Stop listening to Music on your Computer

There’s a problem with how I listen to music. For a long time I hadn’t noticed it, I just accepted things the way they are and carried on enjoying the fruits of artistic labours. The problem is probably being ignored by you right now, if, like myself you’re prone to being caught up in the opportunities offered to you by new technology. At one point I became sick of the limited music I could access with just my own music collection. I greedily wanted access to everything, to an infinite pool of music, so I primarily rely on Spotify now. I just can’t shake the feeling that something’s been lost along the way.

Spotify LogoI first signed up to Spotify a few years ago, before the free service limited the amount of plays on each track. Initially, I remember scoffing at the amount of music they had available, so deleted the program and went back to using my iTunes. After a while, I started to hear reports from friends that it was definitely worth giving Spotify another chance, and I haven’t looked back and thought about it until now.

The more I’ve stared at my computer screen, trying to find some inspiration on what to play, the closer I’ve got to realising what’s wrong.

As of July 2011, the Spotify catalogue comprises over 15 million songs. That’s a lot of music by anyone’s reckoning. It’s starting to become a little overwhelming.

Before a friend sent me an invitation to join the free service, I was the proud owner of a vast and diverse hoard of mp3 files, collected over years from a variety of sources. There were artists I’d discovered by myself; ones I’d been recommended or forced into buying and random files that I swear turned up out of nowhere… Most importantly it was my collection, and I could go through it and tell you all sorts of uninteresting stories about how a majority of the files ended up on my hard drive. My iTunes is still a treasure trove of musical interests, tracks I didn’t even like and would hardly ever listen to, but I granted them a permanent place purely because they were a bit interesting, and I rarely delete anything, I’m a digital music hoarder.

The mp3 files I’d collected there were given pride of place, taking up most of the screen. The lists of songs and albums are a representation of me, mostly organised and aligned with the correct artwork. Once upon a time I drew on it to provide music for parties, pre-club drinks and any other number of random occasions where I happened to have my laptop available.

iTunes ScreengrabI even became obsessed with buying music from the iTunes store, back when they only just started offering films, and made a few simple apps available that could be played using the iPod’s click wheel. It was just so easy to keep clicking, adding individual songs or whole albums not just to my computer’s memory, but also to my identity as a person. My collection was a part of who I am. Perusing it, you could make an educated guess at the magazines I read, the instrument I played, the people I mixed with and any other number of small influences that were a part of my life.

One day, I lost touch with my collection. It had swelled to the point where it no longer resembled me; it was more just a dump for every passing thought or musical whim that had passed between my ears over the past year. Musically, I was starting to bury the important stuff under reams of garbage. There were too many tracks added because they were “interesting” and not enough pruning.

Now though…I use Spotify.

I use the service, (or is it a program…or maybe an app?) for almost all of my listening, occasionally defaulting to YouTube for a track I can’t find, and rarely falling back on my iTunes library to rediscover a lost gem or a new CD I bought physically. I’ve been a happy customer for years now, initially upgrading my subscription to their £5 a month ad-free version, eventually finding the justification to pay for the full £10 a month service, mainly for the ability to add the app on my mobile.

Spotify ScreengrabI’ve begun to take it for granted, I was absolutely confident that this new way of providing legal access to the music people want to listen to for very little cost had the best chance of succeeding. It’s quicker and cheaper to use for me then iTunes, stops me impulse buying everything and accumulating too much crap in my life that gets in the way of what I want to listen. I just create playlists for songs I’m confident I’ll want again, and anything which really grabs me gets bought and added to my ever-expanding iTunes library.

Continue reading “Stop listening to Music on your Computer”

We are the Creative Class

(This was originally posted 15/12/2011)

I need to tell you something in this first paragraph that puts the rest of the article in some kind of context. I’m writing this from my Macbook, with my iPhone and a copy of the book ‘The Rebel Sell’ next to me. I also consider myself quite creative.

Apparently, we all do.

Reproduced via The LinkedIn Blog

 

Continue reading “We are the Creative Class”

“What about the kids trying to make it in this business?”

