lovehate: iTunes and the 99 cent download

This is truly a love/hate topic for me.

There is a lot to love about the 99 cent/song download that has become industry standard.  To be honest, I loved the days of allofmp3's cent/mb downloads better, but we all knew that was shady even though technically legal.  The 99 cent download is a panacea to those who love pop radio and prefer the bits & bytes, song by song approach to music. With the click of a button and a quick sync command, you can be listening to that one hit wonder over and over again.  I suppose the single song approach to music purchases can be one way to expose people to a band or artist they would never shell out $10-15 for in buying a full CD.  The single song download has also redefined the release methodology for artists, or course this was forced on them by monopolistic music conglomerates who would sit on a band's recording for sometimes years at a time until they felt it was right for release: ask Fiona Apple whose Extraordinary Machine CD was shelved indefinitely because the execs couldn't find a "hit" on it. Now labels and artists promote direct-to-download releases between CDs in a seeming way to generate funds for recording and keeping artists on the map. From a pure market standpoint it's difficult to argue with the 99 cent download as there is no reason I should have to pay for music I don't want. There's many an artist who can, for one brief shining moment, find a glimpse of genius only to destroy that vision with the remainder tracks on a CD. For the advocates of choice and pop radio lovers everywhere, I love the 99 cent download.

On the other hand the iTunes revolution and the 99 cent download have contributed, in many ways, to the destruction of the artistic sensibility of music that existed, at least in some form until about five years ago.  While I grew up in a time of escapism into a gatefold LP cover that often stood on its own as visual art, I had, begrudgingly sacrificed that childhood fixation when compact discs became standard.  What I am less willing to sacrifice, however, is the idea that songs should be able to be so easily plucked from the entire collection that is an album or cd. Even to cite a relatively recent example, Radiohead's seminal OK Computer should not be listened to piecemeal.  Sure there were dozens of albums back in the 70s that explored conceptual themes that ranged beyond a single songs and, while many of them still had radio hits, the entire collection was always more satisfying: I find little pleasure in listening to Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb without the rest of The Wall surrounding it, or The Real Me without Quadrophenia, or anything from side two (remember sides) of The Beatles' Abbey Road without the songs accompanying them. Yeah I know, I'm dating myself, but just as it is deplorable to only pay for one scene of Hamlet or one-sixteenth of a Guernica print, there is something disingenuous of forcing artists to stop thinking of song collections as important because we only care about one song. For this reason, I hate the 99 cent download.

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thinglets: chicken

It's not often that I throw parties; I'm less than the consummate host. That said, when I take the time to send out invites and even create a lame Facebook event page, I have a certain expectation.  I go shopping - nothing fancy: pizza, pop, chips, beer, liquor, mix, veggie tray.  My plan is to take my digital projector out into the yard and do an outdoor film night. People seem to like it - kinda like a walk-in instead of a drive-in - lawnchairs a-plenty.

So when I look at the Weather Channel and see red flashing chromakey warning of thunderstorms, high winds, and 4cm hail, I start to wonder if my one annual bash has been cursed. I think that maybe I should've gone to church more often... well, even once. I ponder my relationship with Clotho, Lachesis and Antropos and what a wicked web they weave. I desperately search for some dusty 20-sided dice to see if I can make a saving throw against a wet backyard.

In the end, I guess I do what all impending party hosts do in my situation - I sacrifice a chicken in the middle of a pentagram in the laundry room and look up to the sky yelling "KHAN!"

lovehate: lining up

The concept of a line of people waiting for a thing is just wrong in so many ways.

There are two basic subsets of people waiting in lines for things.

The first reason people would wait in line for something is due to NEED or survival.  While this is a completely justified reason to stand in a line, it usually involves a socio-economic imperative (think Eastern Bloc during the Cold War or America during the Depression when line-ups for bread were longer than Chuck Heston's entourage through the Red Sea in the 10 Commandments).  If a person HAS to line up to feed his/her family, I'm going to be the last one to criticize. You do what you've gotta do.  But this doesn't make it right. Any system that requires lines for food disenfranchises its citizens from the start.

