Posts Tagged ‘Confusion Will Be My Epitaph’

Beat-To-Bit

Thursday, December 10th, 2009
Daladno asked:


“Confusion will be my epitaph”

King Crimson









Smells like…medicine.

This is the feeling I get when I read reports about copyright and “legal” music battlefields.

Over the past twenty years far more than one industry were called home due to the onslaught of technological innovations.

The most intelligent and successful ones has been cured and made a profit on this transformation.

Others have just died simply, quietly and without all of that noise in vain. They will be for sure forgotten very soon, nevertheless, some people will keep good memories about them.

But the most awful are those, who are screaming like slaughtered pigs while dying, and in their fever attack, they’re smashing all medications on the table. Medications, that might have served of some improvements of their disease, if they had paid any attention to them.

But instead of this the shattered bottles make the room’s full of that heavy fragrance – and it smells like medicine.

One can judge by patient’s behavior that the action’s taking place in a psychiatric clinic. Those actions of the patient are illogical, absurd and damn clumsy. So, on the one hand, you want to come closer, and help him, even by simple talk. But on the other hand, you feel fastidious and awareness. And due to this nuts’ behavior, you are completely discouraged from taking part in his fate even a bit. And you’re left looking at this ugly picture, you know what? - I prefer leaving the room. Let’s make the patient’s best years (which he, without a doubt, had plenty of) comes back to our memory instead.

I’ve been asking myself for far too long about that moment when the record industry lost all of its charm and attraction, all of that belonged to it in the old days? Good old days, when each record label had its own recognizable face – a bright personality, which was expressed not only in design of vinyl records’ labels, but in everything the label were doing.

What happened to the record industry on the road from the “Beat” era to the “Bit” era?

There are many articles written on the topic, mostly nonsensical, referring to the “business model” and “market share” concepts and other abstractions.

They remind me a placebo – a dummy pill that you place on the patient’s table. The patient looks at the pill and put it into his head that everything will be fine, everything goes as expected, everything will come back to normal…

I would like to talk about abstractions of another level, the ones not directly related to the business itself, but directly related to its death – Charisma, Illusions and Energy…



Charisma

What is the main difference between record labels of the golden “Beat” era, namely the seventies of the last century, and their today’s followers of the “Bit” era?

Indeed, there are plenty of differences, but one catches the eye.

In those days, little record labels were led by great people. Personalities!

Today, huge record labels are headed by small people from the category of “no-body, and no-name”.

The majority of them has no relationship to the music whatsoever. They are either accountants or lawyers. Sometimes at heart, which is particularly awful.

That is, in classic’s words – “office plankton”.

Even if it is a very well paid and glossy plankton, it is still plankton, and it would be a great mistake to think that the quality of music depends just on the musicians themselves.

People like Richard Brenson (Virgin), Stig Anderson (Polar Music), Berry Gordy (Motown) and Daniel Miller (Mute) had huge charisma just by themselves. And yet it is not clear who had more of it – record labels’ artists or record labels’ leaders. Brenson’s charisma certainly did outweigh the one of all his musicians, and it still hovers over his 200 companies, no matter what they were doing.

Only an idiot would confuse Motown’s vinyl with Virgin’s vinyl. They were carriers of a specific culture. They had both style and drive.

Their product outlived both the record labels themselves and the artists they were recording. Today, 30-40 years later, their products is still being sold, changing hands several times and, the most important, with price going up.

Sold for real money, despite the fact that the music from these records is available on millions of websites. Despite its free availability, people spend 30 dollars for the same thing on vinyl.

This is not because vinyl records sound in some special way.

The reason is charisma, which is present not only in people, but in inanimate objects too, despite what organized religion would make you think.

But this holds under one condition: only if the inanimate objects were created by people who had that charisma. Only if the creator put his soul into the product it is possible.

Charisma creates added value. And in our times, where everything is becoming free, it creates simply value. Not added, but simply value, which is amazing just by itself.

