighty DDDD.  Simon’s piece was not entirely in agreement with mine but chimed absolutely with what I was getting at and expanded eloquently on a couple of things I’d merely touched on or left unsaid.  I asked if he fancied providing a precis as a guest post for RFM.  He respectfully declined, saying:

…believe it or not, but experience has taught me that these hyper-fast-speed-written ddd rants are things of fragile beauty and if they’re meddled about with afterwards they collapse…

This is, of course, perfectly reasonable so I find myself feeling a bit sheepish for making the request.  Like showing my enthusiasm for a large action painting by asking the artist to point out the ‘best bits’.  How gauche.  Simon has indicated that he may comment further in future so, in the meantime, I will groove on three ideas he introduced: serendipity, investment and the nature and use of reviews.  Yes, I have shamelessly ripped out some quotes but don’t you dare use that as an excuse for not going to read his whole bit in situ.  

Serendipity

Defined as “a propensity for making fortunate discoveries while looking for something unrelated” and is a joy that has been flattened by infinite accessibility.  Simon says:

The pleasure to be had from digging in the crates is one that I had entirely forgotten, as is the discipline of selecting from a limited choice.  I realise that I had completely fallen for the ersatz serendipity of ‘inspired by your browsing history’ or ‘customers that bought this item also bought this’.  Why this apparently harmless and helpful service is actually hateful is that it is a mechanically generated marketing tool.  Worse, it is endless – the crate is bottomless and always full.  Click on any of the ‘recommendations’ and get six more.  A few clicks deep and you’ll find that buying more or less anything will lead to you being punted almost anything else.  Perhaps there is a new variation of six degrees of Kevin Bacon to be played via Amazon with a prize for whoever links Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing to The Circus in the fewest steps.

But is not the contemporary equivalent of digging in the crates searching the blogs for rare and otherwise unavailable goodies?  Well, yes, I feel the temptation but this is what leads to the amassing of ridiculously girthsome archives.  Leaving legality to one side, downloading involves no investment.  That will be the subject of the next bit.

Gotta do my homework now – school tomorrow.

the cost of free things part two: initial guilt audit

January 30, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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So what have been the consequences of my New Year’s resolution to lay off the indiscriminate net-based consumption and pay for/think about my cultural intake instead?  Well, the most entertaining bit has been the charming response by Simon of the mighty DDDD but I will deal with that in its own post following this one (I just want to note in passing that his coining of the phrase ‘mechanically recovered guitar slurry’ in the latest issue had me snorting with laughter).  What we have here are the results of my first stock take…

Words: spoken mainly, some written

The greatest difference my decision has made is to my guzzling of audiobooks and podcasts.  I cut the latter in half just by being stern about whether they were worth my time.  A lot of whimsy went by the wayside.  The remaining list was split into two camps.  Those podcasts supported by sponsorship or advertising or paid for by the license fee could remain guilt free.  For the rest I had to make my first payment decisions: donate or ditch.  A couple more went to the wall.  I was left using the birthday money my dear ol’ Gran sent me to subscribe to Left Business Observer, thus allowing me to listen to Behind the News, to donate to The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast and to Skeptoid, and to buy a couple of DVDs at Go Faster Stripe thus excusing my inexplicable addiction to the Collings and Herrin Podcasts.  I’m sure Nan would be proud of my principled stand.

Rather wonderfully, I’ve discovered that Librivox will not take donations even if you want to make ‘em.  Thus this amazing resource is a truly guilt-free treat.  As such I have been spanking it hard and have listened to D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow (all 20 hours of it), Joyce’s Dubliners and lots of proto-SF by H.G. Wells.  And to think, before Xmas I was listening to endless podcasts where a stoned Kevin Smith laughs at his own jokes.  Life has been ratcheted up a notch.

The written word, mainly in the form of blogs, is something I’ve yet to get under control and may be the subject of further musings later.

Music, TV and Film

Well, obviously I’ve done no illegal downloading from blogs and I haven’t touched any peer-to-peer gubbins.  Following my mentioning OFF! in my end of 2010 review I felt compelled to buy the mp3s and, at 7quid for a 19 minute album this felt like a proper test of my resolve.  It’s great, of course, but I am still in pre-Xmas lurching from one new thing to the next mode and so haven’t given it the time to grow on me yet.  I’m keeping it handy – more on this in my next post responding to Simon.

