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blocsonic on 10/08/2009 at 06:20PM

They Made Their Bed (Processed Music Product Revisited)

Back in January of 2007, I launched blocSonic.com with our premiere “netBloc” compilation. In the PDF booklet for that first collection of free, Creative Commons licensed netaudio gems was included the introduction “Processed Music Product”. Here I revisit that introduction, it’s topics and add further thoughts.

Being a child of the 70s, I clearly remember a time when popular music was alive. Radio playlists weren’t limited to 10-12 tracks endlessly played over and over. Yeah kids, there was actually a time when FM radio was relevant. You could easily dial into your favorite station(s) and catch something new and interesting or even old and classic being played. Because stations were more independent and DJs were able to make playlist decisions instead of some corporate “radio consultant” dictating it, there was diversity being broadcast over the airwaves.

Before videos, before the independent music industry sprouted, before CDs, MP3s and iPods. Somehow the major music industry, even with it’s monopolistic control, allowed artists to develop and create great music. Artists’ first albums weren’t expected to become hits. If they did, so be it, but if they didn’t the label knew that they could expect the artist to further hone their sound and image on subsequent releases. In the 70s there are numerous examples of major music stars who required 2 or 3 album releases before they hit it big. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Pink Floyd, Judas Priest, AC/DC… etc. Then came MTV and CDs.

Initially, MTV introduced a whole crop of new artists to it’s viewers. It was the wild wild west. Independents gained national exposure and helped garner MTV respect and trust among music fans. At least until the majors caught up to this new thing called videos. Suddenly the independents were squeezed out again to make way for videos from the majors. Then came this little thing called rap music. It took a while for MTV to pay attention. Thanks to Yo! MTV Raps, it finally did and independents once again got the spotlight. Again, at least until the majors figured this thing called rap out and realized that they could make loads of skrilla by exploiting it. So they did. Yo! was put off the air and rap was placed into normal rotation. However, videos were slowly being pushed aside to make way for ‘original programming’, even as the popularity of independent spirited “grunge” and alternative was dominating. Slowly MTV devolved into eMpTyV. By the mid-90s music no longer dominated.

Up until that point I was the type of music listener who had no problem enjoying mainstream, pop music as well as dig for more obscure goodies. For me, music listening wasn’t about some image or trend. I bounced between hip-hop, metal and pop. When the the major music industry began to reshape itself to make ever more profit I became less and less interested in popular music. I began to explore Jazz, both new and old flavors. I was detaching myself from the force-fed music industry which was increasingly making the bottom line the only goal and was becoming focused on singles-driven profits. Albums were packed with formulaic filler and one or two approved-by-committee singles and I was sick of wasting my money on them. Artist development was a thing of the past. No longer would megastars such as Madonna or Michael Jackson be a possibility. Sure there would be ‘stars’, but not of the international caliber or longevity that the 80s performers became. Pumping out artificially created ‘stars’ du-jour became the status quo and has remained so.

Little did the majors know that something was just around the corner that would change everything. Something that the majors largely ignored. “Liquid Audio” suddenly ushered in a new era. In hindsight, a new era that Liquid Audio would play a very small part in, thanks to another digital audio technology. Liquid Audio was the music industry’s first tiny foray into digital audio downloading. Though it was doomed from the start due to DRM restrictions and due to that other digital audio format MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3 or for short MP3.

What a huge impact one little acronym can make! Of course… it’s impact would have been much more contained had it not been for a file-sharing application developed by Northeastern University student Shawn Fanning, Napster. In 1999, through word-of-mouth, music lovers worldwide heard about the application and file-sharing network that it provided and instantly recognized the possibilities it afforded. For the first time in history, music from all over the world was available quite-literally at one’s fingertips. Suddenly music was alive again! Music fans started seeking out discographies of their favorite groups. The Beatles’ catalog was one of the first extensive catalogs to be digitized by fans. The buzz was out… media caught wind of it and the firestorm began. Metallica’s Lars Ulrich became the music industry’s right-hand man when he legally went after Napster for providing an avenue for fans to download Metallica music for free. At the same time, Def Jam artist Public Enemy left the label due to a disagreement over providing their remix album ‘BTN 2000’ for download online. Public Enemy’s lead member Chuck D, was equally outspoken, though he sided with file-sharing. Inevitabally, Chuck and Lars ended up in a public debate over the subject. Eventually, Napster was shutdown and was relaunched all ‘legal-like’ and has since struggled to find it’s place in the digital music realm up against Apple’s iTunes, where fans are lead to believe that .99 cents per track is a “bargain”. Of course, in originally shutting down Napster, the music industry only forced music fans into developing de-centralized file-sharing methods which actually made file-sharing more organized and made it easier to share higher-quality copies.