Charisma is the key to success of computers with the ‘bitten’ apple logo.

Charisma sells The Beatles vinyl records with the “incised” apple. These two companies Apples– musical one and computer one – are the most remarkable examples of charisma. No one needs to be persuaded to buy their product. People fight for it, despite of the millions of seemingly free of charge alternatives.

What I would like to know is that when has all of this become mass production of piles of faceless plastic, that needs persuasion to be bought?

This moment is actually well-known. It is the moment by which all brilliant and interesting music labels have been bought out by transnational companies, beginning full depersonalization of music products.

A mere acquisition of one company by another has little meaning by itself. It doesn’t happen when it has brought some real benefits to justify the acquisition cost. Especially when a huge accounting firm acquires a little creative and effective team in the hope to buy its creativity and charisma. However, the only thing they can achieve by this is killing all of the creativity and bringing their former charisma to zero, sinking it in the muddy puddle named “corporate culture”.

But one way or another, acquisition cost needed to be recouped. And then a new format in the form of questionable-sounding but low-cost and convenient compact discs appeared.

Vinyl records, being also a result of pressing plastics at the same time still had great individuality. Let’s start with the fact that the same record, released on different labels in different countries, sounded absolutely differently, and had a bunch of other fine details. But greed and desire to re-sell the recording material bought from genuine record labels in a new form has led to mountains of inanimate plastic. That put a first nail in the coffin of the record industry.

Despite the euphoria about huge initial sales of CDs, it may only be compared with an injection of a last dose of a strong drugs. You will feel very good, but not for long, though.

In the meantime, charisma of artists was suffering equally dramatic changes. The era of musicians whose life could fill a book was replaced by the era of musicians, one could only write an article about.

And then, one could only write a paid advertorial, because there was really nothing to write about the artist. And only journalists’ and PR managers’ creative thinking could help to get the public to know the artist, whose disc they had to sell.

We all know how it ended. Music press has come to naught almost everywhere all around the world because of the absolute lack of basis for its activity. Cheap scandals and attempts to “make up” a bright personality do not work for the new generation, who feels it’s all fake. While Amy Winehouse scandals look comical, in the case of some B. Spears they are just abject.

Charisma is charisma because it attracts people. This attraction works for the benefit of the charisma-possessor and those, who are close to him all the time.

Even when things go universally free of charge, charisma would generate money for its possessor – one way or another.

There is only one issue (problem) with charisma. It cannot be created artificially. It either exists or does not. And those who preach pop psychology and claim they will teach you to be charismatic through various NLP methods - well, they can all go to hell. As everyone knows, the only benefit of an NLP training is NLP instructor’s salary.

One last difference of the old record industry from the new one, which is though unrelated to charisma but deserves to be mentioned, is functionality.

What were the historical functions of recording labels?

Here are five basic functions:

- Find an artist

- Record the artist

- Promote the artist

- Distribute recordings

- Deceive the artist

Until a certain time, all these tasks were performed pretty well, especially the last point, where highest levels of instruments have been achieved.

But with the advent of the Internet (it is even indecent to say now) the only one task that the label can perform better than the artist has been left to it, and this is the last one. Artists, though, can also deceive themselves well, especially in their expectations.

Otherwise, artists find themselves by themselves, record at their own expense (thanks to technologies, who made the process cheap, and the recording quality that appeared not be worried about at all). Distribution became a wonder while promotion could be held somehow with the help of that network in all its manifestations.

At some point the situation seemed to be idyllic.

Full freedom of [removed]usefulness of which needs to be discussed separately), no filters in the form of record labels’ A&R-managers (these are strange people who believe their musical taste to be close to the one of the masses), immediate distribution of music worldwide. This is just some kind of fairy tale that is coming to us!

Well, it will all be good except for the one regrettable detail.

People don’t buy this music.

And they don’t buy it in any form. Neither on CD, nor as music files. Neither expensive nor cheap. Neither from the record label, nor from the artist.

