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SATURDAY, MAY 28, 2016
Easy Street Records - Still alive, and thankfully thriving
  
Sandpaper: You use it by running with the grain, providing your self with an increasingly finer surface. Go against the grain, and what do you get? Scratches in the wood where the fine granules of sand have ripped into the wood, carving their own path. And so, I stand firmly by going against the grain, and stating that the Internet has ruined music. It isn't quite dead yet, but it's dying - until we can breath some life into it.

Call me a traditionalist, but a lot can be said about the physical forms of music. There is a feeling of comradery, a feeling of physical social networking (a sad fact that "social networking" now needs to be proceeded with designators such as "physical" or "offline", because "social networking" now defaults to what takes place online), of being part of something, each time I step into my favorite record store to peruse the latest album section. It is where music recommendations originally occured - with staff picks, or other customers making recommendations. It is where someone caught you checking out the Modest Mouse section, and they say "Hey, you should look into Ugly Cassanova, if you like Modest Mouse..." Music stores didn't just offer music. While offered music at a cost, they offered far more for free. It was a thing going as far back as the 50s when teens would rush to the record store to purchase the latest record by their favorite artists, and carried on solidly through to the 90s, and still even into the millenium - when suddenly, Napster dealt a crushing blow.

I was a part of it all - the sudden surge of mp3s. Even before Napster, I painfully downloaded on a 28kbps connection, hundreds of mp3s from various FTP sites, having to deal with ratios (I learned quickly that you could easily fool the ratios by changing file extensions to .mp3, and uploading smaller files... Yea, I was that guy.) But it was through the FTPs and eventually Napster, then Kazaa, that I sampled artists - listened to them, to find new ones. But I always returned to the CD. Now with streaming audio readily available, I don't have a single mp3 (or wma) on my computer. I still go to music stores, and still talk with those in the stores, and chat about concerts, new musicians, new albums. There is information shared - and far more than you can get from Last.FM, or Pandora - where any socializing occurs through a website. Thereby, the internet, and the m3p have destroyed the social aspect of music.

I would argue - at the annoyance of many - that music is appreciated far more with CDs/Records than through mp3s. There is something special about loading a CD into your stereo, sitting down, and listening to an album from start to finish. Mp3s tempt one to shuffle through various artists - and some more "intelligent" systems now shuffle through similar artists, so you can listen to a particular style. I abhor that kind of listening. A record is far more than a collection of singles, in my mind. It is a story, a novel. It is something to be listened to sequentially, from start to finish - even with the tracks that you may not particularly like. Listening to multiple artists on shuffle is no different to me, than to grab 100 books by various authors, and read a single chapter from each, in non-sequetial and otherwise random order. There is no context, there is no feeling, there is only then music - or books - at a purely functional level; ie. it is music to fill the background, or it is reading, purely to "read" without particular interest in what is being read. An album is a complete work. Even if it isn't your typical concept album, that has one sound from start to finish, but is a collection of songs the artist/group did over a period of time, the album is still then a story. It tells the story of the artist, at that time. Where in their lives they were, what they were feeling passionate about, what they were impartial about. You can hear talents they had refined, new ones they had acquired, and all this transmitted through an album which can only be discovered by listening from start to finish. Mp3s cannot achieve that. The internet and mp3s have thus, also, destroyed the artist's intent. That's why I don't have a multi-disc changer. I have a single load. Each time I load a new CD, it is a careful selection of what I want to listen to at that particular moment - and is not, listening for the simple sake of having something to listen to. If I have nothing I feel like listening to, I don't play anything, and listen to the silence.

I won't argue that I'm a bigger fan of a particular band, because I own their albums, while you may not. I won't argue that I'm a bigger fan if I've seen them live, while you haven't. A bigger fan, I would say, would be determined more by who is more appreciative, and more consumed by the music - purely on a musical level. In other words, on the purely musical level, one who listens to an entire album - in mp3 format, could appreciate music far more than someone who listens to a CD. Those are arguments I see as silly and are no different than one claiming they like a band more than another, because they have collected more stickers than the other. In fact even arguing who is a bigger fan is an argument which is, itself, rather silly. What I'm arguing here, is how the internet has destroyed the overall approach to music. Granted, it has in some ways reshaped it, but reshaping something does not necessitate an improvement.

My biggest frustration with the internet is that it had gone from a useful tool for discovering new music, to an awful tool. A tool that is so oversaturated, that there is no quality control. Call me part of the machine, but I'm a strong advocate of quality control.

MySpace has effectively allowed anyone to become musicians, anyone to become a band. Some people will defend it by saying it allows someone in New Zealand to hear about, and know about someone in Germany. And I don't disagree with that. I'm arguing about whether that person from New Zealand should hear about that person from Germany. That argument makes no claim about the quality of music - only the existence. And there would still be ways to allow someone from New Zealand to find out about stuff from Germany, that is of quality. Right now, however, there is no control.

