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Tuesday, May 23, 2006


It seems I've appointed myself my brother's devil's advocate. Currently the great debate has eveolved into a discussion about what value means, or will mean, in the 'new society', or, the 'audacious new world' based on the demand of the many who apparently feel they can have their cake and consume it in abundance.

I have no doubt that the 'technologists' are earnest in their mindset, in that they believe they are creating a better society, a level playing feild, and all kinds of new gadgets that folks will dig.

My position is best stated in allegory.

A few years back my favorite bar got a digital jukebox. It upset me. Not only were some of my favorite discs gone, but the initial version of the digital jukebox required the user to know what they wanted to hear. You had to search by artist or song. I hated that. When I'm drinking, I am consciously avoiding thinking. It was much easier to just flip through the discs and pick songs; suddenly I was required to know in advance what I wanted - that sucked.

Then they upgraded. Somebody was listening I guess, and a new model was installed that had thumbnails of album covers, and alas I could go back to my passive search methods. Except that not all the songs on the albums were available, and in most cases they were the songs I was sick of, while the deep cuts that I love to play were not available.

Then they upgraded again. At this point you could search for songs not found on the preset pages, but it cost an extra credit to play a song not on the preset pages, and this is where it stands - a rip off.

Five years ago it cost me one credit to play 'Here Comes A Regular' at just the right stage of my alcohol indulgence; one credit to fall into the sublimation that comes with being drunk in a bar and hearing Paul Westerberg sing about being drunk in bar. Today it costs me twice that, and it takes me three times as long to do it.

Is this progress?

The whole supply/demand idea of digital as outlined in your brother's blog misses one huge point.

It's not like the supply of quality music has gone up - there's still a scarcity of talented musicians whose music the masses want to listen to. And despite all of the hype, no one knows who the next big star will be. No one.

So the only thing that's abundant are the copies of the songs, and if these get more abundant, consumers will have a harder time sifting through the crap to find the good stuff. The abundance/scarcity relationship will just move, but it won't fundamentally change anything.

It's still hard to write a song or tell a story, and the people who can do it have value. Digital won't change that. It'll just make it easier for the sellers to flood us with too much information, too many choices, and too little quality.

As the distribution becomes essentially free, labels will throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. Not exactly revolutionary (it's essentially the way the business has always run) but now a lot easier. So prepare for an onslaught of garbage, brought to you courtesy of the "new media" or "new world" or "viral marketing" or whatever they're calling it this week.

Rest assured, everything you're being told is to prepare you to consume in a way that will make someone even more money. That's how this works. No one "needs" an iPod, but once you convince people they do, watch the hell out.
Same deal with the iPod - who wants to spend all that time sifting through 1,000 mp3s to find Paul Westerberg singing about being drunk on the subway at just the right time when you are drunk on the subway.....or the skyway...whatever....

I have found that limitless options do not make life better, just harder to navigate.
"It's still hard to write a song or tell a story, and the people who can do it have value. Digital won't change that. It'll just make it easier for the sellers to flood us with too much information, too many choices, and too little quality."

I can't remember who said it, or what movie it was from, but there was a line I recall that went like this: "Do you know why there are so many bad movies made in Hollywood? Because making a good movie requires tons of talented people working together and a good script and along with unlikelihood of those two elements actually coming together on a project, the fact is that there just aren't that many good scripts out there". Now, this maybe a somewhat cynical view of the film industry, but there is a great deal of truth to it also.


Your jukebox analogy is absolutely perfect.
At least, in the "old days", it was hard enough and expensive enough to make and distribute a record that, by the time a band got to the studio, they could play. It was the same thing with film.

The democractization of the technology is great, but it doesn't mean more good music is being made. I

t's just like the bullshit we heard about YouTube - that the consumers would be the creators as well - but look how that turned out. By and large, it's just people posting things they did not create. I said it before. No one wants to watch your vacation videos now, just like they didn't want to look at your vacation slides in the 50's.

Digital has made stealing easy. Some technologists try to sugar coat this by attacking the creators, but this is as ignorant as it is sad.
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