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Records changed my life. Why Michael Arrington is Wronger than Wrong.

March 25th, 2008 | 15 Comments | Categories: Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc. · tips for musicians |

OK, a little backstory – the marvel that is Billy Bragg wrote a piece for the New York Times last week about how social networks are ripping off artists, and we deserve a piece of the cash when they sell for hundreds of millions.

Billy’s logic is fine, it’s just a little out of date, and as the post I’m about to disagree with vehemently says, if that’s the problem, don’t put your music on there. It’s a trade off, and our best way to deal with it is to get involved with the unions and collection agencies that are supposed to be fighting our corner but won’t be able to accurately unless we tell them what our corner is.

Anyway, in response to Billy’s piece, Michael Arrington of Tech Crunch wrote a response entitled These Crazy Musicians Think They Should Still Get Paid For Recorded Music.

I’m not a big fan of his abrasive writing style, based on this post, but here’s the quote with which I take most umbrage –

“Recorded music is nothing but marketing material to drive awareness of an artist.”

See, I can understand that from the point of view of an artist whose whole Raison d’être is playing live. Great, use MP3s to give away. But to suggest that the art of making a great record is JUST there to drive awareness is horseshit.

Why? Because records changed my life – there are records that have become part of the fabric of who I am, how I see the world, have even brought me together with some great friends. The ART of making records stands alone as an artform in its own right, it’s not there to serve a marketing need.

The need to market, to recognise that attention is a monetizable currency in the new media world is vital, the need to spread the word about what we do is paramount if we want people to connect with it, but we as artists need to hang on to what’s important.

As I commented over the weekend about the danger of social network marketing changing the way we write, this new media model can really fuck things up creatively, in just the same way that record companies desperate for singles scuppered the careers of album-oriented bands for years. Some triumphed (Talk Talk, for example) and made great records DESPITE it. Some other acts no doubt took the challenge and wrote some killer pop songs that became part of the fabric of our lives. But to have such a heinously mechanistic view of the art of making records is anathema to what we do and love, and what made the records that changed our lives so special.

I’m sure Michael writing about it from the perspective of Tech Crunch is going to skew his thinking in a mechanised techie direction that ignores what music is FOR. The inference in his post is that the music is there to serve a market, when the opposite has to be true if you want to create ART. And I don’t mean ‘art’ in any pretentious lofty sense, just music that’s anything other than a glorified jingle. Music-as-advert is a million miles away from everything that makes music special to me as an artist and listener.

The big issue is how we keep that artistic integrity in a world where we don’t have other people to do the marketing side of things for us. In an ideal rarified never-existed-in-the-first-place version of Music 1.0, record labels left the artists to create, and got on with the marketing. Now we have to do it all, and keeping the two separate requires mindfulness, and doesn’t require us to listen to the ill-conceived BS from tech-heads like Arrington.

So, comment thread – what were the records that changed your life?

mine first (incomplete and in no particular order) –

Stealing Fire – Bruce Cockburn
Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury – The Disposible Heroes of Hiphoprisy
Dusk – The The
Michael Manring – Thonk
Hejira – Joni Mitchell

yours?

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15 Comments so far ↓

  • Jennifer

    Just to add a couple of Ani Difranco links…
    Righteous Babe Records
    Ani on MySpace

  • Seth

    Good lord, Steve… you made my brain hurt with that… but in roughly chronological order, with no shame (and narrowed down from twenty, mind you):

    C is for Cookie – Cookie Monster & Friends
    U2 – The Joshua Tree
    The Cure – Staring At The Sea
    Rob Wasserman – Solo
    Michael Manring – Unusual Weather
    Mr. Big – Mr. Big
    Living Colour – Vivid
    Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet
    The Beautiful South – Choke
    Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes
    Toad The Wet Sprocket – Dulcinea
    Sly & The Family Stone – Anthology
    Stevie Wonder – Musiquarium
    Ani Difranco – Not A Pretty Girl
    Jonatha Brooke – Plumb
    Nil Lara – Nil Lara

  • Steve

    From my younger days
    Genesis – Nursery Cryme
    ELO – Out of the Blue
    Queen’s Greatest Hits

    As a student
    Pink Floyd – The Wall
    Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms

    More recently
    Bjork – Homogenic
    Radiohead – OK Computer
    Steve Vai – Passion & Warfare
    QOTSA – Rated R
    Eels – Souljacker
    Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin

    Some of the recent acts I got into after seeing them on Later. We could do with more live music shows. I also need to find some form of radio to explore new music. Last.fm neighbour radio does a fairly good job.

