Still here, still bumbling along. BlancoMusic is a two-man operation (that doesn’t count the musicians, without whom we’d be, well, not here at all), and sometimes getting blogposts written is a priority, other times it’s not. Lately, it hasn’t been. I’ve been writing music reviews for http://www.trebuchet-magazine.com/ over the past couple of weeks – mine are the ones under the name Sean Keenan. Fun, a new skill, and a nice way of keeping my ear to the ground for what’s happening in the music world, as opposed to the music industry world.
We’ve been scouting around for a new digital distributor lately. Frankly, we were looking for something in return for our fifteen percent, other than just being listed on iTunes and the like. some promotion, some leverage. It’s been two years or so since we last looked at the process and, now that we have upwards of forty new songs completed, with more being recorded on a pretty regular basis, it feels like we have a bit of a bargaining chip. The digital distribution business has changed a bit in two years. Back then, the process was that you sent them your music, they got it onto the online retailer lists, and they collected their percentage when the sales rolled in. Now, that tactic seems to have died out. I presume that the sheer volume of songs being processed, encoded and delivered, yet never to be actually bought, has destroyed that business plan. Of a fairly extensive survey, the only service I found offering a 15% service was routenote.com, and theirs came with the proviso that they would only start paying out once the sales had surpassed $50.
What I’m getting at here is my usual. Just being a little skeptical voice amongst all the louder and better-amplified voices shouting about how wonderful it is to be a musician now, in a time where the traditional gatekeepers (the big, bad major labels) have fallen and anyone can make and profit from music. This is a big, and nuanced topic, as we all know. I’ve gone on about it many times already, so no point getting into it too deeply. However, I’m inferring from the change in digital distribution contracts that sales of self-released music have been so low in the past two years that the business plan of being able to thrive on a 15% cut of sales was too optimistic. Factson the ground time, rather than the spurious Music2.0 nonsense we’ve all had rammed down out throats by the brave new world of internet music punditry. It’s tough out there.
Another biased and uncorroborated observation. I’ve reviewed five releases in the last month. Not all wonderful, but some standouts. Even so, the quality of production and musical originality of all but one of them was of a decent level. Even the ropey one was just a little flaccid for my tastes, but not bad, per se. This week though, I’ve received a review copy of an EP though that is thoroughly, unremittingly awful. Dance music, flagrantly derivative of 90s acts, utterly without technique, without craft, without the willingness to step away from the preset samples and effects that are available to anyone with a computer now, utterly without original vision, or musical vision, or any sort of confidence or pride or love. Music made by someone who quite clearly believes that it is not necessary to change a beat during a song, or use an actual bass player to make the b-line, or record a live vocal instead of using something of a CD of samples. A musician who listens to his own work and thinks it is worthy of the songs he’s plagarised, without realising that those originals were groundbreaking, at the limit of the available technology, stymied by being avant-garde and unaccepted by the mainstream as legitimate music. Not realising that to be compelling to a listener a beat needs to have the human touch of randomness (no drummer can ever hit the high-hat with identical force 32 times per minute), or that a synth build has to harmonise off a bassline otherwise it just sounds plasticky. I could go on. Why am I telling you this? Because the record was being released as a free download.
I’m going to have to say it. Most of the free music I come across on the internet is worth just that. Nothing. It’s not just cause/effect association or snobbery on my part, I swear it. It’s just that too many people are making music now who shouldn’t be. Too many people with laptops and GarageBand who reckon that if they assemble a b-line, repeat a four-bar block of beats, whack a vocal sample over the top and chuck in some synthwash at random: boom, they’ve got a hit. They send it to a digital distributor, it goes on iTunes, and they post it to all their mates on Facebook. Slightly different when applied to other genres, (although the girl-with-ukulele thing is getting old too), but a similar mindset. The problem is that I really think it’s damaging. The public perception of the value of music is at the lowest ebb I can ever remember, partly because it’s now perceived as something that literally anyone can do. And rubbish like what I have to review this week is easy. But real, culturally valuable music is as difficult to create as it ever was, just the same as having access to OpenOffice and WordPress is no more likely to produce great literature than GarageBand will help create great music. Garageband, Pro Logic, Ableton etc. They’re recording tools, not a substitute for compositional talent. My hope is that the sea of crap that Music 2.0 has flooded the world with will serve as a benchmark against which music of genuine quality will stand out against in stark contrast. My worry is that it will just lower the value of music in the collective mind, pushing people to the belief that music is just something you can throw together in an afternoon, and that the image or brand of a given artist is what you declare your allegiance to instead.
In other news, Spotify has in the last few weeks restricted the number of plays of tunes on its free subscription model, and also introduced the function by which users can purchase the songs on Spotify playlists. I’m looking into it, searching for the flaws, but I’ll admit that it may be time that BlancoMusic put aside our long-held animosity to Spotify. I can see how this might just turn their service into a massive music showroom. It’s not ideal, certainly not ideal, but it doesn’t, on first sight, look that bad now either. We just might consider putting some music up there now. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled.