Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The decline and fall and rise of the music industry

Two more must read articles:

The first, courtesy of Zach O'Malley Greenburg in Forbes, tells the inspiring story of how the music industry saved itself from the brink of collapse.  Inspiring, that is, if you like cheering for billion dollar corporations that fattened themselves up during the 90's and early 00's by earning 1000% profit margins on CD's and then complained about how unfair life was when people switched to better technologies and refused to continue paying $20 for entire albums regardless of how many songs they actually wanted.

The industry has fought against even the smallest technological change to their business model for so long, going back to at least the introduction of radio, that at first glance it appears surprising that they'd be ahead of the curve in trying to snap up the next hot digital trend.  But streaming services actually bring the major labels closer to realizing the dream they've clung to and pursued without success for nearly one hundred years -- a pay for play model where they own everything, the consumer owns nothing, and every listen costs money.  They always felt it was unfair that they would earn the same amount of money from someone who falls in love with an album and listens to it hundreds of times as they do from someone who listens to it twice, sticks the album on a shelf, and forgets about it.  How dare anyone purchase something and try to get their money's worth out of it!  Next thing you know somebody from the furniture store will show up looking to collect every time I sit down on my couch.

The second is a very long, but essential read that deserves its own movie script, stat.  They made a movie about the founding of Facebook but the story of the ground zero nodes of music piracy, as told by Stephen Witt in the New Yorker, is immeasurably more riveting.   Dell Glover, a manager in a Universal Music packaging plant, personally oversaw the leaks of thousands of albums over the course of a decade.  He and his colleagues at the top of the piracy food chain had an immeasurable influence on the music industry, and yet until now that impact was almost completely hidden and never told, at least not in such blistering detail.  They forced change down the throats of the industry, albeit mostly for selfish, personal gain rather than any Robin Hood-like notion of distributing music in a manner they deemed more equal and fair.  But important men don't necessarily have to be good or likeable men.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Diary of Musical Thoughts Podcast Episode 22

"Shesek Mix 1 - a tribute", 153 minutes.

This mix started when I listened to one of Yo La Tengo's 30th anniversary shows from late last year.  A lot of people were saying that the 20+ minute version of "The Story of Yo La Tango" was one of the best they'd ever played (they were right).

From there I had a hankering for more live YLT.  I found a video on Youtube with a brilliant, adrenaline-boosting cover of Blondie's "Dreaming" which was a cool surprise because I had no idea they had covered it (sure, YLT have a million covers in their repetoire, but still).  The sound quality was awful though, so I tracked down this incredible recording of a 1994 gig in Germany.  With the release of "Painful", they'd shifted their style to something more drone-y, as if they had decided to stop being so shy about their love for "White Light/White Heat".  James McNew had been in the band only a short time.  It was a turning point in the history of the band, and on that night in 1994 they were killing it onstage from start to finish.  And they play "Dreaming" in the encore. 

Some days later, I decided it would be a good idea to kick off a mix with "Dreaming" (Blondie's version).  

Around the same time, I was reading about the closing of Shesek, a Tel Aviv bar/club that was known for its cozy atmosphere and its eclectic roster of DJ's.  The dance floor was about half the size of my living room so it was packed as soon as more than seven or eight people decided to dance.  That meant that everyone who wasn't dancing and wanted to cross from one side of the bar to the other had to face the considerable challenge of tiptoeing through the dancers without spilling their drink.  The bar actually closed down months ago and in fact I recalled trying to go there one night not that long ago and finding it closed for some reason.  Somehow I didn't put two and two together.  

The signature musical style of the place was be some variation on cool funk mixed with 60's fuzz rock and pre-punk mixed with smooth house.  Once in a while would be a techno DJ there, but most of the time it was Austin Powers soundtrack meets Parliament meets Air meets records that get sampled on Beyonce records.

I decided to record my own Shesek mix.  Not so much to represent how it really was, but what I would have played had I ever had the chance to spin there.  Over the course of two and a half hours, I tried to summarize the story of a night out.  First, as the place fills up, the DJ plays a selection of 80's and 90's proto-shoegaze and shoegaze classics (in lieu of fuzzy 60's proto-punk that always seems to get played in these kinds of bars).  Moving through 90's ambient house and new/old Aphex Twin tracks to warm people up to the idea that it's OK to dance with your friends with your beer in hand. At peak time, it's bouncy 90's house in a classic style, taken off of old compilations that I'd nearly forgotten about.  Then the pace changes for a bit, introducing some electro-funk before heading back into indie rock, particularly of the C86 variety, before letting all fifteen minutes of Bardo Pond's cover of "The Creator Has a Master Plan" play out AKA the time when the DJ wanders away from the booth when the place starts to thin out.  By the time the song finally ends, moody downtempo music signals to people that the bar is going to close soon, until it's only the DJ, two of his friends and a few anonymous stragglers who are left to dance to two final, uptempo tracks that serve as a coda to the evening while the rest of the staff puts the stools up on the bar.

In making the mix, I relaxed most of my usual habits for mixes.  I let long songs play out, didn't worry as much about beatmatching the transitions, and played multiple songs from the same disc and even by the same artist (and even played them back to back).