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Re: Brian Eno about recorded music

Hey all,

I've opened a reply email to this thread four times and keep closing it 
down for fear of getting too passionate, but I'm finally going to throw in 
a couple bucks on the issue as I've spend probably months of my life 
having this debate with various folks in various forms. I work as a Music 
Director as a campus and community radio station and, as a head's up to my 
position on the issue, we do not accept digital submissions. Here goes:

I agree that yes, there is an environmental footprint in the creation and 
distribution of recordings. But at the same time, I look back on my 
musical learnings as a child, flipping through my Dad's record collection 
and seeing the amazing album cover to "Physical Graffiti" by Led Zeppelin 
(housed in a beautiful custom die cut which you could change what/who was 
sitting in the windows), and I remember loving that record before I even 
put it on the record player. I truly doubt I would have had the musical 
connection I have now without these early experiences of  simply gazing at 
these amazing album jackets, something not possible if my Dad's collection 
had been handed to me on an external hard drive. I'm having my first kid 
in a month, and someday I hope that they grab onto something from my 
collection and treasure it as much as I once did. Yes, I know that this is 
an emotional retort to a logical point, but when has music fallen in the 
category of logic. Ha!

My early experiences with album artwork might have influenced my love for 
album artwork, but I LOVE good artwork. I understand your position Tyler - 
if I had a dollar for every album in my collection with terrible artwork, 
well... But, at the same time, if I had $100 for every record I own with 
beautiful artwork which enhances my enjoyment of that record, I'd be even 
richer. I know this might not seem like a fair balance, but I honestly 
believe that records with good artwork take my enjoyment to levels I would 
never achieve otherwise. For example, I would never have gotten into the 
amazing catalog of music on the Intr.Version label in Montreal if it 
weren't for their thread-stitched CD covers. I would never have gotten 
into the noisy meanderings of the Vancouver Fake Jazz scene had I not been 
enticed to buy a number of their spray-painted cassette tapes. Would have 
I enjoyed the new Megafaun album I bought four days ago if it wasn't for 
the amazing art etching on the fourth side? Of course! (it's a really good 
record), but not nearly as much.

This is the point that I die on every time, as I truly believe that the 
end of the record store is going to mean substantial problems for the 
music industry - much greater than just the ability to buy physical 
product. Here we go...

1. If record stores die, where will independent/self-released artists go 
to sell their wares (think about that amazing wall in your local record 
store promoting the latest and greatest by musicians in your community)? 
The reason artists have been able to develop themselves in the past is 
they have been able to grow with their fan base, selling their merch 
locally, then regionally, then nationally, then internationally as they 
succeed as an artist. Throw everyone in the pot that is digital album 
sales and you no longer have that support and growth from a local level - 
it's everyone, everywhere vying for the top spot. Really I think this 
sends us back to the days when the major recording labels were the only 
ones getting any major placement/album sales since they have the money to 
buy out the main advertising spots on the distribution method. I don't 
know this for sure, but I'd be willing to bet some money that the "single 
of the day" on iTunes isn't picked by some under-paid record store clerk 
who just really loves that band, but rather it is paid for by whomever has 
the money to do so. Besides this point, when an artist skips the steps of 
local-regional-national-international in terms of their fan base growth, 
it is very hard to book shows. For example, the first ten records of a new 
digital record could be sold in ten entirely different and regionally 
unobtainable markets across the world, whereas if I sold them all locally 
I have ten potential fans who might come to my show, spread the word, 
etc.. This continues throughout the whole growth model, and I can continue 
to branch out from my home base.

2. If you take record stores away, where are people going to see posters 
for shows and then buy tickets for those shows? Where are people going to 
talk to other local music nerds or answer printed wanted ads and start 
bands? Where are people going to talk to folks they would never talk to 
other than for their extreme passion of music? Yes, I realize that there 
are digital equivalents for all these things, but keeping the 
money/talent/information localized is a good thing that will be lost in 
the many websites and bulletin boards of the internet.

3. My strongest reasoning for the survival of local independent record 
stores is their integral part in a healthy local music scene - they are 
like one "organ" of the body this is a local music scene. For example: 
they buy ads in local entertainment media, which in turn keeps those media 
outlets in business, which in turn provides coverage on new local talent, 
who in turn sell merchandise at the record store. It's a beautiful loop, 
and in a lot of cities, no local record stores means no local 
entertainment media, and that's no good for local bands. How about the 
manufacturing system? Physical product is manufactured and sent to a 
distributor, who in turn sell it to record stores - no record stores means 
no distributors and no manufacturing plants. This is not just jobs lost 
when these businesses close down, but valuable parts of a regional musical 
network. I have to admit I haven't had any organs removed from my body to 
date, but I'm pretty sure the loss of one never comes without problems 
further down the chain.

