Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Another Rant

This is James Wallace's second blog entry for TUN3R.com.

Btw, folks we just updated the FAQ to explain The Dial a bit better. Check it out at: http://tun3r.com/faq.html

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Hi folks! In my last blog entry I made a slight error. I described Radio Hidebound as a hardcore punk station. This is actually not true. On my iTunes player, I have Radio Hidebound right next to PHC radio. Radio Hidebound is in fact a station that is trying replicate the sound of college radio during the eighties and they don’t really venture into full on punk hardcore sounds. They do however play many great bands from the 1980’s underground such as The Violent Femmes, Rain Parade, Dumptruck, The Feelies and Mission Of Burma. They don’t solely play bands from the eighties but that is there prime focus and it is a great all around station. PHC radio is a totally kick ass station and is the place to go to hear hardcore punk. I wish this station had been around when I was eighteen. Every time I listen, I hear punk greats such as Crass, Oi Polloi, The Exploited, The Lurkers, Dayglo Abortions, The Bruisers and numerous others. They don’t completely confine themselves to the genre as I have heard Devo, Killing Joke, Skinny Puppy and even both Blondie and Nina Hagen played in the mix. I love this station.

The way in which music is promoted and consumed is very different than it was in the classic rock era. Back then, there was not this same over saturated hype machine that exists in this day and age. Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd did not have to release singles that would be oversaturated on the radio, create a cheesy video to go along with it, appear on the talk shows and get write ups in magazines that have nothing to do with music. The music seemed to have much more of a mystery to it. I recently heard one music critic (sorry his name escapes me) say “the music was out there and the people believed in it.” Major labels gave the bands much more freedom and would allow them to experiment. This situation is a rarity these days.

Imagine if the Strokes had just been a band that was out there and touring and was not oversaturated with hype. Imagine if they gradually began to build a fan base and their legacy began to spread through word of mouth. They would have not been suffocated by the whole marketing hype machine that surrounded their first release. In the conversations that I’ve had with my friends, they point out that artists could potentially subvert the whole music industry by releasing their music entirely through the internet and could build a fan base through word of mouth, file sharing, and being played on independent radio stations. I’m sure there are artists taking this approach and would love to see a whole wave of artists stick it to the man. But for me this begs another question: How do we convince people to take more interest in trying to discover their own music rather than simply being passive consumers waiting for the major labels to show them what they should be listening to? Maybe my expectations are too high. Our society cares more about Paris Hilton than Darfur. And in turn entertainment is far more important than art.

Here are some bands/artists that I wish were more well known.

  1. The Fall
  2. Wire
  3. The Pop Group
  4. Gang of Four
  5. The Birthday Party
  6. Savage Republic
  7. No Means No
  8. Can
  9. Victim’s Family
  10. The Residents
  11. Pere Ubu
  12. John Fahey
  13. Henry Cow
  14. Chrome
  15. The Silver Apples
  16. Sonny Sharrock
  17. Mx-80 Sound
  18. Simply Saucer
  19. John Zorn
  20. Swans
  21. The Ex
  22. Sun Ra
  23. James Chance
  24. Lydia Lunch
  25. Discharge
You can read about these bands at: http://www.allmusic.com/
-James Wallace (jwcwallace@yahoo.com)
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Neil writing now. Thanks James!
I just want to mention that I was contacted by another James Wallace - who is the CEO of http://priceprotectr.com/
It turns out he's also a music buff who's used TUN3R, and read this blog, and was floored when he read about my buddy James also being a music buff. We had a great conversation on the phone, and now I know two cool James Wallace's. Hey, how's that for serendipity.
So, calling all James Wallace's and Neil Hepburn's out there - feel free to contact me. You never know what will happen.

Stay TUN3D.

4 comments:

radio gnome said...

thanks for a second mention of radio hidebound! If this is what happens when mistakes occur, please keep making those mistakes {grin}.

I don't think your expectations are too high, except maybe in applying those expectations to "the casual music listener", a part of our species I gave up trying to understand a long time ago.

It's all too true that the music market of today is radically different from what it was 30 years ago. The good thing about this change is that far more people are able to pick up a guitar and get music out to the masses. The bad thing about this change is that far more people are able to pick up a guitar and get music out to the masses.