Moreover, cross-regional music can in fact hurt music as much as people may claim it helps. Regions have sounds. While music may largely be universal, there's a reason why Eastern Europeans love the metal we now pass off as 80s hair metal. There's a reason why Germans have often had a more experimental/industrial sound, and why the best punk came from England. While it may be accessible to some outside the region, it is equally inaccessible to those outside the region. When the internet allows one to transcend boundaries - it allows them to do so anonymously, or better put - it allows them to do so without the footnote of "Hey, take this person's opinion with a grain of salt, because they're an outsider. They didn't grow up here, they don't share our way of life, they haven't been a part of our culture. So their opinion is best applied to those of a similar background." And the last thing an aspiring band from Germany needs is a group of New Zealanders rating them down, giving them fewer stars, and effectively burying them deep within whatever internet music system they've found themselves within.

I've used Pandora, and I've used Last.Fm. I've looked for music on MySpace, and tried out various other tools. Since 2002, I've discovered a number of new bands, through a number of different means. The bottom line is, and I've checked and rechecked this many times - the internet has never, not once, been a source for me. It's never helped me out.

Perhaps that's a bit of a misstatement. I've found, while using the internet, what music to avoid. What bands I didn't particularly like. But I have yet to find, through the internet, a band I particularly like. It has allowed me to confirm that I like them. But not a single moment where the internet (website/music recommendation system/social networking site) has said "Hey, check out this band..." and gave me a recommendation I particularly liked.

As the internet is crushing the music industry - causing people to release their CDs online only (a few of my favorite bands which have done so recently), I can't help but wonder: Do they not realize they're killing a lot more than just the music industry machine? I've already seen some of my favorite music stores close down - places which I had spent hours talking to the guys behind the counter, listening to what was playing on the stereo, and otherwise just hanging out. The local stores have been closing out to the large companies that can stay open - as long as they sell what sells, and not what people want (which history has shown, are two very different things.)

So, like poorely used sandpaper, I'm going against the grain here, and in doing so I hope to provide paths that others can follow so that those of us who appreciate music the way we do, can continue to do so.
Comments

Alamir

Alamir

Don't think I agree with a single one of your points. Maybe only the point about finding other info on a band that you can't on the internet, but the truth is you can find a lot more on the internet than you ever will in a store. That includes listening to their entire albums for a few days before you decide whether you want to buy/download it. Other than that, there's a lot of info on bands and music that's out there. I don't remember a Wikipedia on rock bands hanging around the HMV. I don't remember the people that work in the store knowing any "inside info" on bands. The last question I remember asking was to a 14 year old emo kid working at a record store for a summer-time job. When I asked something about "The Smiths" he replied: "Who?" to which I responded, "You know, Morrissey? One of the biggest British bands of the last decade?" I do remember over-inflated prices. I remember a new CD for $16 was considered a deal at one point. I've been introduced to a lot of bands through friends and that still happens today, whether it's through the songs they send me by email or by MSN. I've also found out about a lot more bands through Last.Fm than I ever did at a record store. When Oasis came out with their album, I credit HMV for that tip. That's about it. Most of the other bands I would just listen to on their "recommendations" list and then reject. Last.FM, despite their algorithm (which I think works relatively well), manages to provide a whole load of recommendations I can sample and skip through, ban or not ban if I feel like giving the band a chance later. There's a lot of bands that no one heard of and are completely independent on Myspace that I've gotten a chance to learn about. Especially Montreal bands that sing in French. Guess what, a lot of record stores carry very little in their French music selection, "the system" doesn't think I should listen to them.. they're wrong. This includes Spanish, German and Persian songs. Oh and I really like how the record stores would charge me $5 for a Radiohead single that doesn't appear on any album! Considering bands like Radiohead had a lot of great B-Sides, the internet didn't just save me money..it saved me from getting ripped off. The internet is the best thing that's ever happened to music and has completely revived it. There's a lot of talent out there that no system can ever monitor. I still have a few favourite record stores I like to frequent too... and they're still up because they provide music that's even obscure for the internet. But to limit the internet because of a small record shop would be overlooking all the advantages.
REPLIES: alishahnovin

alishahnovin

ALISHAHNOVIN

Replying to Alamir:
You claim you have a few favorite record stores you go to, but the only one you've listed is HMV, which is a huge franchise that doesn't hire people who like music - they hire bodies to be drones. There's no HMV in Seattle, but there's an FYE, and it's the same way. But stores like Easy Street, or CD Replay in Toronto, Sonic Boom, Silver Platters - these are all places where the guy has heard of Morrisey. And not only Morissey, many many other bands. They're guys who aren't looking for a summer job, but are often the store owners - or were hired directly by the store owners, and had to prove themselves to the owners to get to work there. The internet is killing those guys off. The HMVs and the FYEs can afford to stay open, because they're model is to sell, sell, sell. Not to create an environment where people can practically lounge around, listening to music, and talking about concerts. As for French, Spanish, etc. - good record stores do have this album. In fact, I've only encountered the album by Sarcozy's wife in stores, on multiple occasions. I've heard and seen little mention of it elsewhere.