I may sound like an old man in a rocking chair on my front porch 
proclaiming the end of the world - and maybe I am - but at the same time 
I'll admit that the digital age has brought about some amazing wins for 
the small artist in terms of promotion and sales that I do wish to 
acknowledge. The democratization of music distribution and promotion is a 
good thing and has allowed for some really amazing, non-commercial 
material to grace my ears. At the same time, I am constantly inundated 
with heaps of the worst garbage ever made. It has become too easy to 
become a musician in a lot of ways - recording, promotion and distribution 
can be done on almost no investment - and I think this has brought about 
the end of the music career Eno talked about in that quote which started 
us down this path. There are just too many people making so many 
splintered, random, sometimes-putrid and sometimes-wonderful variations of 
music to ever have another Beatles, Rolling Stones or Roxy Music. At the 
same time, though physical product may not be of interest to the casual 
music listener (and therefore a career built on selling physical product 
vs digital sales is not attainable), as long as there are weirdo music 
fans out there like myself, I feel (and hope) there will always be a place 
for physical medium.


On 2010-01-26, at 10:08 PM, tyler newman wrote:

> hi-
>> . But there is something special there that is lost on the I-Pod 
>generation. I concur.
> i'm not too sure that i agree with a great deal of the sentiment 
>expressed here, re: the fetishism of owning plastic/vinyl discs.
> i'm not the ipod generation, nor am i old enough to actually consider 
>vinyl "the superior medium". i own a few thousand cd's, accumulated over 
>the past two decades more or less. i own zero vinyl records. i have owned 
>four ipods. i have not owned a cd player in a decade. my primary source 
>for listening to music is my computer and my ipod. i do not pirate music, 
> at the beginning of 2009, i decided to do an experiment, and switch all 
>my music purchases to digital only for the whole year. ok, i cheated a 
>few times (if, and only if) a band i liked came through town; i'd 
>probably buy their cd if i liked their performance. that said, i will 
>probably never purchase another cd / physical product. here's a short 
> 1. the environmental cost is far too high. someday i'll be dead. and 
>where will all that plastic end up? all those bulky jewel cases and shiny 
>plastic coasters full of music that someone once cared about and now no 
>one does. i don't like the idea of leaving a giant plastic footprint on 
>the world.
> 2. they are low touch, high occupancy items. i buy a cd, i rip it in 
>itunes, i shelve it. end of story. sure i might read the liner notes a 
>time or two. but by and large it is literally sitting there taking up 
>space for the next X number of years. eventually, we're back to point 1, 
> 3. artwork, whatever. if i had a dollar for every cd i've bought with 
>terrible artwork with no information inside, i could go on an itunes 
>shopping spree. a nicely done PDF can be FAR better than a printed 
>booklet, if it's done with some creative vision.
> 4. record stores. sorry, but i really consider these a massive waste of 
>time. don't get me wrong i used to get a lot of pleasure out of spending 
>hours of my time and many many dollars at amoeba (here in SF, truly one 
>of the nations best record stores). BUT, more often than not, they 
>wouldn't have exactly what i was looking for, so i'd end up blindly 
>buying other stuff with mixed results. so that can be pretty frustrating. 
>sure, i came upon some great finds, but NOTHING can compare with highly 
>tuned recommendation algorithms, not even friends recommendations. while 
>i'm not too convinced by amazons recommender, i think emusic has a great 
>one, and of course netflix (yes, different medium, but same principle) is 
>basically unrivalled. add to that the fact that i can literally be 
>listening to the record in my home environment in a matter of seconds, 
>that's very compelling.
> for me, digital is by far a superior music purchasing experience. i use 
>itunes (rarely), amazon (occasionally), and emusic (like a crack 
> of course, as an artist, the move to digital has hurt my overall sales, 
>as more people use file transfer for music piracy. that's an undeniable 
>fact. BUT, it's helped me as well:
> 1. digital sales are 100% trackable. this means that the numbers 
>reported to soundscan are 100% accurate. no more guesswork as to how many 
>onestops out there don't subscribe to soundscan, meaning i have no idea 
>what my actual sales numbers are. i have a perfectly good relationship 
>with my label, but nonetheless, i like seeing concrete data too.
> 2. no physical product means that there are no more physical product 
>returns affecting my sales. this is huge for me, as i got seriously 
>screwed when tower records went out of business and returned over 2500 
>copies of my second album. i'm almost, but not quite, out of that hole 
>(several years later).
> 3. streaming revenue is making me more money now than physical sales on 
>some of my records (the older ones in particular), which helps a lot. in 
>a way, it's the perfect union of the above two points...how many 
>broadcast radio stations really report accurate info? computer data 
>allows for all of this to be 100% trackable, and helps my performing 
>rights organization actually collect money and pay me!
> i like the fact that eno is being so confrontational with his statement. 
>artists are all too often throwing their hands in the air and bemoaning 
>the death of the music industry. i've done it myself! so the challenge is 
>to come up with other ways of making it work.
> we're supposed to be creative people, right?
> - tyler / informatik
> - www.nymphomatik.com
> ===================