Music is Free Now. And here's why.
The New York Times just posted
1) Another article about the "1000 bands at CMJ"
2) Another anemic 2-line treatment of blog culture and the changes brought on by digital music.
3) A (somewhat refreshing) cynical take on the glut of indie rock buzz bands, without a lot of insight on what is really going on.
This article gives me a perfect chance to try and explain why I started this blog.
read the whole article here:
In a World of Cacophony, Experience for Sharing
By KELEFA SANNEH
Published: November 2, 2006
here's an excerpt:
"And if you’d like to sample their music, all you need is an Internet connection and 20 minutes. Aggregator sites like elbo.ws (which publishes a useful blog popularity chart) make it easy to figure out exactly how many blog links a band has; Myspace makes it easy (and free) to hear four songs from just about any band at CMJ. At this festival indie-rock looks less like a wide-open space and more like a well-organized market.
It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. Only a few years ago, the Internet threatened to blur boundaries of genre and culture making it easy for listeners to fill their iPods with whatever caught their fancy.
But listeners of all sorts like having what Mr. Christgau called a shared experience. That’s why the old monoculture flourished in the first place. And today’s indie-rock fans have something that’s smaller yet similar: a mini-monoculture. That is, a robust infrastructure of Web sites and blogs, along with a (necessarily vague) consensus about what indie-rock sounds like."
Sanneh is assuming that all of the samey bands playing at CMJ are a mildly accurate reflection of what the people attending CMJ have on their iPods. He's also asserting the idea that indie rockers really just long to be part of a monoculture, which is why so much of the music sounds the same. While many of the bands at this festival and on myspace are painfully derivative and formulaic, I really think that's how it's always been and now we're just hearing these bands because the Internet has given interested parties free access to millions of them. The fact that there are so many buzz bands represents a change in the buzz not in the bands. I'd like to forward the idea that the "culture" people want to be a part of is the culture engendered by blogs of insider knowledge and insight into unknown bands, but also a genuine interest in original music. (There is also a creepy spectator sport aspect of "wanting to be there before they got famous" that hangs thick in the air on CMJ week.)
What I’m excited about is that now that so much more music is available I think people inevitably will get bored of themselves. I think that the more you listen the more originality you can tolerate. And the more you listen the more the derivative becomes apparent.
Music is free now. Because it's everywhere and buying it is a customary but voluntary activity. Music is free now because it's all on the same hard disk and each day leaving farther behind the stratifications that have dictated the business of music for centuries. Music isn't free for everyone and it's not that people aren't making tons of money on music and spending tons of money on music, it's that the old machinery is silly. And the new machinery is still spanking new, amazingly functional, and pretty happily anarchic. Additionally, what is right now insider knowledge is rapidly becoming common knowledge.
When Gutenberg printed his first Bible, he took what was the sole province of the select few, reading and interpreting religion, and gave it to many more. And at first very few people had access to printed material but at the technology spread it became, arguably, the single most transformative moment of it's millennium. The digital age will do that to mass media. It has given the power of mass dissemination of images, sounds and words to the world. The YouTube craze I think has completed (now with myspace, flickr, google, blogs, Mp3 blogs/aggregators etc.) the beginning stages of what will be and is a total reinvention of entertainment and information exchange.
It doesn't matter that so many of the videos on YouTube are boring videos of people's pets and rambling confessionals. At this stage it doesn't matter what it is, it matters what it will be. And the fact that CMJ is blowing up while tower records is closing down, means something. Coming back to the original point: It doesn't really matter that so many of the bands sound the same at CMJ, what matters is that CMJ is a gangly (if over-hyped, and hyper-commercialized) physical manifestation of the awkward beginning of a revolution in the way people experience music. (Pimples, conformity, boring indie rock yelps and all.) The monoculture is Internet culture not a specific brand of indie rock; they just happen to be early adopters. And indie rock in my definition doesn't refer to a sound it refers to kinds of venues. Most bands that call themselves "indie rock" would sell their souls to a major in a second. But I don't begrudge them because, while our musical goals don't coincide, they're still hand making their demos and hustling on myspace like everyone else.