It’s a petty argument, I know…

…but I just quit following a few music blogs that I’ve been following for quite a few years.

Why? Because they and many of their readers lost their shit yesterday when news broke that Phil Collins, following up with his recent reissue campaign, decided to release the numerous related-era b-sides and remixes as two digital-only compilations rather than physically on CD.

No, it wasn’t because of all the Phil Collins hate. I like his stuff just fine, but I’m not upset about that. I’m just exhausted by the digital hate.

People like myself, who once had a stupidly large physical collection of vinyl, cassettes and CDs but decided that having room for other things in their homes and their lives is just a little more important, have no issue with digital. Maybe it’s just me, having grown up listening to third-generation dubs from friends, that I don’t mind if the sound quality isn’t completely pristine. I’m here for the music, not for its perfection. I’m definitely of the school of Not Hearing an All That Noticeable Difference Between Digital and Vinyl and Not Caring Much Either Way. I love the fact that I can own so many complete discographies that take up an index card-sized external drive. I love that I can filter it any way I like — especially by release date. I love that I can make mix tapes by copying and bundling these same mp3s together.

I mean, I get the whole collecting thing. I used to be that person. I’ll still buy the occasional box set, especially if it’s a complete discography. I may even buy it if it’s a brand new and improved remaster. And I will definitely buy it if it’s Beatles-related. But you know how I am about collectibles. I have no space for them, no turntable or cassette player to play them on. And if they’re on cd, I’ll rip them to my collection and store them away, if I have room…and I may sell them for store credit at Amoeba at a future date. Back in the day I might have thought the mere idea of all this was heresy, but nowadays digital suits me just fine.

But let me tell you, it’s really damn irritating when a favorite band releases a new track that’s only available on a 7″ single selling for $25, or has a limited edition of 140 and only available on cassette during Record Store Day. These music blogs will fall over themselves with excitement about this sort of thing and shell out whatever money it takes, though, and I won’t take that away from them. That’s their jam, and they’re welcome to it.

I just feel left out and forgotten by the bands I happen to like when they pull this.

So when us digital people get a pleasant surprise project of things we’d like to pick up, it’s doubly irritating when those same collectors cry foul by refusing to download, shouting “no cd, no buy”, claiming label stupidity, questioning the business acumen of the musicians, and generally being pouty children. I can’t help but eyeroll. I even saw one state “why have it digital only when you can listen to it for free streaming?” Which, okay, some digital fans like streaming only, but there’s just as many of us out there who love being able to download. Not to mention there are numerous indie bands out there who are doing pretty good on bandcamp selling equal numbers of downloads and physical copies. To dismiss digital collectors like this is not only annoying as hell, it makes you sound like an elitist snob.

I’m just tired of that snobbery. I have other music blogs and sites to inform me of new releases. (AllMusic in particular seems to help greatly for me.) I’m tired of being lumped as Not a Real Fan because I don’t own the physical copy.

I just want to listen to the music I like, damn it. Is that too much to ask?

Singles Going Steady

Some things do in fact come around again. Back in 1999 or so, during the back end of my HMV years, I remember both managers and distributor reps — and numerous music journos — saying that the single was a dying format. No one wanted to buy a cd with only four or five tracks on it (and most of those tracks being a nine-minute danceathon remix of a three-second sample of the song at that point). And certainly no one wanted to buy a cassette with those same tracks because who owns a tape deck anymore?

In the ensuing years, bands continued to release the occasional single, but only as a promo release, or a special to the fans, or a collectible for Record Store Day. It was no longer a major moneymaking format like its original ancestor nearly a century ago.

And yet, over the past five or so years, I’ve been seeing a significant uptick of releases from well-known bands dropping EPs of five or six tracks, or one-track mp3s. And they’re selling quite well. Not as high as back in the day, but well enough for them to make money.

Beck has been using this to exellent effect, having dropped numerous singles in between his album run of Modern Guilt, Morning Phase and Colors. Some of them, like “Dreams”, eventually ended up on albums, but many of them remain single-only releases. His current single “Saw Lightning” is another variation, one that Depeche Mode was known for back in the 80s: the teaser single. The new song that will most definitely be on the new album, which may or may not show up for another few months.