There is a group of independantly owned music stores which have banded together to try and stay alive, here in the States. What they've been doing is helping each other promote artists, and become a better overall source for music. A place where you can find out about new and upcoming acts, listen to a huge set of musicians, all at the push of a button, they have live in-store performances sometimes - and sometimes by top name bands like Pearl Jam.

It's not the music stores that set the prices of CDs, but the music industry - the corporations. And it's through the partnerships of said corporations that lame things occur like a particular album is only available at Wal-Mart. The independant stores combat this as best they can by offering discounts, or frequent purchase cards.

The claim that the internet is the best thing that's ever happened to music, I would begin to consider if there was one solid band that could not have made it if it were not for the internet. The only one I am aware of that broke it big is Fall Out Boy... and I leave it as an open debate as to how solid they are.

The internet, is unfortunately a huge source of oversaturated, uncategorized, unmoderated music and "music." It could be made a much more useful tool, except that it's been made harder to do so now that sites like MySpace have allowed anyone to claim their in a band.
REPLIES: Alamir

Alamir

Alamir

Replying to alishahnovin:
There's lots of bands that made it through the internet: The Arctic Monkeys, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Tilly and the Wall. There's also bands who've managed to get a lot closer to their fans through the internet, such as "The Libertines," "NIN," and "Radiohead" who have all embraced the internet as a means of direct communication with their fans that didn't exist before the internet. For example, it would be much harder to work on a video for Radiohead, or mix and share NIN songs with other fans, or read timely direct news straight from The Libertines, without having to wait for the media to pick it up.
I mentioned HMV because it is the most popular record store. The record stores you mention are only found in certain parts of downtown, and it's not always as convenient to get to them. The favourite record store I mentioned is called Zulus and it's about 40 minutes away on the other side of downtown. I have to go through at least 4 HMVs to get there. Zulu's does well because it offers albums that are actually really hard to find elsewhere or at least it brings more attention to these lesser known albums. But in no way do these stores have all the albums we like to listen to. Not even do yours. Try finding all of these at your record store: Le Husky, Nal2001, Googoosh. You can't because some of the bands are too foreign or are too small. Which is why it's beautiful that anyone can make the internet, because good music is subjective and I don't need people outside my friends and own personal search to tell me who I should listen to.
REPLIES: alishahnovin

alishahnovin

ALISHAHNOVIN

Replying to Alamir:
In response to your second two points (Allowing direct access to fans/access to other music) - this is precisely where artists and fans are using the internet as a useful tool. As I've said numerous times already, the internet can be useful, and can help music, when it's used properly. However, there are many many misuses of the internet for promoting music as well. I closed down my MySpace because I kept getting friend requests from bands who were trying to artificially create their popularity - rather than focus on their quality of music (which frankly, lacked) - they focused on getting more "friends" in hopes that this would get them noticed. But in both of these two arguments you provided, you are arguing a point that I haven't contested - and in fact, in both of these arguments these are bands that you already know about. In some cases they may be bands that you found out about through the internet - but they are bands that had reached a level of success in their own right, and it was through the internet that they became more known. In this case, still, the internet isn't the single factor that broke the band through.

What I'm saying here is that talent does not go unnoticed, absent of the internet. It had happened for 60 years in the pop-music world, and for hundreds of years before that. Right now though, the internet is bogged down with too many untalented acts, that it's usefulness has degraded.

Finally - part of your argument assumes the knowledge of the same thing it's trying to find. What I mean by that is, take Le Husky. If you're looking in a record store for Le Husky, then you already know about them - and chances are, you already like them. If are assuming the case of not knowing about Le Husky and considering the chance of stumbling upon it randomly, then finding that band - or any that you don't know about, is like a needle in a haystack. Whether you're in a record store, or looking around on the internet, the chance of finding out about them is equally small - unless it's you tastes in music which lead you towards finding out about them. At which point, the chance of finding out about Le Husky is equally large, whether it's on the internet, or in a record store. The difference here being that a record store requires you to be more social. To talk a little more. To communicate. And that's part (not all) of what I've been arguing all along here. The internet has killed the social aspect of music: that part of music that takes you to a record store, leads you to conversations with strangers who share similar tastes in music, conversations which lead up to them recommending a group to you based on your tastes and theirs.

It's only been through conversations like these that I've found out about some bands that have become my ultimate favorites of all time, and would likely not have found out about them through the internet, because I wouldn't have even known where to start (ie. Pandora has yet to recommend these artists based on my tastes, nor has Last.FM)



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