- No, thanks. I don’t need it.

- But why?

No, please, do not give me iTunes Music store and Radiohead success examples as a proof that it is still possible to sell music and you just need to find a business model.

I am sick of these two examples, because only a very lazy publication did not write a story or two about Radiohead.

Apple doesn’t make a profit on iTunes Music store, and it was declared many times by the company itself. Frankly speaking the service is on the verge of a recoupment, but it still brings the great benefit indirectly – by means of the iPod sellings. The numbers of sold tracks via iTunes sounded very persuasive on the Apple presentations and even better when Steve Jobs’s speaking. But unfortunately they are not comparable when talking about the numbers of the free of charge downloads of the music on the Internet. And this is by far the most successful store in the world!

So, If someone has taken seriously the Radiohead experiment to let the audience choose their own price for downloadable tracks from Radiohead’s new album, I wish I had have that childish naive view of the world. I think it would make my life simpler.

In reality, Radiohead’s tactic is still brilliant, but in a totally different way. By leaking their well-done foul story to the internet, the group simply f**ked the world’s media, getting an advertising campaign of an unbelievable scale and the same unbelievable arrogance. It is not surprising that, after a while, both Radiohead and its record label got what they had to get, with excellent sales of real CDs and vinyl records, and other pleasing accessories.

The only lesson I take from the Radiohead experience is that when music is really good and the artists are bright individuals, their product will be sold for real money anyway.

That is the good music. It’s really doesn’t matter if there’s any piracy or not. Especially if you throw aside your stupid illusions…

Illusions

First and most strange illusion is that a releasing of each new album should lead to a materialization of at least a huge mansion on a private island.

Even Beatles thought at the scale of “one song - one swimming pool” (and even then it was a joke). But they may think that way. Their music brings real happiness to millions of people for more than forty years and millions of copies are being sold even today.

During these forty years, no artist could get even close to their level of genius.

And who said that a singer whose album can be listened to only once and on fast-forward deserves the same income? Does the audience care that a million dollar budget has been invested in ‘this’ and it must be recouped?

Who invented that concept that a music band or composer should have excess income?

World history does not confirm this state of affairs. If you exclude these twenty to thirty years of record industry boom (which is a drop in the ocean), the rest of the time creative people had incomes that are just sufficient enough to do the things they love to do, and not to worry about money too much. At least with no need to be distracted from creative activity and forced to earn money in some other way.

Nobody ever promised a private island for this sort of activity.

Let’s have a clear look at things.

It was only a moment, a moment between the past and the future. It was called the record industry. It was very brief. It was at the crossroads between the time when there was no physical media, and the time when there is no more physical media. What is terrible about that?

We still have a lot of relics from that moment. Maybe that’s enough for everyone?

Most of all I like a phrase told me by one of my friends, who is a sound engineer. One of his job duties is to listen to a lot of new artists for one reason or another.

I do not listen to music for free, - he said.

Copyright defenders and all other lawyers, there is no need to start cheering. It does not mean that he does not listen to free of charge music. He meant that he wilfully refuses to listen to modern music, unless he is getting paid for it.

Approach that is worthy of respect and understanding. After all, if you bought a rotten fish, you consider it as damage to your health. So why do not worry also about your mental health, or at least about spoiled mood?

And the problem that we find here is created by the same advantages I mentioned earlier as a potential fairy tale for the record business.

Those technologies, which were designed to provide previously unprecedented creative freedom, the absence of barriers, free distribution, – they worked in the exactly opposite direction.

The illusion of freedom of expression

That sounds tempting, doesn’t it? Only if you put aside a fact that is proven today - 99% of people cannot in fact create anything of value.

The best way to prove it is the Internet itself, namely its Web 2.0 reincarnation.

People, who created quality content in the past, continue to create it. Everything else is filled with junk.

Have you ever noticed that people who is thought to be really serious never blog (unless it is their profession)? Chatting is not their specialty, and they have little interest in others’ opinions. Their job is to create something…

Good or bad, but other people’s purpose is to consume, not create, and this has always been so.

