A little is enough
Caves, Magda Wojtyra
Today, my favorite kind of post, the kind I don't have to write, the guest post! I'm leaving you in the extremely competent hands of David Harrell, main man behind wonderful Chicago indie pop band The Layaways and Digital Audio Insider, a thoughtful, intelligent blog devoted to online music distribution issues.
But before I go ... when you get a chance, kindly download Contrast Podcast 12 (better yet, why not just subscribe?). Seriously, how often do you get the opportunity to hear me giggle and snark my way through an intro? - Amy
As a self-released musician, I've spent a lot of time thinking (and for the past few months, blogging) about online music distribution. It's a different world today for indie musicians, compared to just five years ago. And the barrier to entry to this online world is almost nonexistent. Anyone can post mp3s on a website or a MySpace page, and the paid download sites are almost as easy. You don't even need a manufactured CD. Just send a CD-R to CD Baby, pay your $35, and sign up for digital distribution. In a couple of months you'll be on all of the online stores -- iTunes, eMusic, Napster, Rhapsody. Instant worldwide distribution.
Sure, not all of this music is good. But even if the overall percentage of quality artists is low, if you're a rabid music fan, it still seems like there's an overwhelming quantity of new music to discover and digest, both free and paid. (You can even download free mp3s of early 20th century Edison cylinder recordings.) Moreover, it's not just unknown bands. The total volume of available music--old and new, from artists at all levels of success--just keeps expanding, faster than ever. Digital distribution makes it economical for record companies, from the smallest indies to the major labels, to rerelease out-of-print albums, rarities collections and outtakes. And online stores make it easy for the music fan to acquire a wider range of music than was ever available at the local record shop.
I'm certainly not complaining about having more music to choose from, but at some point, something has to give--you can't listen to EVERYTHING, even within a fairly narrow genre of music. At this point, I'm starting to think of the whole thing in Darwinian terms, that it's a struggle among an ever-expanding number of artists, all competing for the same resources. No, not the dollars of the music buyer (though that is part of the equation). The ultimate limiting factor is time, the available listening hours of music fans. Maybe that resource is expanding (do iPods and other portable devices mean that people spend more hours each day listening to music?) but probably not as fast as the competition for those hours.
For me, it's resulted in some real changes in my listening habits. My music library has expanded considerably. But I'm a less patient listener these days; it's rare that I listen to an entire album all the way through. Besides, the fastest-growing portion of my music collection isn't full-length CDs, but single mp3 tracks that I've found online via blogs like the one you're reading right now. I listen to a greater number of artists than ever before, but fewer songs from each of them.
And sometimes it's only one song. The list below is made up of some of the tracks that have gotten the most plays on my iPod over the past couple of years. They all have two things in common:
1. I didn't pay for any of them as they're all available free on band, label or promo websites.
2. Each of these represents the ONLY song I possess by the respective artists. I love these songs, but the second and third tunes I heard by these artists didn't hook me in the same way. So that's where I stopped.
Granted, I'm no doubt missing out on a lot of great music. These bands aren't "one hit wonders" and I'm sure there are other songs I'd like if I took the time to really explore their catalogs. (BTW, I feel mildly guilty that these artists aren't seeing any dollars coming their way from me. Maybe I should just download the single tracks from eMusic as a "micropayment" to each of them.) But for now, at least, one great song from each is enough for me.
If You Fall - Azure Ray
Pulling Our Weight - The Radio Dept
When the Angels Play Their Drum Machines - Hefner
Misanthrope - Aaron Hill & The Crimson Guard
Lovin' Her Was Easier (Kris Kristofferson cover) - Richard Buckner
Your Little Hoodrat Friend - The Hold Steady
All Those Things We’ve Done - Tobin Sprout