emerging music distribution paradigm
Saturday, January 31 2009
It was another cold day up here in the northeast and not suited to much other than splitting wood or spackling the walls of my greenhouse with wet Portland cement.
Back in the early 1980s when I was a teenage kid living in rural Virginia, rock and roll was just as important to me as it is now. Back then, though, there was no internet or any other network through which I could be exposed to new music save for mainstream broadcast radio. I listened to a lot of radio back then, and sometimes I'd have a tape recorder available so I could record the good songs and have them available for listening "on demand" as it were. Mainstream radio has never been a good way to expose yourself to music, but back then it was somewhat better than it is today. The local rock radio would loosen up its format a little at night or even have shows dedicated to a particular genre of music. I remember staying up late to hear a show about heavy metal; that was the first time I experienced Ozzy singing "Crazy Train" and my Iron Maiden performing ("Flight of Icarus"). But somehow I made it all the way through my childhood without ever learning of the existence of the Velvet Underground or of anything heavier than Judas Priest.
Now, my pattern of music discovery is much more productive and transparent. I don't have to actively do anything; I just listen to a web stream narrowly-targeted to my musical interests (often broadcast on an FM band that I can listen to near the house), and when I hear something I like I just download the MP3(s) from Amazon.com (usually the music is too obscure to get it any other way). I almost never listen to music just because it was recommended by others; it either speaks directly to me or it doesn't, and I've never met anyone who likes what I like in a song.
For the last few days I've been listening to the MP3s of an CD called The Lake Effect by one Daniel G. Harmann. I'd heard the song "Broken Will, Broken Heart" on Indy Pop Rocks and had downloaded the whole thing from Amazon. It's great downer music, full of wistful stare-out-the-window anthems and references to the cold hard passage of years. Sometimes it rocks kind of hard ("Cold, a Whole Minute") and other times it's just Danny strumming his guitar and singing with a few overlays of other things ("Nineteen Forty Five").
I'd found the three or four songs I liked, and had put them in my XMP playlist along with my various podcasts and what not. The other songs, the ones that hadn't really grabbed me, had also been in the playlist, but way down near the bottom, after several hours of audio programming. I'd neglected the playlist and happened to go down to the greenhouse when it was in the midst of playing one of the songs that hadn't immediately grabbed me, "Sometimes I Forget My Name." At first I didn't know what it was, and, thinking it was Indy Pop Rocks, I found myself thinking, "Whoever this guy is, he's awesome!" After I realized it was a song from the pile I'd initially rejected, my respect for Harmann was renewed. I went hunting for more about him on the interwebs.
I didn't find much, but I did find his Facebook page, and, wanting to connect in some way, I asked to be a friend and said I was just a fan of his music. He must have been on at the time because he immediately added me. Having only about 400 friends, it was clear that, by the standards set by Mick Jagger and Ian Curtis, Daniel G. was a pretty obscure rock star. The great thing about the emerging music distribution paradigm is that people like me can find people like Daniel G. Harmann and nobody (spoiler alert) outgrows his humanity in the process.
At some point this afternoon Gretchen and I went over to Penny and David's place for a relatively brief social call. We sat around the kitchen table drinking red wine and eating some sort of peanut-flavored wrap that happened to be vegan. David was burning firewood (maple and birch) that had only had four months to cure, but (spoiler alert) it seemed acceptably dry, not hissing any steam at all. We mostly gossiped and talked about the sorry state of the economy.
Back at the house, Gretchen and I watched Burn After Reading, a screwball comedic spy thriller centered around an attempt by a couple moronic gym rats to blackmail a fired intelligence officer over a CD of worthless information. Gretchen and I loved it, partly because it kept doing the unexpected. Where else have you seen a montage of a character on a dreary blind date where she nevertheless ends the evening by (spoiler alert) having sex with the guy? And in what other movies have you seen a major character get (spoiler alert) killed before he has a chance to say anything to his killer?
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