Today, every other person expresses himself, and this is not a problem by itself. It is even usefull, if no one sees it.

The problem is that all this is done not for oneself and one’s friends, but thrown at the market as a real music product.

Now, try to find something you would like on this market inside a pile of music junk. At the minimum, you must be a really determined music lover in order to spend all your time on filtering.

I have a question for the record industry.

Do you seriously think that I must pay the same 18 dollars for all this noise and for the Dark Side Of The Moon on a nearby shelf?

Or are you just kidding?

What have we got in the end?

Freedom of expression was good in theory but in practice has lead to the situation, in which even for people who operates technologies rather well (and I am among them, frankly speaking) it is practically impossible to find anything valuable on the internet. The noise has already surpassed all reasonable levels.

Illusion of censorship.

Previously, censors were recording labels. While they were young and managed by creative personalities - they were good filters. They have done great things, saving us, the audience, from swimming in the sea of ****.

Yes, sometimes they made mistakes and did not always recognize talents, but in general, these labels left us at least few artists of a great scale and great potential. If there were none of these filters, we would never hear about them.

As these truly record labels were absorbed by gangs of accountants-lawyers through transnational media groups, filters became worse and worse. Eventually, they became so crappy that, indeed, it would be better without them. But, as it turns out, the problem is not in the filters, but in their quality.

So, here is what we get.

Musicians and the industry had got everything they could even imagined. All of the most advanced technologies are in their hands.

Virtual studios – create almost for free.

Distribution system is simply free.

Marketing opportunities are enormous on the internet, given a creative marketing approach.

Everything’s just excellent, except one thing. Most people do not want to buy most of the new music at all. Bastards, they aren’t afraid neither of the laws, nor of permanent ‘harassment’. Musicians and the industry got everything they always wanted, yet people don’t buy most of their product.

Or rather their new product.

Because The Beatles, Queen, Pink Floyd, ABBA, etc. are still sold in fantastic numbers of copies. In mp3, on CD, on vinyl - whatever you like. Musicians are all retired, but their records are still sold, without any special marketing efforts.

At this point it would be appropriate to accuse me of fear of novelty, but it is not necessary.

First, I don’t give a damn.

Second, I know that when a new band that can be really loved appears, I love it.

Similarly to how I fell in love with Air, Zero 7, or a reincarnation of Future Sound Of London. I already had their mp3 totally free of charge, and then went and bought everything on CD, and then on vinyl.

Crazy?

But this is an exception to the rule. Alas, there is very little to fall in love with among the new music.

Almost nothing …

Everyone knows a superb music site – Last.fm. This site is a great tool to understand what most people ‘love’. As everyone knows, Last.fm gathers statistics on what real people are actually listening to on their computers. It’s much more honest information than all paid-for charts in the world. Even if not paid-for, charts are reflecting purchases, but not real love. You can buy CD without thinking too much, or under the influence of the media. But no one will force you to listen to it every day.

So, as long as Last.Fm exists, I do not remember that The Beatles goes lower than the third rank. Forty years after their last song.

And the rest of the Top 20 are real artists and bright personalities.

And, by the way, elderly are not the only people who visit Last.fm.

“Isn’t this a sign of creative impotence? Is it that no one is able to compose new materials, relating to those that we did before? Of course, I am proud, happy, flattered and all that, but how can it happen that the greatest success that was reached was reached by stuff that was done twenty years ago – and that in a cover version? Something is wrong. This should not occur.”

Benny Andersson (ABBA)

Energy

So, there are still artists who were selling, and are still selling their music for real money.

They are not many, but who said that there have to be millions of them?

Maybe their sales numbers are now lower, but who said that every inhabitant of the planet must buy music product?

This delusion is only produced by the heads of marketing of transnational music labels.

References to past indexes (especially in the seventies of the last century) are only making me laugh.