Recording, producing and distributing music was such an expense 30 years ago that there was a built-in filtering process and, at the same time, there was a premium on "art". Now the filters are essentially gone and the focus of the labels is on what Bono called "non-stick wallpaper music."

The "art" is coming from the DIY crowd. Pretty much anyone, even me, can "produce" a song and get it onto a CD, an MP3 file, etc. etc. But there is so much DIY art today.

When the number of choices (for anything) reach a certain level, a lot of people begin to tune out and allow themselves to be led around.

The question is, who is doing the leading?

It should be noted that the number of people who are what I call active music listeners comprise a possibly very small percentage of the population. I've even had someone whom I consider to be an active music listener tell me, "I love your station, but when I listen to it I have to actively listen to it, I can't just have it playing in the background while I'm working on something because I stop working and just listen".

While I consider that a great compliment, it was an insight into how listening to music can affect people and how they make choices of what to listen to.

With all the choices for listening to music today, I'm wondering (hoping?) whether streaming stations will assume the place terrestrial radio served for me in the 70's. A place where trusted sherpas would guide me through the musical landscape so that I would hear not only what I wanted to hear (entertainment), but also the music I needed to hear (art).

As streamers, we probably can't do much about the number of active listeners, but we can do something about invigorating the listening habits of existing active listeners, who, invigorated enough, might proselytize (for lack of a better word) at least part of the madding crowd.

Neil Hepburn said...

Hi Gnome,

Clearly you think about this stuff too.

James and I have long debated whether the plethora of bad music is due to the masses being manipulated by the labels (and terrestrial radio), or whether this is something that people simply yearn for.

I would say that over the years we've moved closer to the other's position. Namely, James has always felt that people were being duped into buying crap music through payola of FM radio. I on the other hand argued that payola was a rarity and that people just want this stuff.

My recent experiences through TUN3R (and I'll admit that I'm totally new to the radio industry) has put me in touch with several DJs, and many of these DJs have told stories of being "handcuffed" and not playing what they "know" to be good music. I must admit that the pervasiveness of this surprised me, but you're hearing about it a lot now in the mainstream media as arguments are being dredged up over the CRB ruling.

However, I still question how much payola really affects things, as I'm sure the trade-offs are more along the lines of "Britney Spears" versus "Christina Aguillera", as opposed to trading off between "Britney Spearks" and "Sarah Slean". In other words, you can let money dictate which commercial artist is getting played, but I'm not so sure that if payoloa were removed that the mainstream would want to listen to someone like Tori Amos.

Also, if you recall back in 1991 when Nirvana made it big, there was a huge lament from the "alternative" crowd. I recall people crying that their favourite band was no longer their own, and that the jocks of the world who were tuning into Pearl Jam were not worthy of this music, as the lyrics were lost on them.

Another thing I've become fascinated with is the American/Pop Idol phenomenan. I'll tune in from time to time to this program as it's a weird guilty pleasure for me. The music is always crap, and the judges do their best to manipulate the results, but there is something very "social experimentish" about the show. What dawned on me, and what I didn't appreciate about the entertainment industry in general, is that the most mobilized viewers/listeners are basically children. These are the people who are the fervent fans, calling in. These are also the people who shape the music and entertainment industry. Thus, it shouldn't come as a surprise that business people are effectively marketing to a child's tastes and preferences. This is why we see the same cliched movies and songs coming out of Hollywood year after year. These cliches are all new to this audience and have deep impact on their psyche.

That said, I believe music is very personal for most people, and even fairly mainstream music has its cultists. I knew a woman who's favourite band was Styx, and another who's favourite artist was Prince. Both enjoyed "adult contemporary", but both also had a deeper interest in these respective artists that intrigued me. So, as we move into adulthood we becoming more discerning, but many of our tastes and preferences have already been formed through childhood.
That said, we're always seeking our own identities, and music (and books and movies and television) comes with that package, so there will always be new and different and most importantly rebellious music to cater to everyone's unique personality.

We're justified in our cynicism, but I also think there is no reason to believe that new and original music will not continue to be made.

radio gnome said...

lots of good stuff in there Neil. It's fun to talk about this stuff.

I'm with ya on the idea that payola only shifts things around a bit so we have "Britney Spears" versus "Christina Aguillera" kinds of things.