I’m continuing to make the most of FACT magazine’s regular mixes.  Given that my main musical interest for twenty years has been electronic dance music, the prospect of one or two hours a week of free hipness cannot be passed up.  As this is supported by advertising I have no qualms about downloading, though it does feed my unfortunate craving for newness so will have to be monitored.

My talented friends have provided a couple of highlights.  John Tuffen has pointed me at another new 20 minute namke track, bass-exp, which takes a while to get rolling but is a proper head-down chug once it hits a stride.

Regarding TV and film, as I’ve never really downloaded either in the past, this one is easy.  Nowadays if I want a film I’ll buy it or go see it at the cinema or borrow it from the great library I’m blessed with at the Uni where I work.  TV is boring.

So that’s where it’s at.  More to come.  Yes, I know it is massively self-indulgent but enuff with the eye-rolling: I’m having fun.

the cost of free things…

January 7, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Posted in art, blog info, musings, new music | Leave a comment
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Reading John Lanchester’s recent London Review of Books article on how the web may be causing the demise of print newspapers got me thinking about how the internet has changed the way I consume cultural fodder.  The instant, free accessibility of almost everything has encouraged me in a kind of omni-dilettantism and has given free rein to my most vulgar archival urges.  A quick example from last year: RFMHQ is rocked by a long-forgotten song by Band X (name changed to save my embarrassment) on the radio and, drugged by the warm fug of nostalgia, I get it into my head that I love Band X.  An hour or two later, via the magic of the internet and at no cost to myself, the extensive back-catalogue of Band X, in its entirety, has accumulated on my hard-drive in high-spec mp3 format.  Have I listened to Band X since?  Of course not.  Like Wall-E (two Disney references in as many posts!  Must be some kind of Christmas hangover…), I gather together indiscriminate masses, squash all into uniformly stackable shit-cubes then pop ‘em out and store them in gargantuan heaps, never to be revisited.  Never mind discernment, or joy, or connoisseurship, just feel the meaty girth of my collection.

Obviously, this will not do.  I feel a New Year’s resolution coming on: no more indiscriminate cultural consumption, no more stealing.  I am still happy to stream stuff to try it out, and I will greedily and gratefully accept gifts from my talented friends, but now if I want something from outside my circle then I will pay for it.  Should someone provide a free-at-the-point-of-use-service that I like, a podcast say, then I will contribute by donating or buying some merchandise or whatever.  If I find myself disinclined to contribute then I will stop using that service.  I’ve not bothered installing any peer-to-peer software on the RFM laptop, nor will I.

Why then?  Well, first two reasons that have no bearing on my decision.

Number one: legality.  The arguments surrounding the issue of ‘piracy’ have been endlessly debated on the net and I am not going to rehearse them here.  Suffice to say: copyright is over.  Being pro or anti is like being pro or anti the dodo – it is simply irrelevant.  Here are two notes in passing that say all I want to say: a) all (ahem) ‘music’ that I have produced will eventually be freely available here and b) I consider one of the most pathetic episodes in the history of music to be Metallica suing for infringement.  What a bunch of Cnuts.

Number two: this decision is not about physical versus digital.  Whilst respectful of those that do a decent and appropriate job of presenting their art (see, for example, my many reviews of Sanity Muffin’s lovely tapes) I’ve long found the fetishizing of the physical formats and their packaging to be a refuge of the dull.  Imagine going to an exhibition of paintings and obsessing over whether all the frames match, or thinking that some awful daub can be justified by its extravagant frame, or refusing to view anything painted in acrylic or watercolour because oil is the superior medium.  Utterly ludicrous, of course, but views analogous to these are common currency in the world of music fandom.  As is the voodoo of audiophilia which is so scientifically ridiculous that even homeopaths laugh and point.  Mp3s can be just fine, man – get over yourself.

So my new insistence on coughing up the dough is not about revelling in the feel of the physical versus the cold anonymity of the digital.  A ridiculous, unvisited archive remains ridiculous whether it is choking up a hard-drive or lurking in the spare room threatening me with back-ache the next time we move house.  Nor is it about wanting to stay on the right side of the (anachronistic and unenforceable) law.  Like most things embarked on by men like me, tragically suffering from early-onset middle-age, this is about rekindling a feeling I had as a teenager, but tempered by a lifetime’s knowledge.  My perspicacity, once razor sharp, has been dulled by infinite accessibility.  I’m hoping that paying for things will add a moment of discipline to my cultural consumption and hence allow for my powers of discernment to man-up.

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