Other bands like Broken Social Scene and Belle & Sebastian have started releasing multi-volume EPs over the course of a year. Many groups have stated that this seems to be a more creative and less stressful way of recording and releasing music, as it affords them the time to work on a smaller batch of songs in between shows, business work, day jobs and family life. Failure did a variation on this last year, recording and releasing a full album as four EPs.

And from a commercial aspect, 2018 has shown that the single-only release has become a working format again. One of that year’s biggest singles — which won four Grammy Awards at that — was Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”…and to date it does not appear on any full album.

Even b-sides, the favorite of many avid collectors like myself, have not exactly fallen by the wayside, either. Instead, they will show up as true b-sides on collectible seven- or twelve-inch singles, rarities compilations for Record Store Day, or extra tracks for Expanded/Deluxe Editions. The latter will often be released on the same day as the regular edition and given a reasonable price point, often for only a few dollars more.

And lastly but QUITE importantly…the single is a perfect platform for the indie band who wants to put themselves out there, either one song at a time or as a calling card for more future music. This has become a career-saving outlet for bands who are not on major labels (or chose not to be, essentially ‘self-publishing’ via bandcamp and other online shopping sites). I can’t tell you how many great new songs and bands I’ve discovered on a single release over the last few years.

The resurgence of the single format in the music business is due to multiple and varying reasons, but I’d say the most important one is that labels and distributors have come to terms with how the average listener buys their music. The casual listener will use a streaming service and, if they’re dedicated enough, will download the single from one of the many online sites. I think they’ve also taken improved release schedules into account as well; we will rarely see multiple non-promotional singles dropping from already-released albums, but a teaser single a few months preceding the album is definitely on the upswing. Services like Amazon Music and iTunes will offer the single as part of the upcoming release, either on its own or as part of a pre-order, letting you buy the rest of the album at a reduced price.

It’s taken a long time for the business to catch up to the changes in collecting and listening over the last twenty years, but they’re finally catching up. And it’s working.

Dialing it back — just a little bit

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Quite possibly my favorite scene from a Prince movie…

One of my many resolutions for this year was to dial back the music purchasing.  And let’s be brutally honest here — I purchase a LOT of music.  Other guys with midlife crises buy sports cars or hang in their mancaves, I obsess over discographies and release dates.  Go figure.

Anyway, I’ve realized that while I do like to surround myself with a lot of tunage, I really have to dial it back.  Not the listening part of it, no — just the buying.  I came to this realization when I started going through my purchases over the last five or six years just to give them a listen, and noticed that a sizeable amount of these albums didn’t stick with me.  They were good albums and I liked them at the time…but five years on, I don’t remember this or that album at all.  Which is fine if I was still a cd purchaser, but you can’t sell mp3s back to Amoeba, can you?  I’m stuck with these puppies.

So…maybe I should figure out a way to dial that back.

As I’m an Amazon Prime member and thus an Amazon Music user, I have my own perfect streaming service.  (Many of you know that I’m not an avid user of services like Spotify…I have weird and quite varying tastes and I break algorithms easily.)  I can use it to listen to albums multiple times to see if it sticks with me before I buy it.  Which is what I’ve been doing the last few weeks.  I’ll give the albums at least three or four listens before I decide to buy it now.  I’ve successfully weeded out a few titles like that already, so this will save considerable money (and hard drive space) for me.

I’m quite curious to see how this will affect my overall purchasing over the year!

Listening versus collecting

peanuts several hearings

[This is something I wrote on my Dreamwidth account this weekend but thought I’d revise it and post it here as well.  I don’t repost all that often, but figured this was something worth talking about here at WiS.]

I was thinking recently about the way I’ve been listening to music over the last few years. No big surprise there.

As far as expensive habits go, at least I’m not collecting cars that I won’t drive, or picking up housewares that I’ll never use. And I’ve always been pretty frugal about it, very rarely spending an absurd amount in one go.  I’ve gotten pretty good at finding sweet deals.  The more tunage I can get for my money, the happier I am.

