Wednesday, September 13, 2006

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Music

It seems inappropriate to review a post-modern autobiography in a discursive, analytical style. So I will riff off Chuck's story about music culture by offering a glimpse of my own.

The last few years I have noticed my musical snobbery begin to wane a bit. Yet my love of music has grown in inverse proportion to my snobbery. I still seek out progressive new acts and obscure influential back-catalogue artists. But my attitude has become considerably more open to mainstream tastes of the great bulge in the middle of the bell-curve of the North American music culture.

How did I go from a sarcastic-categorizer to a charitable appreciator of music? There are at least four things that have had a direct impact on my attitude toward music.

(1) Buying an iPod. Why? Becuase my iPod re-introduced me to my own collection of classic rock and mainstream 90's rock which I grew up on. My iPod has reminded me that an artist doesn't have to be unknown to be worth listeing to.

(2) Playing in bands. Feeling the brunt of others' snobbery during and after performing has made me second guess the value of a folded-arm approach to music.

(3) Getting away from NY. As Klosterman points out, people only go to shows in New York City to be seen there, to say they saw a bad before they were big, or to say that a band everyone likes actually sucks. Moving from a NY orbit to a Philly orbit - where they are considerably less snobby and considerably more fun - has shaped my approach to music.

(4) Reading Killing Yourself to Live by Church Klosterman. This meandering narrative indictment of NY hipster culture was the straw that broke the camel's back. The book is full of telling lines ("I have more CDs that 90% of Americans, but less CDs that 60% of my friends"). By telling the story of his visit to all the famous rock death sites, Klosterman helped me re-discover a love for music. For anyone with enough musical sophistication to visit ALIEN CORPSE, Killing Yourself to Live is a must-read.

These are four clear steps that led toward my de-snobbification. If I come up with eight more I could start a self-help group. But in the meantime these experiences have softened my snobbery without undermining my active engagement in music culture. Is it inevitable that such a softening will usher in a deadening of my musical sophistry and wit? Maybe. Although I hope not, that may be a risk worth taking...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

iTunes vs. eMusic

If you own an iPod and buy digital music, iTunes is the place to go, right? Well, that may no longer be the case.

eMusic, a subscription download service catering to individuals with an "independent" bent, is closing that gap. Members of eMusic pay a monthly fee in exchange for a set amount of downloads -- the site offers three plans: $9.99/month for 40 downloads (works out to $.25/song), $14.99/mo for 65 downloads ($.23/song), $19.99/mo for 90 downloads ($.22/song). If you use your allotment before the end of the month, you have two options: wait until the 1st of the next month, or purchase a "booster pack" for various prices--$15 for 50 songs is best value.

Compare those numbers to a flat rate of $.99/song from iTunes. Correct, there is the occasional album that has 15 tracks and sells for $9.99, or in the case of Razorlight's (very satisfying) new album--10 tracks for $7.99, but typically one will be paying a dollar for every song downloaded from iTunes.

Another benefit to eMusic is the portability, that is, the fact that there is no encryption on the files downloaded from the site, compared to the rather strict guidelines that iTunes places on their files. (ie, don't even think about putting an iTunes track on a MP3 player that is NOT an iPod).

If you look solely at the numbers, it makes sense to join eMusic and scrap iTunes altogether. 40 tracks a month is (about) 4 albums, and I rarely download more than 2 (ok, 3... please don't tell my wife) I could pay $9.99 a month instead of $40 for the same tracks.

Or, I would be paying less for the same tracks IF eMusic had a decent catalogue. If you are eagerly anticipating the release of (insert fav artist here)'s new album, don't expect to find it in eMusic on Tuesday. Unlike iTunes, eMusic does not have the entire music industry waiting with baited breath to do their bidding. When looking for music to download with my free trial (which accidentally turned into a month paid subscription), I was having trouble finding music that I wanted. I resorted to downloading (shudder) Pavement's "Slanted and Enchanted" (granted, I haven't listened to it yet, and I hope I like it so Dan shuts up about it being the "best and most influential album ever" or whatever he says, I usually stop listening).

So, maybe it's not about the money. Maybe it's about the convenience of not having to drive to the record store (read: Best Buy) to try and buy the album that came out today, but rather sitting down and with two clicks and a minute and a half listening to the album (complete with album art) on my iPod...and maybe the thought of being FORCED to pay $10 a month when I just may not want to buy any music (let alone if I can't find any music I want) puts me in a bad mood.

Here is what eMusic is good for. Back-cataloguing. Say you get on to an artist after he has released several albums (Sufjan Stevens is the perfect example), and you want to own his earlier stuff but don't want to pay $.99 per for it. Join up with eMusic, take your 25 free trial tracks and 40 for $9.99 tracks and take 65 Sufjan Stevens songs home in the morning. Round out your collection, look really hip when you say "I prefer his older stuff," and be satisfied that reading this post did you some good.