While the amazing storage capacity mp3 players made possible at the turn of this century felt pretty profound, the Walkman was a more revolutionary consumer electronic device, as this presentation from the 2010 Pop Conference attempts to explain. I searched in vain when writing this for a Malcolm McLaren quote I remembered from the late-’70s/early-’80s, in which he damningly contrasted white people hiding behind Walkman headphones with black youth who more proudly imposed their soundtracks on the world around them. Like a lot of things McLaren said, it was savvy, provocative, and wrong. Turns out those headphones had more power to shape the environment.
The world changed, quietly, on June 22nd 1979, the day Sony unveiled the first “personal stereo” to skeptical journalists in Tokyo .
This presentation from the 2007 Pop Conference was oddly controversial, in that during the Q&A I was taken to task for supposedly lauding a future full of white guitar players. If you think the paper’s title is one more example of cloistered music critics privileging indie rock, well, then my saying “Good News For Yo La Tengo just sounds funnier than Good News For Luther Vandross” probably isn’t going to change your mind. But the point remains that the examples that follow have analogs in every genre. I do think Indie Rock is more prone than most genres to view a gap between critical and commercial success as something desirable, though, so I’m particularly interested to see what happens if/when there are more than just psychological rewards for being a critic’s darling.
I am here to make some proclamations about the future of the music business. I should provide a couple caveats at the outset, however. First, I will confess I’m not 100% sure whether what follows is a prediction or a just a wish. I’m pretty confident (so, like, 99%) it’s the former, but I offer that 1% of doubt as a little place of refuge anyone who disagrees with me can go try to build a city where all the citizens do their best to keep the existing, depressingly diseased music business functioning as-is indefinitely. Good luck with that. Continue reading
I read this at the 2006 Pop Conference in Seattle. When I was finished, Robert Christgau ran up to me and said, “Who is Mike McGuirk and why haven’t I heard of him?” The answer to the first half of that question is, “The best natural music blurb-er I’ve ever seen.” The answer to the second half is a mystery even to Mike, I think.
Like, I assume, most of the people at this conference, I have what average citizens, upon entering my home or office, almost always declare to be a frighteningly large music collection: LPs, CDs, cassettes, hundreds of gigabytes of mp3s scattered across an array of hard drives and portable devices — it all gathers in piles both physical and virtual wherever I spend serious time. When these average citizens are new or casual acquaintances, they often move from commenting on the vast and tottering nature of the stacks of discs to making deductions along the lines of, “You must really like music, huh?”
I almost always reply with a semi-embarrassed, “Kind of,” which is the most honest answer I can give. Though my collection is indeed larger than the average citizen’s, it’s far smaller than that of most of my music geek friends, and the reality is I hate far more music than I like. Continue reading
This was written in 2000, as Napster and a variety of online music sites were shaking up the business. SF Bay Guardian Arts Editor Tommy Tompkins and I would get together for lunch pretty regularly after I went to work full-time for listen.com, and we’d talk about what was happening to the music business. So it made sense that eventually he asked me to write him a longish piece on it all. Nothing too embarrassing below, I don’t think, almost a decade and a half later, which isn’t too bad, when pontificating about what the future will or won’t bring. The week this ran I got an email from Hillary Rosen, the much-vilified head of the RIAA at the time, telling me she liked my article and liked Negativland. I think my only reply was, “Please don’t break the Internet.”
The music business has witnessed so many stunning developments in the past few weeks that this very sentence will probably go out of date before I finish typing it. One minute Metallica’s suing Napster, then before you can say, “What dickheads!” they’ve collected the names of over 300,000 Napster users they accuse of illegally trading Metallica tunes. A few days after a federal judge rules that Mp3.com’s Beam-It feature violates copyright laws, the company announces a new subscription service for classical music lovers, and five minutes after THAT Universal and Sony decide they, too, will develop a subscription-based service for people seeking downloadable music on the internet. Continue reading
I’m not entirely sure where this piece written in 2000 originally ran. It might have been on zdnet. It originally had links to all of the no-name bands it mentions on mp3.com, none of which seem to have ANY internet presence at all thirteen years later, which is itself kind of odd. I did, however, find this blog post from 2010 in which someone talks about how the story of Heavy Vegetation’s “No Turkey for Night Ranger” had a longer life than the song itself. Anyway, this is what the online music world looked like when 99% of the music available online was free, and by nobody you’d ever heard of.
The brave new world of downloadable music has been getting a lot of press. It’s also been getting a lot of complaints: most of the legal downloads out there tend to be by bands you’ve never heard of. Mp3.com and other sites offering free music downloads are turning into worldwide, never-ending open mike nights (and there’s just about as much chance of an A&R guy checking out the talent there as there is at your local coffee house). That’s supposed to be the point, of course: the internet offers young bands a new means of sharing their art with the world, unfettered by corporate notions of what’s commercial and yadda yadda yadda. But there’s no getting around a simple fact: a lot of the stuff simply sucks. Continue reading