In those days, people had no other entertainment at home except music. VCRs did not exist yet, neither did computer games nor gaming consoles. No gadgets at all! Books and vinyl records were the only entertainment in our homes. This is the first explanation. Today, customers’ attention has spread among all the new media and arts, while their available income remains pretty much the same. Music gets less attention. The attitude to it became simpler … in general. Music became nothing but a background.

When talking about energy, it is good to start with what was pointed by the sayings long ago:

“What we get cheaply, we value it little”

Or do not value at all.

This applies to music in the sense that the process has become too cheap and mechanical. Creators now invest less of their own energy. However, listeners feel this through some special sense and perfectly understand it.

‘Beat’ way

There is a musical genre such as Ambient. Many think that this is an entirely new music genre that has appeared not so long ago. However, similar to how The Beatles laid the foundation for the brit-pop with one of their song, invented the hard rock of seventies with another song and all of the contemporary psychedelic with the third one, the ambient genre in its contemporary form appeared on early Pink Floyd recordings together with that psychedelic genre.

In those days, music creation was extremely difficult and costly. Synth’s have just begun to appear and they felt out of the ark. There were no ready-to-use sound samples. To achieve the desired effect of the guitar echo, a musician needed to come down into an empty swimming pool, it was not possible to do it otherwise. So people just had to be inventive in a variety of ways.

They manipulated the tape, cut it into pieces, glued it, or even created some custom devices just for the sake of achieving that one effect. The great producer and sound engineer Alan Parsons went to a clock shop in order to record the chiming clock. And this was honest.

Honesty - this is the word that best shows how music was made at the time. There was no cover of technology behind which one could hide, and it is very clearly seen in music of that time.

And it still remains  valuable.

‘Bit’ way

Today, any teenager can instantly download from the internet a lot of trendy sounds, samples, loops, and other «content», then launch a virtual studio program on his laptop and assemble something with it.

Depending on whether that noise is performed forward or backward, the final product may be called…just whatever you like!

But it still has no sense, whatever the variant is.

Smart-looking teenager, of course, will blow his cheeks out and begin to tell that nonsense about the unique concept of his work, ideas that he put into it, and the pain of creative activity.

Music critics meanwhile will operate the words like “cult” (oh, I’d kill for this word!), “cultural layer”, and provide analogies of similar artists, whose names are kind of mystery for everybody but for the critics themselves.

However it does not work.

Music that was easily assembled from Lego blocks has no value. Musicians shouldn’t have thought that the ordinary listeners do not really care. Here the problem is not about computing, but rather in freebie.

The result, that was previously achieved by the tremendous creative efforts and mental energy of the creator, is now achieved merely through few random mouse clicks in random fields of a software tool. And at a first glance, in both cases (for ambient music) we got the same set of sounds and noises. Some sound landscape.

But I see the problem… In the first case, it sounds like a masterpiece, even forty years after its creation, while the second variant looks like a dirt-cheap stuff that any idiot can make.

Maybe it’s mental energy, that like emotions, is transmitted through the result of creative activity as well?

I made just the most extreme example, but for anyone who can think, it is easy to see all that throughout the rest of the contemporary music product.

In any case, this is the explanation for a catastrophic worldwide interest lower when it comes to electronic music. Making it became not only non-profitable but also not prestigious and topical at all.

One particular case.

Each person I believe from time to time asks himself a question of how should he personally treat the consumption of music today, when the issue of copyright is literally hanging in the air?

On the one hand, I am sure that, at heart, almost everyone understands that the work of good writers, composers and other creators of intellectual property must to some degree be compensated cash.

Otherwise its production would almost stop which I believe nobody wants to happen.

On the other hand, when we begin to apply this issue to ourselves, we realize it quite fast that when we get the slightest opportunity not to pay for books, music and movies (and in fact, for everything else), we are happy to use it.

And it doesn’t matter what the law says on this issue, because the influence of law on our internet activity is greatly exaggerated. Ready to bet – whatever copyright defenders and other controllers invented the more the information technologies develop the less that influence of the law would become. In fact, it is approaching zero rapidly.