  • Tom Shad

    material-memory serves

    ornette coleman – soapsuds,soapsuds

    my bloody valentine- Isn’t anything ?

    jaco pastorius- jaco pastorius

    beatles- sgt pepper

    skip james- devil got my woman blues

  • Steve Lawson (no, not that one, another one)

    In the order in which I encountered them, more or less:

    * Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Beatles)
    * The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (Bowie)
    * Meat is Murder (really, just “How Soon is Now?”) (The Smiths)
    * They Might Be Giants (self-titled)
    * New Day Rising (Husker Du)
    * Ambient 1, Music for Airports (Brian Eno)
    * Live at Birdland (John Coltrane)
    * Dry (PJ Harvey)
    * Charm of the Highway Strip (The Magnetic Fields)
    * Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Flaming Lips)
    * Yoshimi Battles the Hip Hop Robots (Kleptones)

  • Gustaf

    Life-changing albums… in no particular order

    Permanent Waves – Rush
    Polytown – Polytown
    Temporal Analogues of Paradise – Jonas Hellborg, Shawn Lane, Jeff Sipe
    Patrick O’Hearn – Indigo
    Machine Head – Burn My Eyes
    The Equalizer and Other Cliffhangers – Steward Copeland
    Frizzle Fry – Primus
    Drastic Measures – Michael Manring

    Just off the top of my head, anyway…

  • Aaron Trubic

    Steve,

    I think you have misinterpreted the spirit in which Arrington says “Recorded music is nothing but marketing material to drive awareness of an artist.” If you read his comments further down the post, you’ll see that he clarified his position, and took some of the venom out of that statement.

    What he meant to infer is that recorded music is the most important marketing material to drive awareness of an artist.

    But yeah, you’re right, his delivery sucks.

    “The ART of making records stands alone as an artform in its own right, it’s not there to serve a marketing need.”

    You’re absolutely right but I can’t help disagreeing just a bit. Your music, your shoes, your personality, your bass, hell, EVERYTHING about who you are as an artist and performer is there to satisfy a marketing need – whether you intended it or not. It’s all of those things about you that potentially attract people to your art. And in the end, isn’t that what we want?

    If you place your music in the marketplace, you are a marketER.

    And in the spirit of what you call mindfulness, I think the ability to reason with some cold analysis may help the cause once in awhile.

    And in keeping with the format of this post:

    Donny Hathaway – These Song For You, Live
    Jon Wayne – Texas Funeral
    Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator)
    Stevie Wonder – Songs In The Key of Life
    Miles – Kind of Blue
    The Band – Music From Big Pink
    Victor Wooten – A Show of Hands
    Beatles – Revolver
    Bob Marley – Exodus
    The Shaggs – Philosophy of The World
    Jaco – Jaco

  • Steve

    Hi Aaron,

    thanks for your post – I intend to blog more intently about this subject, because I think this confilct is at the heart of what’s wonderful about the potential of the web and appalling about the direction so much of the discussion is taking…

    As is clear from my web-presence (I hope), I’m all in favour of marketing what I do. I do it as much as I can. What I HAVE to separate, though, is the process of creating music from the process of inviting people to listen to it once it’s done. HOW I market it is very much a savvy decision, but I try really hard to avoid letting it affect the way I make the music. To remove the mechanistic, money-oriented hit-driven motives of major record labels only to replace them with a web-culture that pushes artists towards viewing their work as marketing fodder would be to miss the glorious freedom that we’re offered.

    Surely, if we’re to acknowledge the magic of the cost of making and distributing music being driven down, we should be looking to explore our creativity in a way that is LESS fettered by marketing BS rather than seeing the process of attracting an audience as our primary aim… that is unless we’ve bought into some music 1.0 BS about being a ‘full time professional musician’ being more important than the music we make…

    So my art (and all those other things you so perceptively list) DO fulfill a marketing portfolio but it is neither a ‘need’, not their purpose… at least, ideally, to me, it’s not…

    But, thanks, you’re right, I need to explore this further – I’ll be doing a podcast ASAP with Jeff Schmidt about this very topic – he’s got a similarly techno-darwinian view of all this to Arrington, despite being a monstrously creative bassist/composer… so that’ll be fun. :o)

    (Oh and I LOVE your Gillian Welch, Stevie, Miles and Donnie picks!)

