Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sonic Sandwich: After The Flood

Lordy. What now.

The main structure of this site has always hinged on album reviews. Okay, I've found ways to get around that, by talking about individual songs, various categories, and a silly little tournament now and again. But the real reason I do this is because I want to buy albums and talk about the ones I like. I don't intend for that to change. But maybe it will. And I'm not just because I've been working on other things. Because hey, even when I do, I listen to music.

It's no secret that everything is available all the time. If you really want to experience something, it's usually out there, on YouTube or some other service. I don't illegally download anymore, out of respect for my job, but also out of fear of malware, and out of deference to the fact that the last filesharing program I used got shut down years ago. A lot of the YouTube videos I post are probably not strictly legal, though I try to keep it official because there's nothing more embarrassing than coming back to a post months later and finding the video unavailable. If I hear about something and I want to know what it's like before I spend my hard earned money, the Internet is an incomparable tool in helping that. But recently, the floodgates opened.

I signed up for a streaming site, offered by the store I work for. For a mere $5 a month, I have access to an unfathomably deep library of music. Sure there are holes, but I didn't sign up to listen to the Beatles anyway. Many of you are probably already signed up for services like this, and rightly so. Despite sometimes having issues with artist's rights, and potentially not being viable in the long term (infinite music, $5 a month) this is the best manifestation of the awkward relationship between music and the internet. In theory, I thought, this would really open this site up. I could devour music at a completely unfettered rate. Then two weird things happened.

One is, obviously, that I didn't. In the weeks since I began working this service into my regular music experience, content on this site has ground to a halt, not increased. I made a lengthy list of bands I had meant to check out after seeing their albums on the shelf, but found myself recklessly clicking through them. Had I picked badly, or was the nature of free unlimited music making me less eager to stick with something?

Does constant availability make music disposable?

This excess of choice turned out to be a bad thing for the site: partly, I couldn't concentrate on one thing very long. It didn't help that I didn't opt for the mobile option (as I don't have the right kind of phone,) so my favourite method of experiencing music, while out in the world, was off the table. I had to take it at my desk, where it usually becomes background to a Cracked article or a game of Minesweeper.

The other alternative was that there just wasn't that much good stuff left. Probably, a random sampling, without much foreknowledge (other than so-and-so tweeted about band-X, band-Y toured with Hollerado) can't yield 100% positive results any more than when I was sampling before committing to buy. It could just be the same thing on a bigger scale.

But I did find things to like. Maybe I didn't always sit still for them, but I came back to them, over and over, to get them piece by piece. This is how I experienced the new album by the National, Trouble Will Find Me. I like it, but I can't remember much about it.

So I bought it. That was the other weird thing.

It almost doesn't make sense. I don't know when I'm going to listen to it, besides sitting at this desk. I have already paid the $5, I have that album in my pocket whenever I want it. But still, I walked home from work a few days ago with a copy of that digipak in my bag and a receipt for the $12.99. Along with two other CDs I had only heard one track from.


Does physically owning something affect your opinion? Or even just mine? Do I feel like, having put down my hard earned cash for this, I am obligated to have an opinion of it, to do my best to like it? Does it just not make sense to bother forming an opinion without having a financial stake in the quality of the album? If I'm just ripping it to my iTunes library, so I can listen to it on a different digital device at a different place and time, what does ownership really mean?

We live in permanent high tide. You never have to pay a cent for music if you don't want, and for as long as this site's existed, that's been true: hell, it's been true since I was 12. That's a fact that I've always been sheepish about addressing, both because of my job, and because deep down I just feel like music sounds different when you feel some sense of ownership, like some decision has been made, even if you got it as a gift or stole it outright. You don't have to agree. You don't even have to make sense out of this rambling. This is just a collection of thoughts-slash-observations that have occurred to me since I made this adjustment.

One thing hasn't changed, though. People need guides. I need a guide, to know what all to find, and while I've never been so full of myself to suggest that I should be everyone's guide, my main point has been that it is important to know what it even means to go out and get a recommendation. To go further than simply looking for what's new or what's selling, or even just ignoring what's new and selling on prejudice alone. To think seriously about where you are getting your recommendations.

To be continued... keep on rockin'

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