But at the same time, I know I’ve made some purchases over the years where I’d probably have been better off streaming instead of buying, or maybe purchasing an album track or two.  These are albums that I liked but don’t listen to all that often.  Sometimes it’s the sound of the band that fascinates me, but the song or album as a whole doesn’t make an impression.  In the past, these would have been cds that I most likely would have brought to the record store in exchange for credit, but as I’m mostly a downloader these days, that method is impossible.

I was also thinking about some of the radio stations I’ll listen to online. There are some that have an interesting mix that keeps my interest, and there are others that adhere to a set rotation to the point where I get bored easily.  One particular station I’m thinking of was a favorite of mine, but now I rarely listen to them because they’ve been playing the same songs for the past 2-3 years that I’m not really a fan of.  As a former radio person, I understand the idea of set rotation, but it needs to be recycled after a few months otherwise you’ll lose a portion of your audience who really doesn’t want to hear that same damn Lumineers song for the 374,539,453rd time.

I also feel like I’m not quite immersed in the sounds when my listening habits are stretched too thin. Don’t get me wrong, there are some years where a ton of great albums come out and I love them all, but there’s only so many hours in the day where I can listen to the albums. Not to mention that I’m not listening to current albums all the time…sometimes I want to listen to something from a few decades ago, or a different genre altogether. For instance, I’ve been listening to the Beatles channel on SiriusXM lately because a) c’mon, it’s the Beatles, and b) it was a refreshing change from all the noise I’ve been trying to escape.

Perhaps my collecting habits are getting the best of me. There are moments where I’ll be a little too focused on trying to find a band’s entire discography and not enough on their music. The idea that I’d listen to their full work is there, but it doesn’t always work out…it really does depend on how connected I am to the music. I never really wanted to be a music collector for the sake of owning something — I find that a bit wasteful and pointless. This is precisely why I’ll pass on collectibles if I already own the songs.

Is this partly due to wanting to recapture the excitement of turning to a station and hearing favorite songs? Who knows. It might be part of it. But it’s definitely my collecting habits getting the best of me. I need to rein them in again.  I love buying albums on release days, but I don’t necessarily have to do so.  That’s partly why I signed up for Amazon Prime, so I could stream the albums where I’m on the fence.

This of course doesn’t mean that I’m giving up buying music I love; it’s merely that I need to be smarter about it.

Get off your ass and jam

So apparently I did have a slice or two of P-Funk in my collection….just not the originals.


(samples “(Not Just) Knee Deep”)


(samples “Pumpin’ It Up”)


(samples “Let’s Play House”)


(samples “Man’s Best Friend”)


(samples “Mothership Connection”)


(samples “Come in Out of the Rain”)


(samples “Atomic Dog”)


(samples “Get Off Your Ass and Jam”)

Giving some of those early Funkadelic albums a listen and OH MAN are they tight. I have no idea why I didn’t get to them sooner.

Do I really listen to that much music?

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The new 4TB external doing its thing on top of my dusty PC

So yesterday I started to move my mp3 collection to my new external hard drive.  Originally I thought, hey, why not just do a block copy-and-paste all at once? and tried copying bands A through M.  After about twenty minutes the status said ‘5% done; time remaining, 11 hours.’  That lasted until Depeche Mode, when the PC went to sleep last night.  That was easily rectified of course, and I’m now going via small blocks of letters (it just finished N through P a few seconds ago).

So why am I doing this?  Well, I think my externals are just getting worn out.  Currently the collection is on two smaller 1TB externals and I’m starting to have issues with the PC reading one of them.  It’ll work, but if the PC happens to go into sleep mode for any reason, the connection will get all wonky.  No fear, though!  Every mp3 is also copied to a third 2TB external whose sole purpose is to simply be backup storage.  Nothing has been lost!

But seriously, though…why 4 terabytes?  Isn’t that a bit excessive?  Well, no.  It’s a very comfortable amount of space for a collection that’s slowly been expanding for almost forty years.  It gives me space for what I have already and an equal amount of space for any future purchases, rips, or downloads.  [Especially now that I rip my cds at the max bitrate of 320 kbps.  I’m not too snobbish about bitrate, but the higher it is, the better, clearer and louder the sound quality.  And I usually stick with mp3 format instead of FLAC or anything else, simply because it’s space saving and I don’t hear too much of a difference.]

