Music ore

First: check out the Blue Scholars. Seattle rap, and it’s outstanding. I think they’ll be huge.

I’m reminded of descriptions of life as a miner during the gold and silver rushes this week: you find a vein of precious ore, pull it out, take it to a mill, where it’s in turn separated into gold, silver, and the chaff.

I’m thinking about this because I’ve been back into music mining lately. There was a period of time (the original Napster era) when I spent amazing amounts of money on music because it became so easy to find music I liked. I found Neko Case that way, and bought circles around her, for instance, tracing equally good paths out from something I loved. This happened over and over: given a lead on a song or a band I might like, I’d hit Napster, download it, listen, and if I liked it, I’d soon buy $100 in CDs. If I didn’t, I deleted it. No song seemed too obscure for someone not to be sharing it, even if it was on some awful connection out of Guam, and I’d thank them where I could.

I spent more on music while Napster was up than I ever have or since.

Recently, though, I’ve been going back over old claims and finding they seem to have renewed. I loved some punk music a long time ago, and now Jeff Shaw told me to check out Jawbreaker, and I ended up buying all of those and looking for Jets to Brazil. In the meantime, I’m buying up all kinds of stuff I missed at the time, sifting through bands to find good stuff, and listening to more KEXP (and following up on songs they play, made easy through their excellent play list and charts)… and I’m spending crazy money again.

It feels weird at once to be supporting the RIAA in any way, since they shut down the richest vein I think they’ll ever tap, but there are two problems:
– while I think it was stupid of them to pursue Napster as they did, they were well within their rights to do so, and since the day’s never going to come when the legal system recognizes a Napster-type system as the electronic version of tape-swapping of my younger days (certainly not as long as the RIAA opposes it), if they want to shoot themselves, I’ve got no love for them
– I can try to patronize indy labels and steer my dollars as much as I can, but sometimes supporting artists I can’t see on tour means buying their stuff and supporting their label, which is okay, but which may in turn support the RIAA’s efforts. I don’t know if there’s much to be done about this

What amazes me is the desire to bring the sky down on those at the ground level. Say someone wants to share a great band they found, and they share the album on some spyware-infested P2P application. For $0 to the label, they give the band life and distribution to a huge audience, so on, so forth.

The penalties they face, civil and otherwise, are immense. Someone’s better off shoplifting a CD rather than download it, and it’s not even close. Or even beating someone up on the street. What happened to reasonableness as a standard?

But back to my point. There’s also a similar thrill to finding a rich, unknown vein to dig into. I remember the first time I heard a Sonic Youth CD (Dirty) and I can trace the music that led me to. There were a few bands — a few albums — that destroyed almost everything that had come before them, and my musical taste was built up from there. Two were 1992 releases: Dirty and Slanted and Enchanted. Beyond that, I grew up weaned on suburban Seattle radio. What did I know? The biggest musical sensation before that was when people started passing tapes of N.W.A. and Eazy-E (nooooooooot what you wanted your parents to overhear).

That jolt of discovery is part of what drives the perverse dynamics of jealousy that drive fans to embrace the fresh and obscure and then mock it when it finds a wider audience. But that’s a whole different post.

This week’s claims, if you’re curious:
Victor Vaughn
Go! Go! 7188
Blue Scholars

The New Pornographers have a new CD out now too, I like that a lot, but that’s an old mine I’ve been working for a long time.

2 thoughts on “Music ore

  1. Scraps

    My personal experience suggests that peer-to-peer hurts the used cd trade more than new; I used to spend lots of money experimenting with used cds (and branching out from the good ones as you describe); not so much anymore.

    Recommendations from people you don’t know probably aren’t worth a hell of a lot, but just in case: I have to plug the (sadly disbanded) Dismemberment Plan, the smartest, most wildly varied, and emotionally complex punk (or post-punk) band of recent times. They had four albums, all of them good; the third, Emergency & I, has never stopped amazing me from start to finish.

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