Happy and strange times in the world of music. It brought a smile to my face to see that Carsie is opening for Paul Simon a couple of times this week. It’s probably her highest-profile gig yet, and well-deserved. It’s a nice feather in her cap, but mostly I hope she just enjoys the hell out of it. The music industry is shifting rapidly and popular opinion seems to be that there won’t be as many iconic stars like Paul Simon in the future, as the internet and the ability to sell your own records democratizes music and carves out more (but smaller) pieces of the pie for everyone. I don’t necessarily agree, but I don’t think it really matters as long as sustainable models are built that enable the artists to support themselves as much as possible.
Then I read about Elvis Costello telling his fans not to buy his latest boxed set, because the record label has over-priced it. It’s a weird world when an artist and their label have such a disconnect, and it’s interesting to see artists who were created in part by the traditional music industry rebel against it, even in a minor way. Record labels and publishers can be skilled intermediaries and promoters but their value is definitely not what it once was.
The new models are still emerging. I’ve been using streaming services like Rhapsody and now Spotify for years and have often wondered how much the artists make from these services, or whether they’re largely promotional. I recently read a blog post by one of the founders of ConcertWindow, who is also a musician, saying that he had decided not to offer his newest album on streaming services for the first year after release, because the revenue that the artists receive is ridiculously low - I’ve read anywhere from 2 to 4 tenths of a cent per song stream. It’s a great value for the consumer and makes profits for the provider, but the artists once again seem to lose out.
So I think about Carsie opening for a true legend this week and I’m heartened to see how she’s building her career, and hopeful that she’ll find a path to sustain it as the business side of it rapidly evolves. I don’t think I’m really capable of understanding just how much hard work got her to where she is now, but I’m proud that I was able to play a very tiny part in helping to finance her upcoming album, which will bravely be sold on a pay-what-you-want basis. For me, it’s all part of being a conscious consumer and helping the things you love to thrive. There’s nothing wrong with streaming services as long as they’re part of a larger ecosystem. Go see live music. Create some music of your own to express yourself and gain a fuller appreciation for it. Buy music from sources that benefit the artists directly. Share the music you love with people who might appreciate it.
When I’m in a mode where I’m paying more atention to life and trying to squeeze the most out of each moment, I tend to give a little more thought than usual to, for lack of a better word, resolution. Well - hopefully I try to do more producing than consuming… but I try to make what I do consume, whether food or art, a little nicer so that my attention is rewarded.
I’m a person who believes that the beauty of something is in its essence. So, for example, I think a great movie will captivate regardless of whether you watch it in a five-inch window on your laptop or at the best theater in town. A great song is still going to move you when you listen to it on a portable mp3 player with little earbuds. When the essence of something is truly good, the quality of the source material is secondary, and sometimes irrelevant.
But for those moments when you’re looking to get a little closer to the full experience, some minor attention to resolution can go a long way. When you think about how a song gets from the musician to your ear, for instance, it usually starts with the musician looking to capture as much quality and fidelity as they can, sometimes in a very expensive studio. They’re paying close attention to the sound of each individual track and how they blend together. But then when we listen, we don’t really get anywhere near that kind of sound. Mp3s aren’t the problem - I think most people, myself included, would have trouble telling a good one one apart from an uncompressed track. I’m no audiophile. It’s more that we end up playing the song through tiny earbuds, or tiny computer speakers. Convenience is king… and most of the time that’s as it should be, I suppose, as long as we get the essence of the thing. But it’s not too hard to restore the links in the chain that can start to connect you to the original sound.
There’s a lot of crap out there for suckers. A $500 knob that reduces vibrations? Uh, yeah - that’s what she said. But if you spend any time listening to music at your computer, it only really takes a decent pair of headphones and maybe a cheap USB-powered DAC. Without too much expense you end up with hardware that’s a little bit better at processing the audio, and speaker diaphragms that are a little bit better at reproducing it. Instruments that sounded muddy or indistinct can suddenly find some space to breathe and interact. And honestly, part of the equation is simply that you are now listening more closely. That might be the most valuable element, in the end.
Is it worth it? Maybe not. But I do love picking out things I’d never noticed before in songs that I’ve heard a hundred times. I get excited trying to think of old favorites to play, because something old and treasured may reveal itself as something new and treasured, as it takes on added dimension and depth without losing its essence. It’s a way to appreciate things on another level, and that’s something I try to embrace.
One nice thing about plowing through documentation is it provides a chance to catch up on music I’ve been meaning to listen to. It’s been a Zee Avi morning.
Sometimes you’re stuck editing documentation all week, and then all of a sudden there’s a new Joy Kills Sorrow album. I like sometimes.