I ain’t seen a sign of my heroes / And I’m still diving down for pearls

Daniel Ek

Now I’m back­track­ing some­what. Almost.

I blow hot and cold on stream­ing ser­vices.

Hot: I love them. In par­tic­u­lar, Spo­ti­fy (Pre­mi­um — not sure how one can not use this with the poor­ly tar­get­ed adverts for Justin Bieber et al.) is per­son­al­ly indis­pens­able for a vari­ety of rea­sons. One of which is the inevitable ‘oh! what does that sound like?’ I do that a lot and I think many peo­ple do (accept­ing that just as many also use it sim­ply for back­ground noise — like radio).

I don’t use it for pure ‘dis­cov­ery’ though and I doubt many do — I’m not dri­ven to ‘check out’ sim­i­lar artist rec­om­men­da­tions ever real­ly, most­ly because what­ev­er algo­rithm is being used to chan­nel these to me is decid­ed­ly bro­ken. It does not fol­low that because I like The Clash and Wire, I’m demo­graph­i­cal­ly like­ly to enjoy 2012 Swedish Death Met­al. And yet that’s the sort of thing I get if I let it. This part of the mech­a­nism remains as bro­ken as the iTunes Genius. Lis­ten­ing to Lit­tle Willie John doesn’t mean that I should be forced to endure, god help — any­one help — a ‘radio’ sta­tion filled with Reo Speed­wag­on, Dire Straits and Boston. I was.

I men­tal­ly assumed it was white noise com­ing through the wall from the Sin­ga­pore­an stu­dents next door (spend time in a CD store in Sin­ga­pore — they love this shite). Then I realised it was me. The Spo­ti­fy pub­lic log­ging remains OFF. To live that down — how?

The apps to aid dis­cov­ery are most­ly use­less. Pitch­fork? I don’t get most Amer­i­can bands. Nev­er have. There — of course — are Amer­i­can bands I’ve lived and died for at times, but more or less the Amer­i­can bands I like are ones most mid­dle Amer­i­cans either don’t under­stand or have sim­ply nev­er heard of. Ask Bub­ba what his favourite Tom Ver­laine (or even Ramones) album is and the returned stare will be naked.

And Amer­i­cans don’t get elec­tron­i­ca (the cur­rent rave-tasm explo­sion is real­ly sta­di­um hold yer lighters in a brand new lyr­ca top replac­ing the black Metal­li­ca T-shirt — the nation was a decade late on punk too so let’s not give them too much cred­it here) at least not out­side the nich­es that pro­duced it and had to sell it in non-US mar­kets to get any trac­tion.

Main­stream Amer­i­can hip-hop crept over the fin­ish line alter­na­tive­ly marked sell-by date and/or inno­v­a­tive some time in the late 1990s. I like the new Nas record as a record but it’s like get­ting worked up over the new Bill Haley album in the midst of the Dia­mond Dogs era. I lis­tened to it twice. Stream­ing does that.

Cold: which is why I don’t love stream­ing ser­vices. It’s a big­ger part of why I hate the democ­ra­cy of the inter­net some days. I miss Berry Gordy, or Ahmet Erte­gun, or Chris Black­well telling me that Bob Mar­ley or Ray Charles or Smokey Robin­son is shit hot and mak­ing me love it. I don’t always want to ‘dis­cov­er’. Dic­tate to me. Not big com­pa­nies, but seat of pants taste fas­cists who say: lis­ten to Grace Jones, I dis­cov­ered her and she’s fuck­ing amaz­ing. She was.

I need a killer vision­ary or two to look up to. Not a ‘dis­cov­ery’ machine.

A few days back we were told that of the 650,000 Apps on Apple’s vague­ly Stal­in­ist strip mall they call the App Store, 400,000 are nev­er down­loaded. Not just not down­loaded very often, but nev­er — zero — down­loaded. I’d like to see the fig­ures telling us how many more have only been down­loaded 10 or less times. I’m will­ing to bet that 400,000 fig­ure would be well over 500,000. Effec­tive­ly if you are not part of, or anoint­ed by, the com­bine that now con­trols the inter­web, and by Apple who con­trol the whole place­ment thing, you are utter­ly fucked.

Which of course is the prob­lem with the stum­bling Uni­ver­sal takeover of EMI — if it hap­pens it kills every­one else aside from Sony and arguably Warn­ers (although their time would inevitably be num­bered too under the new regime, no mat­ter how many bil­lion oli­garch bucks they have behind them). Mat­ter of time = Warn­ers are root­ed too.

But I digress.

The big­ger prob­lem is that we also no longer have the time to live with records to learn to love them as we did. I lis­ten to music every day, I lis­ten to music all day, at home, on the move — it’s absolute­ly ubiq­ui­tous in my world.

And yet for all that the amount of new music I’m able to absorb is shrink­ing, most because I’m giv­en so much. Stream­ing ser­vices, where I can pick and choose from mil­lions of tracks (although Spo­ti­fy remains shit­ty in non-main­stream old­er indie, R&B and elec­tron­i­ca depth) means that I can get access to — and lis­ten to — a vast amount of music. Once or maybe twice.

Fan­cy the Neil Young Archive set? I did but balked at the sil­ly cost. I’ve lis­tened to it now and it’s cool. Real­ly, real­ly cool. I may nev­er lis­ten to it again. But it’s cool.