Stevie Nicks’ opinion on the Internet:

By Matt Becker (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons“Children no longer develop social graces. They don’t hang out anymore. I’m financially stable. I’m okay. But what about the kids trying to make it in this business? If you’re not an established band, if you don’t have a hit single, they’re gonna drop you. There are a lot of people out there as talented as we were, but they can’t sustain being in a rock ‘n’ roll band for long without success. We were able to, but we’re going to die out.”

Unfortunately for Stevie’s opinion of the modern world, I can say (from experience) that young people today do have social skills and they do hang out… what else can we post on Facebook? I think it has much more to do with how the Internet bombards us with so much music with so little effort that its difficult to care about it as much as we used to.

To save space and your sanity, I’ve condensed my points and not included as much detail as I’d have liked to, so this is more of a summary of my argument.

As the modern world turns around and finds out that it has accidentally stumbled into something called the ‘digital age,’ most of the major players in the music industry woke up to the worrying realisation that they were no longer as high up the food chain as they were yesterday. The entire culture industry, along with support from legislation has placed the blame in the laps of online “pirates.” Although distributing large quantities of entertainment free of charge has had a short-term effect on the bank accounts of the major players, I believe that specifically in the case of music, the pirates are indicative of an attitude change towards music (driven by the extent that we can now produce digital reproductions of art) which was predicted years ago.

So what do we do? For me, pushing music forwards as an art form is the primary goal. Experimenting with sound, combining it with as many elements as you can is, in my opinion, the best way to create amazing artistic statements. I don’t feel like we can do that if we carry on selling music in the traditional way, genre specific people in genre specific clothes playing chords arranged in a genre specific manner. We’ve also had groups which broke out of some or all of those elements. Maybe there’s another way? We all need to grow up, get over the end of the 20th Century and stop trying to be Rock Stars. Let’s be artists.

Many people in Western societies now have the god-like ability to conjure entertainment, including text, pictures, audio and video, at will with nothing more then a swipe of a finger across a piece of transparent plastic/glass/whatever-it-is-they-make -smartphones-from. For the first time in history, we have a massive cultural pool of entertainment sources, which we, as users, can pick from as we choose. Music is in the background on websites, during videos or short animations all across the web. It increasingly permeates our daily lives too. So why isn’t it more important & profitable?

Listening to an iPod (or any other perfectly good mp3 player) whilst you go about your daily business allows people in an increasingly atomised society to separate themselves from the world around them and create their own headspace. As you pop the headphones in and find your favourite album, you block out as much noise from the outside as possible, overlaying your personal sound track over the top. In this way, music isn’t something you go out of your way for, it now has more in common with the atmosphere: it’s sort of just there.

By Bernardherrmann2 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsThe emphasis seems to have shifted and it appears as though the arrival of truly personal computers (aka smartphones), permanently hooked up to the Internet and attached to their respective owners are starting to change the expectations consumers have for their sources of entertainment. In the time between the Gutenberg press’ introduction, and the arrival of Edison’s phonograph, only entertainment (including sheet music) that could be written down could be faithfully reproduced and redistributed across our entire society.

However, assuming you have decent enough literacy expertise to read the book of your choice, you need the relevant practical skill, or a friend with them, to provide the actual entertainment. The book acts simply as an instruction manual. This means if you want to listen to whatever music you please, you have to learn to read music and pick up an instrument, or travel to see the musicians perform.

Why would you want to do that now? Why bother? I don’t even need to buy their CD or even bother downloading it, I can just look up my new favourite band on Spotify! Then next week, I’ll look up that week’s favourite band instead.

Music synchronised with moving images can make or break a film. The famous example, that Jaws wouldn’t be anywhere near as scary if it didn’t have music is true. I don’t think that all music needs to copy John Williams, but the synergy between music and picture create something special.

TV and the internet have helped to permanently blur the line between image and musical artists. We’re now hearing thousands of pieces of music for free every day, without even trying, in the background of adverts and programs, edited onto that cat video I keep watching on YouTube, etc. It’s now quite likely that most people, particularly young people and children surfing the web, will come across more content where music serves to enhance the visuals then the other way round.

Despite this, music isn’t unable to stand on its own, I just think that it’s heyday has come and gone, and it may be time for a new art, or a reinvented older art form to come to the fore.

Refs:

Walter Benjamin in 30 seconds

5 minute video on Walter Benjamin (Thanks to Jon Stewart for the link!)

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Stevie Nicks’ Quote