Which brings us to reason two: lining up for WANT.

Spending a month in a line to be the first person to buy a ticket to the latest Sci-Fi epic that hundreds, if not thousands, of other people have seen in other timezones or just through previews, is just plain depressing.  Pitching up a lawn chair and getting friends to hold your spot while you go to relieve yourself and buy another venti frappachino in the Halo or iPhone line isn't much better.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying buying, owning or having things is bad.  I might line up for something if I knew I could never get it again, but when I can return to the same place the next day, or next week, to get the same item, I'm not so concerned about being an early-adopter.  I get that there can be a social aspect to the line: the movie line prepares one for a shared experience, the tech gadget line places you among like-minded geeks or gamers who (at least on the surface) appear to "get" you when other people don't.

Lining up always seems like a far better idea in the planning stages as well.  You sit down with a friend and work out an ebay-like formula of the latest you could possibly get there to be the first in line.  You tell your boss you'll need to take 3 days vacation time attached to a holiday weekend.  You buy a cooler, a case of Red Bull, a box of your favorite energy bars, a new sleeping bag, charge your laptop, check with your municipal website to see if they've installed the wi-fi towers in the area yet, call friends that can come down to visit you, and write down some speaking notes for the inevitable television interviewer that's sure to ask you (as first in line) deep and penetrating questions about the thing you're waiting for.  You arrange a ride to and from the line and sleep 18 hours in advance of heading to claim your glory as the first, best, earliest adopter in your major metropolitan area.  As you round the corner ready to be bathed in the angelic fluorescent glow of the major electronic retailer's window display you find something's wrong, your formula was flawed, and apparently being the 23rd best early adopter in your major metropolitan area will have to do.

As you settle in for six days of cold concrete and strange bedfellows you think to yourself...


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lovehate: radio-friendly

What worse news could there be for a young musical artist upon submitting a demo CD to one of the FIVE music companies in the world that, combined, control over 90% of recorded music than "your music is not radio-friendly"?

The frustrated artist then hits a point of diminishing returns when deciding how much integrity can remain in the music when considering what makes a radio-friendly song: too hard or too soft, too fast or too slow, too repetitive or too complex, too short or too long, too intelligent-sounding or too nonsensical... and after considering all of these qualifiers, what the artist must really decide is if the songs are too original.

Check out a list of the Grammy Award winning Songs of the Year back to 1959 and you'll see how homogenizing popular music has created some obvious patterns when it comes to radio play. Chart success (and award nominations) seem assured for:
1) Songs attached to a films (especially ones by Disney)
2) Ballads
3) Songs not done by bands (U2 is the only band to win Song of the Year since 1986)
4) Female singers
5) Solo male singers over 40 (except John Mayer)
6) Songs under five minutes (the only one longer is We Are The World clocking over 7 minutes, but a sentimental choice)
7) Nothing that couldn't crossover to at least two or three different genre radio stations

Perhaps the most tragically-adhered to standard in the above list is song length. Artists buy into this parameter without even thinking anymore. How many young musicians would not even consider a song over six minutes? We're still stuck in a 1903 standard of 78rpm vinyl that did not allow for more than three and half minutes of recording. In 1969, Little Green Apples (3:20) performed by O.C. Smith beat out Hey Jude (7:05) by The Beatles for Song of the Year. And if you think things have changed since the advent of digital downloading, as of this writing the 97 of the top 100 downloaded songs on iTunes are under five minutes, and the three that aren't are live versions of Rush and U2 songs and Hotel California by The Eagles.

I want music that's considered too long or too short or too complex or too obscene or too noisy to make it to radio.  Commercial radio kills music, and the stark parameters placed by a radio-friendly badge makes me...


"I am the entertainer, I come to do my show.
You've heard my latest record, it's been on the radio.
Ah, it took me years to write it, they were the best years of my life.
It was a beautiful song.
But it ran too long.
If you're gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit-- so they cut it down to 3:05."

Billy Joel - The Entertainer

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