Partly inspired by the fact that we’ve already had sex and drugs this week and partly inspired by “The Woodsongs Old-time Radio Hour“, I was reflecting on the change in music.
The Woodsongs Old-time Radio Hour features a wide and interesting selection of very talented musicians performing all sorts of incredible virtuosity on musical instruments and being interviewed by the host. And one of the most frequently discussed issues is how the Internet has changed the music business. And it seems to me that it is completely true that this has happened. The days of spending hours trawling a record shop to find something new and interesting to gamble your money upon are long since gone, in an explosion of music being “pushed” out to you, via youtube clips or MP3′s that are “shared” or podcasts that introduce you to an endless sea of new music that you could never get around to buying all of, let alone listen to.
Established artists may be losing out, as they find a loss of revenue to piracy, but at the same time, people are at least aware of their music. They can make up the loss of revenue by touring. And new acts are definitely winning as they can find themselves becoming a “viral hit” off the back of a youtube clip that propels them from nowhere to fame. This is apart from the more obvious democratisation of music in the forms of shows like “Britain’s Got Talent” or “X-factor.”
So, the music world is becoming “flatter”, with legendary acts like the Rolling Stones finding it much more difficult to differentiate themselves from up and coming bands that are themselves, ironically, little more than a pastiche of, or homage to, the Stones. We are being bombarded with wave after wave of music, our choice has never been greater.
But for all my delight in the ability of the talented but unlucky to find a way to my ears, I must confess to a certain nostalgia for the old ways. I can remember the first time I watched “The Song Remains The Same” from a scratchy, slightly off-track, second-generation VHS video on old-fashioned telly with one indifferent speaker. There was a magic that came from the rarity of such delights. Today, I can go to HMV and fish a remastered DVD (to play through my 5.1 speaker system in glorious quality) out of the bargain bin for £3.99. Or I can order it at Amazon and watch it over the weekend.
I have an infinitely greater selection of music available, including huge mounds of highly-talented but unsigned artists, happy to share their talents for free. Prices, in inflation-adjusted terms, are lower than ever. I should be ecstatic, and to a certain extent I am.
But sometimes I miss losing myself for an afternoon in a record shop. And I never sit down and just listen to a record any more, the surfeit of music that I’m trying to wade through is so overwhelming that music is playing pretty much for every one of my waking hours. Who wants to listen to an old favourite when there are 57 new favourites that you “need” to listen to? And whereas the A&R men used to weed out a lot of the dross, now we have to do all that work ourselves.
So the next time you read a polemic berating the dinosaur record companies for their greedy and outdated ways, they may well have been greedy, but they weren’t all bad.