But that still begs the question: do I really listen to that much music?

Well, I don’t listen to every single song in my collection on a daily basis, no.  That would be impossible.  It’s more of a library than just a collection, anyway.  I use it not just for entertainment but for background while I’m writing.  I use it for reference with my music-related writing.  And I share it with a few people on my Plex server so they get to listen and enjoy my tunage as well.  A. likes to listen to stuff occasionally via that route while she’s working.  Not everything gets heavy rotation play, but my library is big enough where I can shift that rotation and keep it fresh.

But yeah. I really do listen to that much music.  If I don’t have a streaming radio station going, I’m probably listening to a certain batch of albums.  Currently I’m going through a bunch of the 2016 albums in preparation for my eventual Best Of list next month.

Some people love vintage cars.  Some love special edition books.  Some love collectible figurines.

Me?  I love music.

Any Day is Record Store Day

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John Cusack in ‘High Fidelity’

 

As you’ve probably figured out (or remembered from last year’s LJ missive), I’ve decided to give Record Store Day a pass from here on in, as it’s pretty much become the antithesis of what I feel about record stores.  I bring this up because it’s about that time of year, and the online music blogs are starting to talk about it again.

Back in the late 00’s, RSD was conceived as a way to celebrate the then-struggling record industry, a day for everyone to head over to their local shop, peruse the aisles and come home with some nifty deals and some sweet music.  I was on board for that, considering my own spending habits.  [Hell, just recently I was going through some old bank paperwork and found my checkbook register from 2003-4 — the number of times I hit Newbury Comics during that time was astounding.]  You can still find my 2008 comment in the Public Quotes section of the website (I’m the third quote down here).

Nowadays, I feel this celebration is less about remembering how cool record stores are, and more about that really cool collector’s edition 7″ (only 1000 printed!) of songs I have already but DUDE IT’S RED VINYL.  Really, I’m not kidding — check out the ‘special releases’ for this year.  And that’s just the US listing…other participating countries have even more, sometimes bigger lists.  Not to mention that it’s no secret that many of these end up on eBay at inflated prices before the sun goes down.

Now, I really hate to be cynical about this, I really do.  But last year when I went over to Amoeba to enjoy perusing the bins like I always do, I realized there was no way in hell I’d be able to do so.  The reason was that many of the outer aisles were blocked by an insanely long line of about four hundred people, arms full to bursting with the same collector’s edition purchases and not a single item from the bins. Others not in line were blocking the inner aisles, chatting away and comparing collector’s edition finds and other rarities they’d found over the years.  I gave it about twenty minutes before I walked out of the store, pissed off and emptyhanded.

I never do that.  Not at a record store.  I’ll at least have one or two items in hand when I leave.

SO.  I submit this:  Any day can be Record Store Day if you want it.

Heading to the local shop shouldn’t just be about getting the collector’s edition…not that I’m dismissing those, but I’m of the mind that music shopping isn’t just about getting that rare item.  It’s about finding that cd in the dollar bin that you’d completely forgotten about for a decade or so, with all the memories of that release flooding back to you from out of nowhere.  It’s about seeing what’s hot and what’s not.  It’s about putting those beat-up headphones over your ears to sample a few songs before you buy.  It’s about finding a nifty present for your sister or your husband or your mom or whoever.  It’s even about buying that tee-shirt of that band you’ve just fallen in love with.

And you can do that any time.  Hell, even if you don’t have a local record store you can get to (which, in all honesty needs to be rectified STAT!), head to the band’s or the label’s website and order the cd direct.  Donate to a PledgeMusic or a Kickstarter or a Patreon event, watch the band in the process of recording that album, and get a copy in your hands when it’s all done.  Check out some of the great no-label indie releases on BandCamp.  There’s a shitload of great sounds out there, if you’re willing to search for them.

Because really–it’s about the bands, when you get down to it.  The record store is where they sell their wares.  It’s where you’ll find what you want and need.  And you can do that any day of the week.