Individuals will not be able to fight the majority, especially in high tech era.

It was shown and proven a million times, but if someone still don’t get it - it is absolutely his own problem.

The morality of the problem also don’t bother me a lot. I believe that truly free people will never be guided by principles of public morality, which they replaced with personal principles long ago.

Taking into account the absolute subjectivity of such concepts as “good” and “evil” the majority’s opinion concerning those concepts would bother him as less also.

“Morality please the weak, but falls under the strong”. I agree with that beaten truth and would only add that the strong in the new century are precisely those who obtain technologies. That is the vast majority of young and even smart people, but not a bunch of managers, who had an obvious problem with an e-mail sending yesterday.

So, different ways, just for myself, I tried to define the way I am going to consume music, while being in harmony with myself, what is important.

Earlier, like most other people I used to practice digital hoarding. But one day I did understand the absolute stupidity of that activity.

And moreover I found it extremely inefficient in the expansion of my personal music outlook development, which I care about deeply.

I’ve noticed that 99% of all new music that I downloaded, I listened to only once. And after that it was either dead rubbish on my computer, or deleted from it immediately. I wrote about the causes of this phenomenon in details above, but now I want to deal with the consequences.

You don’t need to think much to realize that I consumed most of this music in radio mode, and not in a home media center mode. Such music never reached my iPod. I kept downloading, deleting, downloading, deleting until I understood all the senseless of the process.

At this moment all music in the world have been divided into two classes for me – music that is good enough for me so that I will listen to it for my entire life, and music, which is so “nothing”, that is only worthy of brief one-time listening.

Since then, I stopped downloading anything from the internet.

All of my favourite albums have been already bought long time ago on CDs and on vinyls, and of course they were regulars on my iPod.

I switched to the radio-listener almost completely.

By radio, I certainly do not mean that mediocrity that is presented on the FM in Russia (and not only there). I am talking about real radio, the one that internet gives me in the form of thousands of stations from all over the world, in quality that is acceptable for one-time music.

Soon I discovered real practical benefits of this kind of music listening.

Unlike their prehistoric “colleagues” on the FM, real radio stations always tell me what they are playing at the moment. This leads to a huge number of musical discoveries, which I could only dream of before. I often come across real masterpieces, which I would never get to know through visiting countless music websites, with millions of bands whose names don’t tell me much.

And when I come across them, I get an opportunity to explore the band’s creativity and perhaps to buy their CD. Or download…

But it depends on the degree of the genius of the album and its ability to stand on a shelf next to ‘Queen: The Night at the Opera’ or ‘Air: Moon Safari’.

Record industry now has one and only chance to sell something to me: to show me something that I can strongly fall in love with. Love it so much that I will willingly want to buy it and put on my shelf. I think that it won’t have any other way ever again.

From now on, only super-rarities will be sold for money. Masterpieces that are impossible to pass by. And whether record industry will offer me such music or not, it remains its own problem.

But I do not rule out another scenario, furthermore, I feel it would be ideal.

By the moment record business almost ceases generating income (and this will happen for sure), all those involved in music just for money will have left it.

The few that remain will be creating music only because they have real spiritual needs fro that.

And, as usually in such cases, all that is done with soul will be so good that we will desire to buy it again.

It’s never too much when it comes to the real music…

Record industry in the state it has reached, does not like their customers. It does not like artists either. The record industry loves only itself. And this is the reason why the energy it spends does not come back to it in any form.

I started this article with a quote from King Crimson, and will finish it with the last line of the last song of the last LP by The Beatles.

This message has a strong meaning and is the quintessence of what the band wanted to say to the world. It shows their true attitude to people and creativity, and that is why records of this band is sold and will always be.

If the record industry could apply these words to itself just for a little, then it has a chance.

- and in the end the love you take

is equal to the love you make (The Beatles).



/translation from russian/