The music industry likes to make the claim that file-sharing is what’s eating into music sales, but this just doesn’t hold water. I know personally that before file-sharing, my music purchases had dwindled. I was simply tired of being burned by wasting hard-earned money on crappy albums. When file-sharing came along, I was finally able to hear an album before buying it! Wow! If the album sucked, I wouldn’t waste my money on a hard-copy. However, if I enjoyed the album I would ALWAYS buy a hard-copy so I could enjoy the album art, liner-notes and higher-quality sound. Since file-sharing, my music purchasing has increased incredibly. Add to this the fact that the DVD and Game industries have grown to become powerhouses in their own right. People have only a limited amount of free income to use for entertainment purposes, this is something that doesn’t change, even as additional avenues of entertainment are introduced to the marketplace. If consumers held popular music in higher regard, music would be a greater priority for them. As long as music is pumped out as boxed in and formulaic as it has been for the past decade, consumers will continue to use their money to purchase DVDs and Games. The music industry made it’s bed that it now has to sleep in.

Even though, consumers choose to spend their money on games and DVDs, many of them are still music listeners. They still want to listen to good music… they just have less free income to do so with. So where can they find cheap/free music and keep things legal? Around the same time that the MP3 was invented an underground digital movement, that was already well established, began to see this new format as a means for sharing music. Soon, internet labels, or “netlabels” for short started springing up out of the demoscene. These netlabels provided free internet only music releases. For the most part, these netlabels were initially ignored by outsiders of the scene. At least until RIAA lawsuites against file-sharers, shoddy mainstream music, DRM’d CDs and downloads. Suddenly free and legal music sounded like an idea who’s time had come.

The popularity of netlabels is ever increasing as the numbers of netlabels explode and as copyleft licenses such as those developed by Creative Commons become widely used. Music is alive again!

One problem… the sheer quantity of netlabel releases and no simple way of sifting through it all to find the gems. That’s where blocSonic and our netBloc releases come in. Admittedly not a solution to the problem, our netBloc releases are a but a tiny-step in the direction of a future solution that we intend to develop and launch. For the time-being let our monthly releases help you shine some light on deserving artists/netlabels and the terrific music that they have to offer. Help us usher in a new era by regularly downloading our releases and then checking out the featured artists’ and labels’ websites for more from them.

Send a message to the major music industry by declaring war on them. There are literally thousands of netlabels and I guarantee that among those labels, you’ll find music that’s breaking boundaries and innovating new sounds. The music is free, the quality is excellent, the diversity is ever increasing. Now’s the time to support the new music industry, instead of buying that new mainstream artist-du-jour’s album. Send a donation to that new netlabel artist you discovered online or their label, purchase the CD-R or CD of the release… whatever. Your money will mean more to them then it will to some CEO of some mega-corporation. If you don’t want to pay a dime, you don’t have to… just spread the word… let others know about the netlabels and artists you enjoy. I foresee that quite soon a whole new industry will sprout up around netlabels, be a part of it. Hear it happen.

Here’s a selection, for you to enjoy, from blocSonic’s latest release “netBloc Vol. 24: tiuqottigeloot”.

Peace
Mike Gregoire
Founder/Curator blocSonic.com

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User Comments

01
Yorkshiresoul on 10/09/09 at 02:45AM
Great article Mike, a well informed and intelligent argument against the Lars Ulrich/Lily Allen types in the music biz. There is an English singer called Dan Bull who has put out a feww song called Dear Lily which makes a similar argument from the amatuer musicians point of view.
02
Yorkshiresoul on 10/09/09 at 02:45AM
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