  • Lo.

    No Particular order…

    Morphine…Cure for Pain
    The Beatles…Love Songs (double album)
    Ron Sexsmith…Blue Boy
    Juliana Hatfield…Become What You Are
    The Cure…Disintegration
    PJ Harvey…Dry
    Rob Szabo…Like A Metaphor
    Smashing Pumpkins…Gish
    Sting…The Dream of the Blue Turtles
    The Police…Synchronicity
    Steve Lawson….Behind Every Word (not sucking up here…literally, getting to know Steve and his music changed everything about my life!)

  • Andy Long

    In no particular order of preference :

    Yes : Close To The Edge
    Led Zeppelin 1
    Barclay James Harvest : Octoberon
    King Crimson : ITCOTCK
    Weather Report : Heavy Weather
    Jaco : Jaco
    Miles : Kind Of Blue

    and of course :

    …And Nothing But The Bass

  • Aaron Trubic

    Hi Steve,

    Y’know, you’re right about distinguishing the process of making the music from distributing it once it’s done. I should have said that even if it was implied.

    I think from a marketing point-of-view, what I’d like to clarify is that I too agree that music creating and performing shouldn’t be unduly influenced by a “sales plan”. Quite the contrary, I believe the smart artist will draft an effective marketing plan once the music has been made and let the music be the catalyst – not the other way around. If not, at least reconcile the right and left brains of it all.

    In some way though, a little calculation, even at the expense of some artistic ideals (Where the line is drawn is up to each.) can go a long way to sustain him/her in the long term. We all have to find a way to keep going.

    And if I do insinuate compromise, I only do so in the s m a l l e s t sense.

    And all that without yet using the word “entertainment”.
    But that’s another discussion for another day…;-)

    Looking forward to your podcast!

  • Cat

    Joni Mitchell – Blue
    Incredible String Band – The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter
    Ali Farka Toure & Ry Cooder – Talking Timbuktu
    Rickie Lee Jones – Traffic From Paradise
    Van Morrison – Moondance
    Lemon Jelly – Lemonjelly.KY
    Counting Crows – August & Everything After
    REM – Green
    Paul Simon – Graceland
    Nirvana – Unplugged in New York
    James – Laid

  • kevin buckland

    In no particular order.

    Joni Mitchell – Hejira
    The real McCoy – McCoy Tyner
    Level 42 – The early tapes
    Weather report – heavy weather
    Michael Manring – Unusual weather

  • Simon3W

    Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts made me believe in Father Christmas again. And beards.

  • daryl shawn

    Whee, I’m always a sucker for lists. This is a tough one for sure, but here are a few chosen tops I’ve always mentally put in my “desert island” list.

    But first – I very much agree with you, Steve. Music and all art is valuable and essential even if you never play it for anyone but yourself. I think the illusion of “making it” is a sickness and it’s why I got tired of playing in rock bands. Now, I work to get my stuff out there and available to people who might be interested, but I have no “career” goals other than playing as much as possible. just my absolutist 2 cents/pence…!

    Pat Metheny – Question and Answer
    David Torn – Cloud About Mercury
    Juno – This is the Way it Goes and Goes
    Bill Frisell/Kermit Driscoll/Joey Baron – Live
    Husker Du – Flip Your Wig
    Sugar – Copper Blue
    Sharon Isbin – Nightshade Rounds
    Naked City – Complete Studio Recordings
    Nels Cline Singers – Instrumentals
    Miles Davis – Four and More
    Shudder to Think – Pony Express Record
    American Music Club – Mercury
    Dominic Frasca – Deviations
    Rush – Exit Stage Left
    Jawbreaker – 24 Hour Revenge Therapy
    Neil Young – Ragged Glory
    John Williams – The Guitarist
    Velvet Underground – Live 1969 (the “white light..” solo)
    Ani Difranco – Living in Clip