I feel as if it's about time I took a massive step back. In a moment or two there will be a sentence. It's not a sentence I'm looking forward to writing, and, already, I feel downright filthy for having to do so. Here it goes:
Of late, the blogosphere has been set alight -
Oh, I can't. I just can't. "Blogosphere". No. Terrible word. And to "set alight" a community, even a virtual one, is not a metaphor I've ever deployed with pride. I'll try again:
Of late, there has been much debate -
A bit better. The unintentional internal rhyming is a bit clumsy, but it will have to do.
- debate, anyway, concerning illegal filesharing. To cut a long (and immeasurably tedious) story short, Lily Allen has come across as a preachy, self-righteous, greedy and hypocritical corporate whore. On the other side of the debate, though, those who take a sickening degree of pride in describing themselves as pirates have acted with equal disgrace, revelling in her humiliation whilst at the same time attempting to pass off their digital larcenry as a somehow noble act.
The whole debacle is hellishly, chest-implodingly tedious. The NME said absolutely nothing of consequence, their stance acting, for some, as confirmation that they must very much be on the payroll of certain record labels. Their article is pretty pathetic for two reasons. First of all, it's amusing to note how, rather than lambasting Charlie Brooker's opinion on the issue as "wrong", rather they choose to label him as "confused". This is an apparent attempt to not lose face by openly criticsing a commentator whose opinion, to some of their readership, must be infallible. Second of all, it annoys me how horrifying they seem to find the idea that musicians might have to go out and work in order to supplement their creative income, thus raising these individuals to an alarming level of importance, somehow removed from society and, as such, above and beyond anything as mundane as having to work at something. Bad NME. Bad. Why aren't writers treated with the same reverence? Even best-selling authors treat their talent, their calling, as a sideline. It's very rare indeed to find a writer who's "full-time". They all have other pursuits. They have to. Otherwise they'll starve. I like to write, I want to write, and I know that, with such an ambition, I'm perhaps dooming myself to years upon years of frustration in doing something I really don't want to do. If it has to be the same for musicians, so be it.
John Mclure of Reverend and The Makers issued a wake up call, speaking with more sense than has anyone for well over a week now. And well said. Yes, there are more important things to worry about and, yes, file-sharing CAN prove beneficial. There are countless, countless bands of whose very existance I'd be wholly ignorant were it not for file-sharing. Artists whose shows I've subsequently attended, message I've subsequently spread, albums I've subsequently bought - in short, artists to whom I was introduced through illegal means who I have subsequently provided with something approaching an income.
Too much "subsequently" in the above, I think. But, two short points. Is it not the case that major label artists receive something ridiculous like 2p for every album they sell? Do they really miss this meagre income so much, or have they, rather, noticed their incomes swelling as a direct consequence of mass exposure that simply would not have been there previously. Also, I buy a copious amount of CDs and records. I'd say that something like 75% of this I buy second hand. Therefore, even though I'm not downloading these albums illegally, it's still the case that the artists aren't receiving anything at all from my purchases. So, what next? A crack-down on selling music second-hand? Places like eBay and Amazon becoming akin to illicit, under-the-counter black markets?
No, I'm sorry. It's unbelievably tedious and boring and there's nothing I can say that's not been said before thousands and thousands and thousands of times. This post exists because I wish to make a "public announcement" which not only will nobody care about, but also nobody will ever read.
I am taking a huge step back. I am completely and utterly fed up with digital music. I used to justify it as a solution to a meaningless philisophical question which had been plaguing me for years: If attachment to material goods destroys the soul whereas music serves to enrich the soul, what are we to make of such material goods as records, CDs, tapes, stereos, musical instruments? Even though you still needed a laptop or an MP3 player to access it, digital music I used to see as a solution to this "problem" in that - sort of - it made music immaterial. Sort of. You can't really touch data, can you?
But it is exactly this nothingness which has come to so annoy me of late. It's no longer enough for me for my music to simply exist as hard-drive filler. I want the feeling of completeness and aesthetic appeal and, apart from anything else, the dynamic variation that can only ever be achieved through owning music in a recorded form that serves not to fill your hard-drive with clutter, but your house. I look at my ridiculously large CD collection with a combination of humiliation and pride - and I love it.
But that's all immaterial, ultimately. No, what has really come to frustrate me is the way that digital music alters fundamentally my very listening experience. To put on an album with a sound which fills the room with accompanying art work, liner notes, a cup of tea and maybe a book - it's one of my greatest pleasures. It's me surrendering utterly to the fruits of those creative labours and it induces an almost unrivalled sense of wholeness. Maybe it's just me -
But digital music it's all too easy to simply treat as background music - album after album after song after song whizzed through at breakneck speed as you work at your laptop or piped through incompetent headphones as you trudge to and from work; the music reduced to a dreary soundtrack to your toil and forever will it remind you of doing that which you don't really want to do. It's not escape, it's not in any way uplifting - it's simply not good enough.
Then there's the constant amassing of music that, yes, you'd not have even heard of were it not for such blogs as Glowing Raw or Radiobutt, but, downloaded as it is in a frenzy of "It's all here!" - it becomes music that you'll either never get round to hearing or, worse, you'll feel somehow obliged into giving a listen and will approach it in not at all an acceptable frame of mind which, although ostensibly you're hearing this music, serves to render as pointless any such obscure artistic endeavours. It's all very well for an artist to have their music heard, but I'm sure they'd prefer it if people were listening rather than hearing. With digital music, I find it's all too easy to stop listening and simply allow yourself to hear. Not good enough.
Finally, I am sick to death of Last.fm. For far too long now I have let this odious little application all but drive the manner in which I listen to music. I can see the benefit of it, certainly - how it aids in introducing you to music similar to that which you like (based upon that to which you listen, of course). But it's never a good idea for people who have a history of gaming to utilise such plug-ins. The inexplicable joy of performing such actions in order to allow for a number to increase simply cannot be applied to music. I recently realised, to my horror, that subconsciously of course I was simply listening to countless hours of music with the specific intention of building up a playcount. And to what end? Nothing - I've never, ever, ever cared about what people think of me (based upon the music I like) - so it's not even like I'm attempting to build up a profile with the desired effect of making people awestruck at my ice-cold taste. Just look at it! Look at how often I listen to Athlete and The Waterboys and tell me I'm cool. Impossible. Again I realised that I was listening to music for all the wrong reasons and had been doing so ever since I went digital.
Well, it has to stop. I've enough to be getting on with as it is - an immense backlog of downloads to plough through - and it is that, not any degree of shame induced by Lily Allen, which has made me decide to cease and desist in the downloading. If it means that I'm exposed to less than before then so be it. I'd be much, much happier devoting hours to one artist (or album) than in simply hearing a larger slice of all that is out there. And there really is so, so much out there.
So does this mean that I will stop using Windows Media Player, my MP3 player and Last.fm? Absolutely not. Just not like I used to. Does it mean I'll stop downloading music completely? Probably not. Will this make any difference at all to the world and, more importantly, does anybody care? Not at all. Not at all. Not even slightly.