Today I was involved in a conversation that dealt with music journalism and the future of it with the new distribution streams that exist. The days of music publications steering me towards the new releases of known acts and the trust of spending my well-earned money on the unknown are pretty much over as a 50 something with a wide scope that has hardened a bit. I was always the guy with the unpopular playlist, willing to jump from an ECM track to Zappa to Zep. I was fortunate enough to have a father who listened to jazz and Indian music as well as the Firesign Theatre. I think I’ve gone over this before here at Bitterman; I’ll try to keep it current and real.
So the main thrust is I was into progressive styles of music as well as some more regressive stuff. Jeff Beck’s Wired record was and is the standout from my mid-70’s period. That lead back to Mahavishnu and forward to the Dixie Dregs and sideways to Little Feat. While my school mates listened to Kiss, Zep and Skynyrd, I skipped Kiss, grooved to the others and tried to share my weird penchant for English bands with side-long opuses. I started out reading mags like Circus and eventually made it to Musician, Spin and the like. I got exposed to some really great music journalists and some hacks too. I might see a review for a band I heard of once but it was more likely that an older kid would turn me on to Yes and Genesis, usually while some mid-hemispheric agricultural combustion was going on. I have to give some credit to the DJ’s of the era in Hartford and New Haven who played regional faves like Utopia, NRBQ, Bonnie Raitt and Tower of Power.
I ended up at music school in Boston where the span got wider. You’d expect that the jazz history would be forthcoming from the staff but there were those in your classes that were more into Judas Priest. Then there was the local scene of Boston in the early 80’s. There was plenty of gigs from the jazzers and the conservatory types but this was the time of the Cars and Till Tuesday, the New Wave. There was this thing called MIDI and all the playing gigs were gonna go away…
Well, not all the gigs. It was a time for silly hair and silly clothes. There usually is a time for each generation to run that course. In the rest of the world there was punk and thrash and NWOBHM, the start of lite jazz. You either didn’t need to know how to play or really needed to know how. Being in the middle wasn’t as safe a spot as you would think.
Throughout those days there was plenty of ways to find music. I spent hours in the bins digging through vinyl. The local and national mags both turned me on to new stuff, as well as the diverse crew of people I went to school with and then run in the clubs with.
Fast forward to 2015. I get into a conversation with a friend on Facebook about an article he posted that talks of music “curation” and some new curve on music journalism. Someone to be picked as the newest Pied Piper for the kids to follow. It rings really false. My friend was calling for a new underground, a movement outside the chemo-riddled establishment that would be beyond the singing competition shows or the bring-me-the-next-Mumford-and-Sons, the “pre co-opted” scene that is only slightly better than the movie industry’s comic book jones.
So, where do I get my leads on new music? Do I get an update on Twitter each hour from Pitchfork? No. I trust very few writers anymore. Anil Prasad from Innerviews digs deep. I used to find things on internet radio before it was co-opted as well. Now could be a tip from Facebook that leads to a Soundcloud file and then buying a recording directly. It seems like a lot of work for new music but the authority is either corrupt or scattered to the wind. Word of mouth… leaps of faith. I still get some rewards.
So where is the curation or the liner notes? There is info that listeners have interest in. Steve Gilmor pointed out years ago that the tablet (OK, the iPad is what he said) was the device that would bring liner notes back. Big pictures, credits, links to videos and other content. Sure, you can’t clean your weed on one but I quit a while back. I can’t understand why these devices and the current state of bandwidth hasn’t seen someone take the next step. I guess it has to be Apple as iTunes is the most co-opted software out there. Deep linking this data could lead to further sales for the distributors from the legal licensing listeners. Our library has been scanned, even the more obscure choices have been uploaded. The call of “nothing good out there” should be changed to “help me get whats good out there”.
People say the younger generation won’t bother paying for any of it. Thieves gonna steal. I do my level best to support the people I listen to. Some artists are getting that additional content to listeners in return for supporting them, items or music lessons or get this, putting their name in the liner notes. Let’s see who moves first.