Walk in Silence: Finding New Music, Immediacy in Availability

I know that I’m the rare music collector–I’m one who will download music, but also still head over to Amoeba on Haight Street and pick stuff up on a semi-regular basis.  I did that yesterday as part of my slow-but-ongoing plan to weed out most of our cd collection, having gotten a good ninety dollars’ store credit out of a pile of titles that have been gathering dust in a closet the last few years.  In the process, I spent a good hour or so digging through equally dusty clearance bins and making out pretty well.  The dollar bins are my friends, because a lot of the time I can find stuff that I want that isn’t available digitally.  As always, the time frame of the titles there are about ten to fifteen years ago (with the occasional exception–for some reason there were a lot of copies of Morning Parade’s album from last year in there), which means it aligns with a lot of the titles I remember seeing during my tenure at HMV and during my weekly jaunts to Newbury Comics back when it was in Amherst.  In the process I also picked up a few new titles that we’d been looking for.  In addition to this, I’ve been ordering a few import cds online lately–the recent and excellent reissues of We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It!!’s two albums from 1986 and 1989 being the latest–again, because they’re not available digitally.

I’m also an obsessive when it comes to listening.  I’m not sure how rare or how prevalent that is with others, but I’ve always got some music going on in the background wherever I am.  Roadtrips?  Got the local stations on the car radio.  Work?  Streaming something online.  Working out at the gym?  Listening to my mp3 player.  Writing?  Playing something from my digital collection.  Not at my desk?  If we’re not watching something, we’ve got one of the Sirius stations on.  I’m not always focusing on the music, but I’ve always got it playing when I can.  I’ve been that way since I was a young kid in the early 80s.

In the past, I would find new music by listening to the radio–more to the point, once I became obsessed with indie rock, I started paying attention to new things and their release dates.  Again, this really came to the fore once I started working at HMV, previewing them in the stock room before I brought them out onto the floor on Tuesdays.  Even more so when I had my weekly Wednesday comic book/music purchase run in Amherst during the early 00’s.  I fell out of the habit in 2005 when I had couple of major life changes, and I didn’t really get back into it until a good couple of years later.  This would probably explain that gap in 2005-2007 where I kind of remember some indie music, but it doesn’t really stick with me unless I really look at the chronology.  I got back into the habit around 2010-ish when I found Save Alternative, and later started actively looking for college and radio stations on the internet, and even more recently when my wife and I started listening to AOL Music’s Spinner.  Interestingly, I rarely pick up new information from music magazines or websites other than release dates.  I don’t have much against them, but while their coverage is similar to my tastes, they don’t converge enough for me to actually benefit.

I say all this because lately I’ve been listening to college radio again.  I’ve been listening to it for awhile now, but more so than in the last few years.  Because nothing beats getting it from the source.

I wish I could say I’ve got the Jonzbox plugged in and I’m taping stuff as it’s being played, but alas that isn’t true.  I do still have a handful of blank tapes that my sister found lying around, and the Jonzbox still works, albeit just barely, but those days are over.  As much as I’d love to tape radio shows again like I did so many years ago, a handful of the college stations I listen to are well out of range–some of them being on the other side of the country.  That’s the beauty of the internet for me in this respect.  I love being able to listen to WZBC out of Boston College one moment, and KSCU out of Santa Clara U. here in California the next.  There’s also the fact that I can listen to any college station and not really know or expect what they’re going to play next, because for the most part they’re still freeform after all these years, bound only by their show’s theme.

And despite not being able to record these shows, it does occur to me that I can do the next best thing–if I’m interested in a song, I can do what my wife and I have been doing whenever we listen to Sirius XMU and Alt Nation:  write the songs down on Post-Its for further checking out and possible downloading.  I just did that this morning, actually…while listening to a great set on KSCU, I wrote down a small handful of songs I liked and realized I could just as easily zip over to Amazon and download the mp3s whenever I wanted.  While I miss out on recording the semi-professionalism and occassional silliness that goes on with student-run stations, it’s a small price to pay when I can instead buy the music immediately if I so choose, instead of waiting for the weekend/when I get paid to go to the local record store.  And as I’ve mentioned earlier, most of my trips to Amoeba as of late have been for back catalogue.

Still, I do like the idea of listening to the radio again, especially when it’s to listen on certain days for a specific deejay’s show.  It’s a refreshing change from the daily (and sometimes hourly) repeat of the same sounds, and there’s a much higher chance of something new and unknown being played that will catch my attention.  And by listening online, I also get to savor the sounds of different cities.  Northern California’s college radio is a bit more lively and odd than New England’s laid back autumnal sound, for instance.  It’s a pleasant reminder that just when I’m in the mood for a specific sound, or sick of the same music being played, there’s a hell of a lot more always out there that I haven’t tried yet.

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