Today I’ve had a dozen albums, a few mix­tapes, a batch of new artists and a video or ten sug­gest­ed to me, just by friends. On Face­book, there are a squil­lion more. On Spo­ti­fy, I’ve got playlists queued and clas­sic albums lined up. I have, back in the real world, a bunch of loved albums I want to revis­it des­per­ate­ly and on top of that, I have a non-trainspot­tery life which includes my wife, hang­ing with friends, a cou­ple of exhi­bi­tions, clean­ing the house and a walk in the park to fit in.

Real­ly it’s fuck­ing insane.

Much of the time I’ll hear a song and think ‘like’. I mark it down as a tune I rate, to poten­tial­ly love, and nev­er lis­ten to it again. I have a hard dri­ve full of this stuff. I find songs on my iTunes and they’re unplayed. What’s this, thinks I. Check­ing, I remem­ber being sent it, or find­ing it, and think­ing: damn! The rea­son it’s marked as unplayed is that I loved it for 2/3 of a play then moved on to the next ‘damn!’ song, nev­er, ever to return.

This, of course, is not a new Spo­ti­fy or stream­ing thing — it’s an inter­net thing and it hap­pened when Nap­ster said ‘here you go: enjoy the whole audio world’. We did. And now that the record com­pa­nies are catch­ing up with that ridicu­lous addic­tion to overkill, Spo­ti­fy mul­ti­ples it. No longer do I need to hunt the tor­rents, to search Medi­afire or what­ev­er to find that obscure Arthur Alexan­der album. Hope­ful­ly, it’s there — legal­ly.

As long as I know about it.

Sad­ly that’s where the increas­ing­ly pow­er­ful gate­keep­ers throt­tle it. There’s no democ­ra­cy to dis­cov­er music. There is democ­ra­cy to cre­ate now, any­one can do it with acces­si­ble tech­nol­o­gy, but there it stops. Instead, we have a sit­u­a­tion, which is being tight­ened annu­al­ly and is about to be hor­rif­i­cal­ly esca­lat­ed with the impend­ing arrival of mega-Uni­ver­sal, who will absolute­ly dom­i­nate every con­ceiv­able deliv­ery mech­a­nism with any pen­e­tra­tion thus ensur­ing that you only hear Uni­ver­sal and Sony releas­es, or ones that they have a pecu­niary inter­est in — pub­lish­ing includ­ed.

Right now, noth­ing appears on your iTunes front page unless it’s placed there by the 3 1/2 big con­tent own­ers.

So conun­drum: I either trust the cor­po­rate gate­keep­ers, in which case I have to accept that I’m offered almost noth­ing more than the care­ful­ly con­trolled Top Twen­ty racks at Best Buy or HMV 0r their dig­i­tal equiv­a­lent. I’m to remain a robot buy­ing exact­ly what I’m told to buy and when.

Or I delve into the swamp and accept that I’m to be over­whelmed by a vast del­uge of music and — as above — we no longer have the time to live with records to learn to love them. So I don’t, I sim­ply move on to the next rec­om­mend­ed track or album.

Which per­haps goes part of the way towards explain­ing this:

In the two decades since Nielsen Sound­scan start­ed to keep track of U.S. album sales in 1991, the com­pa­ny has seen the indus­try fold in half, dig­i­tal sales catch up to phys­i­cal, and vinyl mount a resur­gence. But until last week, they’d nev­er seen old records out­sell new ones.

I can’t work it out.

9 Comments

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Nick D’Angelo on Face­book
August 06, 2012 at 07:08 AM

Maybe your wife is lis­ten­ing to Swedish House Mafia while your not home, so it thinks you’d also like Swedish Death Met­al? 😛

Rob Hosk­ing on Face­book
August 06, 2012 at 07:08 AM

Let me get back to the sea/let me be stormy, let me be calm.…’ Today’s ear­worm, as of now.

Blake Monk­ley on Face­book
August 06, 2012 at 08:08 AM

You clean­ing?

Simon Grigg on Face­book
August 06, 2012 at 10:08 AM

Rob: I won­dered how long that would take some­one.….

Nigel Hor­rocks on Face­book
August 07, 2012 at 02:08 PM

I find it fas­ci­nat­ing that emu­sic keeps telling me I can’t pay and down­load an album because it’s not avail­able in NZ but Spo­ti­fy let mes play it.

Simon Grigg on Face­book
August 07, 2012 at 02:08 PM

eMu­sic seems to be on death­watch. I used to be a good cus­tomer and they sim­ply cut me off.

Nigel Hor­rocks on Face­book
August 07, 2012 at 03:08 PM

It is on death­watch and lost its way.

Nigel Hor­rocks on Face­book
August 12, 2012 at 12:08 PM

I main­ly use Spo­ti­fy to audi­tion stuff I have heard about — or search out some­thing not in my col­lec­tion I have an itch to lis­ten to again. But in the end, noth­ing will match a Mur­ray Cam­mick or Simon Grigg pas­sion­ate­ly intro­duc­ing us to music we have nev­er heard. I hope that era has not passed.

Simon Grigg on Face­book
August 12, 2012 at 12:08 PM

Thank you Nigel. I real­ly appre­ci­ate that com­ing from you — I’ve always con­sid­ered you a tastemak­er.

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