Monday, January 07, 2008

ALAN CROSS (AND ME) ON MUSIC

I listened to another episode of the Ongoing History of New Music last night and the topic I chose was Secrets of Album Cover Art. Very cool insights on lots of artwork including Nirvana's Nevermind, Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, U2's Joshua Tree, New Order's Blue Monday ep (which was so expensive to create that the label and band lost 30 pence for each unit sold. The Blue Monday ep is the top selling ep of all time selling over 3 million copies).

At the end of the program, Alan brought up something interesting--Alan states:

"The music industry continues to undergo some major, major changes--very, very quickly. And as more and more of the business goes digital and virtual, the physical continues to disappear. And look at all the record stores that have disappeared. Sam The Record Man used to run a hundred outlets across Canada and it was THE place to acquire music. They're now down to just two tiny stores and who knows how long they'll last? Tower Records in the United States; gone.

Meanwhile the number of CDs being sold continue to drop. The industry will have us believe that it's all due to piracy and illegal downloads--and that's true it has had an effect--that sort of thing has had a big impact on sales. Things are not the way they used to be back in the day. But at the same time consumers have never ever ever had so many choices when it comes to spending their after-tax money on entertainment. I mean 15 and 20 years ago we didn't have things like DVD's and computer games and X-boxes and Play Stations or high-speed internet or 30-screen cinemas or pay-per-view TV, hundreds of digital channels, on-demand TV, satellite radio, cell phones, ring tunes and millions of other things that have come to the market over the last 10 years. Billions of dollars that used to be available to buy records and cds are now being allocated elsewhere--

Meanwhile, access to music has never been easier or cheaper. I mean, in the old day, you have to save up money, go downtown to the record store, park, find your record, line up at the cash, drive back home, put the record on the stereo before you could actually enjoy it. The record cost you, let's just say 20 bucks, plus the cost of parking and gas and the cost of your time--then you realize that out of the 14 songs on that record you only like 3 of them! The other ones were crap! But it still cost you 20 bucks plus parking, gas and your time. Today, using a computer or a cell phone, you can get just the songs you want for 99 cents each. Add in the sales tax and you're out what? $3.50 and you have everything instantly? If you only have so much money to spend on entertainment which route would you take?

I completely agree with him about the fact that people have more choices on what they're going to spend their money on. If I think about the people that I've been working with for the last 10 years, it is apparent that gaming is more important to people than music. The convenience of buying one's music on-line is truly that--just convenient. But where's the thrill of the hunt?

I used to work about 4 blocks from Zulu Records in Vancouver. It is essentially Vancouver's top source for finding alternative music. At least twice a week, I'd spend my lunch hour perusing the discs, sampling this and that--constantly finding new bands that are doing cool things. I felt like I accomplished something when I would walk back to work with a new CD or two. Now, on-line, I listen a 30-second sample and if I like it, I download it and add it to the other files. There's no ripping open the package and checking out all the artwork. There's no reading the credits and thank-yous while listening. There's little connection to the product as the product is completely intangible.

I don't want to sound like a "record snob" but I really appreciate an album in its entirety. Sometimes the song that moved me to buy the record in the first place turns out to be my most least liked song. I love it when a song I didn't really find catchy or good at first turns out to be my most favourite on the album. When I was a kid I bought The Clash's Sandinista. It was 3 LP's for 20 bucks and I thought to myself "there's gotta be at least 15 cool punk-rock songs on this!" I put the record on and was so upset that in all the 30 tracks, there wasn't one single song that was punk. I listened to the record maybe twice and thought I had wasted my money. As it turns out, this album is now by far one of my all-time favourite albums. There isn't a song I dislike on it. The WHOLE recording kicks ass.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Most people don't know what they like. The like what they hear. That's why Top 40 is so popular because it's just a single or two from a bunch of sound-alikes rammed down lazy people's throats! They wouldn't dare go and hunt for something on their own.

I was at an x-mas party last month and the people there were a little older than me. Not much, maybe 3-5 years older. Everyone there were parents and somehow the topic of music and iPods came up. Pretty much everyone there said that an iPod would be useless for them because "I just listen to the radio" or, "I'd have to figure out how to download something" and the most sad "I don't like anything I hear today--I just listen to the stuff I liked when I was a kid." WHAT? That's what your parents said about the music you listened to when you were growing up. People who listen to the radio and HATE the music they hear settle for listening to the good old oldies of their youth. COME ON! I hate what's on the radio today too but it doesn't mean good music doesn't exist! It means that I have to work a bit harder to find the good stuff! I have to go out there and find it! I have to go on-line and read reviews in the back of cool magazines and hunt for the stuff. To find like-minded friends and hear their recommendations (John Dryden introduced me to one of my all-time favourite bands Tapes 'n Tapes--at first, only one song on The Loon caught my attention. Now the whole CD ROCKS!) and it's such a great feeling to sit down and listen to something completely new and fresh. Blah blah blah...

6 comments:

Ferraro said...

Have you seen the packaging on Tool's latest album? It was at least a year ago, but the packaging converts into a stereoscopic viewer device with lenses for your eyes and you flip the pages of the liner notes to see 3D pictures.

I've never paid for a download, I still buy the whole thing. And the idea of buying a "greatest hits" album bugs me for the same reasons you state above. I want the context, and I want to find my own gems.

Johnny Darrell said...

Yeah, I hate the "Greatest Hits" packages too. The Tool packaging for 10,000 Days is great, as is most of their packaging. Alan Cross has a great program on Tool in his archives. It's amazing the amount of detail and complexities that the band put into the recording of an album. There's a deep and thorough process underlying most of their tracks that goes beyond just writing music. They're a very mystic band and Alan Cross' article on them is amazing.

Jacob Biberdorf said...

FUCKIN A! Johnny. You nailed it. I miss the hunt. I am so proud of my record collection. I even have a cd that I saw for sale on amazon used for over 100 bones. I would never let it go. Even though I have it on my ipod, The cd is the trophy of my music collection. Many bands were introduced to me in the thanks part of the cd sleeve. Now what do we get... "if you like this... you may like this..." Yeah right!

Johnny Darrell said...

I just remembered that when I was a kid, my parents bought me a CD player for x-mas. It was a cheapo Canadian Tire "Pulsar" player but whatever--no one else that I knew had one! Along with the player my parents bought me (ironically) The Police "Greatest Hits" (you know, the one with the terrible "Don't Stand So Close To Me '86" addition. Back at this time (1986) CDs cost about 30 bucks. I saved up some money and went to the A&A in my mall and tried to find another CD. The choices were extremely limited and I picked up The Cult's "Love" CD. I already had the LP vinyl of it and dubbed it to tape and I remember friends coming over and marvel at the state-of-the-art CD player in my bed room. I'd compare the sound quality between the cassette taped version to the CD version and everyone was amazed. I went to Toronto not too long after to look for more CDs but, being a kid, making $3.14/hour at McDonalds, I could really only afford to buy 1 disc. Again, the choices in this new format was limited to about 50 or so titles. I found a Rolling Stones "Still Life" CD for 20 bucks which I thought was a great deal (until I put it on and found out it was a terrible live recording)What was I thinking? The Stones suck cock and balls.

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