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In Defense Of The Social Music


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There are music giants that walk among us. You probably know a few of them, or at least you did once upon a time.

They are your best friend’s older brother who introduced you to Wire when you were 11 years old and just hanging around the basement one lazy summer afternoon. It was scary and a bit confusing, but you knew that it was cool, if only you could just ‘get it”.

They are that clique in high school who literally wore their punk, rocker, skinhead and new romantic musical affiliations on their sleeves – and taught you that music was fashion, too.

They are those first college friends who knew bands you’d never heard of, and looked at you with a mixture of pity and awe when you listed The Doors and Boney M among your favorite bands. They then disappeared to their rooms, only to re-emerge, arms laden with mixed tapes chock-a-block with The Fall, JMC, Grandmaster Flash, and Tones On Tail, that you’d still listen to, if only you could.

They are the girl from work, who sent you an email last year about her upcoming gig at some pub in Bethnall Green that you attended on a whim with Suzy from Accounts, and then were floored by her talent, bravery and musicianship on that tiny, crappy stage.

They are those late-night Canadian DJ’s on CBC (cheers, Brave New Waves) and College Radio (likewise, CKCU) playing you music that you’d stay up listening to until the wee, wee hours just to hear the name of the artist at the start of their 2 hour set (and the good ones always came at the start of the set, didn’t they?). But out of that you discovered My Bloody Valentine, Lush, Slowdive, Fugazi and Helmet just in time to go see them live in seminal gigs you still wonder how you made it to.

They’re those old friends you met up with a few years ago, after some random invite on Crackbook, who reminded you that it’s ok to mellow with age and that going to the Steely Dan, Supertramp or Nick Drake cover guy is actually pretty freakin’great. And anyway, you can always catch The Editors next month on their fortnightly pass-through town.

But you know something, for all this (and miriad other) support we’ve all received in our long and attentive journeys through music (and we are all fans, right?), I’d put the online social music up there with the lot of ‘em. Maybe higher.

Recently, during some research for an upcoming TMV interview, I came across this article which I had read before, but had not really reacted to. It’s an article by Andrew Orlowski, a fairly talented but acerbic writer, in The Register about Last.FM and a review of its new royalties scheme for unsigned artists that was written by Techcrunch and re-published in the Wall Street Journal. Basically, the article came down to this: Last.Fm is crap because they’ve done so few significant royalty deals with the majors and indies, and now have the nerve to pay unsigned acts a pittance (all true, more or less)

But, you know, the transparency of his bitterness towards the editors and millionaires who operate Techcrunch is so pathetic I literally laughed out loud on re-reading the article. This is man so in love with his ability to insult that I personally feel that he’s lost the ability to review anything objectively. Think AA Gill but not as funny, empathetic or poignant. I won’t even comment on the size of the ego that claims to be the world’s editorial expert on anything with a microchip. God.

What really irks me about the pinheads who do nothing (and I mean nothing) but dwell on how the music dollar is going to be vivisected is their blatant lack of passion for their subject. Music is a passion for those of us that work in and around it. Not for everyone, obviously, but for the people I choose to deal with it’s a significant, enlightening part of our lives. In fact, Jakomi (TMV Founder) and I met when we were managing bands in London – separately at first, and then together. The hard way. If Mr. Orlowski, a talented writer at the end of the day, has ever created, photocopied and hand-distributed 5,000 A6 flyers, or put up 200 A4 posters on poles with sticky tape, or pestered every person they ever knew by email and text to get 40 people to turn out for a gig on a rainy Wednesday night at the Half Moon in Putney he might view the musical internet slightly differently.

Listen, unsigned artists and their shit-kicked managers never had it so good. A few pennies for every track played? Friggin great! It’s a goddamn start. A free online electronic Press Kit (remember those??). Flippin’ A. Simple, effective, viral distribution channel Fuggedaboutit. Videos from your electric live shows that convey the energy that pours out of your crack-addled drummer? Know you’re cookin’ with gas.

In the past 2 years, primarily from Pandora (RIP?) and Last.FM (CBS ‘n all), I have been recommended, sometimes from robots, sometimes people, some of the best music (new and old) that I have ever had the privilege to hear. Red House Painters, Songs: Ohia, The Sea and Cake, Zuco 103, Erleande Oye. The list is vast.

Just before writing this I was left a shout on my last.fm profile from eve. She liked a shout I had left on a Nick Drake song and said she liked my playlists a lot. I told her she might like Mark Kozelek and sent her a link-to-link Smokey, one of my favorite Red House Apinter songs. She replied thanks by Last. Fm email, said she’s like to be friends. After I added her, I sent her the link on Last FM for the Mark Kozelek gig coming up at Scala next week (which I am taking Jakomi to for his birthday, by the way). If that is not a defense of the musical internet, I do not know what the hell is.

It’s powerful, it’s brilliant; it’s here to stay and it will be good for every music fan and artist on the planet someday in the not-too-distant future. And all those giants upon whose shoulders I built my own musical cannon are smiling, because the knowledge, patience and passion which they showed me will now reach a whole new audience online. And the beautiful cycle will turn over once again.




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