Those who are trying to actually make money from Internet radio probably do fall into the situation of feeling "handcuffed" and not playing "good" music. Since I'm not really trying to make money (not that I'd turn it away), I don't feel those particular handcuffs.

I'm not trying to be a "popular" station. I'm trying to be, what is my mind, a "good" station.

In a way, I sometimes feel like I'm becoming a patron of the arts and I think this is one of the overlooked beauties of something like Internet radio and why it is so important.

As technology is democratizing so many things, it is also democratizing the concepts of patronage and philanthropy.

radio hidebound is, in part, my little way of saying "thank you" to the musicians who have so enriched my life.

From a numbers perspective, radio hidebound is not very popular. Of course I wish it were, but I'm not bothered (much) by the fact that it isn't.

I think there has always been a plethora of bad art. Or at least, as long as there has been art, there has been a plethora of bad art. Perhaps the amount of bad art today is exaggerated by the enormous amounts of money made by those who "make it", so "making it" has an exaggerated level of importance and leads to the trivial.

I've long felt there are basically two kinds of musicians. 1) the musician who is trying to become famous/rich/get laid/etc/etc/etc/ and 2) the musician who is just doing what they want to or have to do. Of course the musicians in group 2 would prefer to be liked by an audience, get laid from time to time and would prefer to make more than a little bit of money, but fame is not why they do what they do.

All of the good stuff comes from group #2. All of the cliched, formulaic, tired, overused, blah blah blah stuff comes from group #1. Or at least most of it {grin}.

I know there are a few people who, if exposed to good music, would prefer to listen to "good" music instead of Top 40 stuff. I know this because I was once one of the Top 40 crowd and I've met other people who were lucky enough to have a guide to take them beyond the boundaries of Top 40. But I think these people are the exceptions, not the rule.

The important thing, for me, is to have the alternative programming Internet radio provides available to those who want to seek it out. While it may be true that not too many horses will drink of the water I'm providing, the important thing is to have the water available for those who are thirsty.

Neil Hepburn said...

Hi Radio Gnome,

I totally appreciate what you're saying, and where you're coming from. I'm not sure if you've read our FAQ (or the recent changes), but we're obviously a for-profit organization (although we've yet to see those profits). That said, I am completely aware of both the positive and negative aspects of free markets and capitalism. So, to temper these forces I want to provide guarantees that stations like your own can have a free Spot on our Dial.

Since this basically makes me a benevolent dictator in these choices, the least I can do is be transparent about my decisions and post them on this blog (or other public forums), as to why I'm making this decision to provide free notoriety. So, if you're interested I'd like to extend these musically relevant protections to Radio Hidebound. Currently we're admitedly not getting the traffic of more popular sites like last.fm, Pandora, or even Shoutcast, but eventually I'd like to see TUN3R become more essential to Internet radio, and [I know this may sound cheesy], find our own light. If there's one guy I take inspiration from, it's Tony Wilson who founded Factory Records. Yes, he had a fiduciary obligation (which he probably could have managed better), but at the same time always stayed true the bands and scenes he helped to promote.

On the topic of whether capitalism hurts or benefits music. I think it cuts both ways. Clearly if you decided to pursue a career in music with only money in mind, this is a recipe for disaster. However, if you are an artist and you have got to the point where your sound is resonating enough with the public that you realize you could make a career out of it, you then become a working musician and have to think about money at that point. You may have heard that Lennon would joke to McCartney (or maybe it was the other way around), that they need to write a more songs to pay for swimming pools, or as they would say "Paul, we need to write another swimming pool". That was earlier in their career, and The Beatles obviously got the point where they didn't need to worry about money, and definitely wrote their best material in their later years. However, to get to that position of complete financial freedom is not easy, and I'm not sure if they hadn't gone through the stress of having to write for money that their musical chops would have been the same, or they would have even been recognized. In other words, if someone just showed up to The Beatles houses and said, here's a billion dollars and free travel to India - let's get to it boys, that we would get what we have. But then again, who knows, maybe it would have been weirder and cooler than even The White Album or Abbey Road.

On a different note, you're clearly an articulate person and someone who contemplates music and radio at a deeper level. As such, if you would love to write a piece on the TUN3R blog, I would be honoured.
Feel free to contact me directly at: neil@tun3r.com

Cheers,
Neil.