(blogs let others gawk)

March 14, 2009

What’s the next big music scene?

Filed under: General,Music Rant,Perspective — Tags: , , , , — Bryan @ 10:14 am

I have a rather extensive music collection that I’ve built up over the years. In the 80’s I was one of those guys out scouring the stores looking for obscure 12″ remix’s from the Art of Noise or buying German imports of Tangerine Dream on CDs since they hadn’t been released in the U.S. yet. I was always willing to buy new music sight unseen based anything from trivial things like album cover art to information on who contributed to the release (I checked out a number of albums solely because Jeff Lynn or Trevor Horn produced them) or even the consistancy/quality of other releases distributed by the label (ZTT, Mute, etc…)

In short, I’m a fan of just about every kind of music except most Pop-Country (singing about the dead dog, cheating wife, broken pick-up truck, ugh!) and some elements of Jazz Fusion (songs that make me tense?!? That’s a whole article in and of itself).

So anyways, every decade or so it seems various forms of music bubble up into the mainstream consciousness. In the 60’s you had lounge acts and what we now consider classic rock bands, 70’s folk music disco and punk, 80’s metal and dance, 90’s techno, grunge and rap… and all through this good old rock and roll and R&B. I’m not saying these various styles started in the decades listed above, but they clearly had popularity peaks and visible evolutions of their forms during their peaks. This is from a U.S. perspective of course.

One of the things that added to the mix in my opinion was commercial marketing and limitations on exposure due to the cost barrier to both consume and create in the medium. Let me explain. Up until the late 80’s only place you could hear new music was through the local radio station. This limited you’re exposure to diverse music forms (both old and new) to pretty much what the local radio station was promoting or had a preference to play (the station format). In fact, even up through the 80’s your best bet to hear something new and innovative was to hunt down a college radio station where DJs were mingling the music from their hometowns and had rare restrictions on experimenting (short of not violating local obscenity laws… and even then…). This dynamic also caused these stations to get lots of music submissions from artists trying to break into the industry since there was a greater chance of airplay there.

The first big hit to this dynamic came through cable television and ultimately channels like MTV which suddenly allowed someone to hear music that they would have never heard outside the local college circuit. For instance in the early 80’s the USA network would run a show overnight called Night Flight that would feature music videos from bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Bauhaus, etc… In my opinion that this and other programming like it helped drive awareness of the early generations of electronic artists that, in part, helped seed the Techno/Industrial scene of the 90’s. In fact one of the most culturally significant bands for both Rap and Electronic forms music might have never been heard if not for MTV. That would be The Art of Noise.

The next big evolution came in the 90’s with new distribution methods. Instead of trading tapes, you used the Internet to trade. This not only changed the scale of things by giving the average user an easier way to share and consume but also eliminated the last big boundary of physical geography. One of the interesting things that was observed during the peak of Napster in the 90’s was that when people suddenly had the world of music to explore not only were sales increasing (contrary to the music execs yelling “fire”), but people were buying music outside of the typical genres they would normally have lived within because experimentation had no tangible cost aside from the time involved in downloading and listening to the song. Ease of use and no financial penalty encouraged experimentation.

Now, coming into the end of the first decade accessibility has now created a level space where any given listener can be exposed to any style or genre of music from any era. Games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band have introduced teenagers to both 30 year old dinosaur bands and underground fringe groups alike and it’s all new. In fact the only true new revolutionary sounds that I’ve been hearing have been out of the mashup communities who are re-purposing a century of music into a new art form. You can see examples of this from early pioneers of the style such asĀ  the Evolution Control Committee, to the Bootie sessions or most recently the Kutiman’s ThruYOU mini video series that I mentioned in my last post. Granted these are natural extensions of the DJ remix scene from the last 20 years.

Of course you would have to say that the very dynamic nature of the mashup scene which relies on unlicensed music is a train wreck waiting to happen and I suppose my own gut feeling that a commercialized mashup scene would be the death of it only reinforces my notion that this may be the next evolution point of music. As with any music form that faces a potential break out there is always the concern that constraints introduced by the marketing side of the house will limit creativity, but the reality is that frequently, limitations are what drive true creativity (look at British censorship via the BBC in the 70’s).

This is all very cool, but is this the next big thing? If not what?

February 8, 2009

Case in point related to privacy and persistence topics

Since I was just talking about this, I thought it relevant to call out a couple of recent stories that made the rounds in January.

First on the Privacy side, there is news that American Express is now evaluating the stores you shop at and changing your credit limit and/or interest rate based on where you shop. Here’s the story about a person who was impacted by this following what he believes was a single trip to Walmart using his AmEx card. This is truly the ugly side of data mining.

Not to alarm you (although you should not only be alarmed but up in arms) but, folks this is just a taste of what’s to come.

Another interesting story that drifted through the aether to my attention courtesy of BoingBoing is directly related to the idea of persistence biting people in the ass.

Many years ago when just about every Windows user was using Napster to download and share music on the Internet, combined with most new PCs shipping with the MP3 Player software, Music Match Jukebox (both programs are now defunct). Many users would configure both Music Match and Napster to share the same folder for audio files. Then at some point they might use the built in “record from microphone” feature of Music Match to make up their songs, audio diaries, rants, you name it. The default file name for these recordings was “Mic in Track”.

A friend of mine who was playing with social disruption and marketing to promote his own music on Napster via a process he called “Culture Jamming” discovered something interesting. Careless (and some not so careless) users had left thousands of Mic in Track audio files on their PCs for anyone to download. Mark talked about this on his site (even putting up a couple of his favorites to download) at the time and it became a rich source of oddness for those with the patience to bother downloading the tracks. This was not a passive activity when you consider that in the mid nineties the majority of the Internet was still connected via 28.8 to 56k speed modems.

Which brings me to the contemporary story that made the rounds last month. Apparently one of the people out there (David Dixon) who learned of the Mic in Track phenomenon took it upon himself to download all of the files he could find. What makes this story relevant to the persistence angle is that David has published dozens of these Mic in Track files on his website.

Here we are now ten years later and for some poor souls that audio track of thier youthful exuberance (or disturbing screed) that was carelessly recorded on their computer for giggles may have committed their act to the ages. You can read a story about David on the LAWeekly site. Or more directly, David’s site holds dozens of his favorite tracks available for download. He has even released a compilation of greatest hits.

Granted there is probably a copyright issue here. Even though these people who recorded these tracks carelessly left them exposed for download, technically they still own the copyright to their creations. Unless David secured their permissions to reproduce their audio recording, I would say he probably doesn’t have any standing to be redistributing these tracks.

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