Adolph Hitler was an Alien
(or, "The Case Against Mp3s")
"Have you heard about these mp3s?" my good friend Dan asked me a couple of years ago. Dan is a techno-savant, always aware of coming trends before the rest of us.
"No, but I had a great time having sex with your mom last night," I replied.
I havenít heard much from Dan since then, but he certainly was right to call my attention to the highly acclaimed mp3 music format thatís now changing the landscape of the music industry. You canít get two clicks from any website without hearing a spiel about how mp3s will topple corporate music magnates, empower independent bands and cure thyroid cancer. Few things have brought such a vast change to the face of the Internet in so little time.
I, however, have never bought into the theory that mp3s are the equivalent of a digital Che Guevera; that they will enable the common rabble of musicians to topple the corporate giants and freely distribute their mournful soliloquies. Nay, I think the music industry will eventually co-opt the mp3 and crush such rebellious zealots (look what happened to Che Guevera) and we will all go back to our droning, robot-like existences.
Really, the idea that some shitty band that never had a chance in the pre-mp3 world suddenly has a chance now is ridiculous. Iíll tell you why.
- Music is Promotion:
The cream doesnít rise to the top in the music industry, unless the cream is pasted on every billboard, magazine, and radio station you come across. You could make the world's greatest album, but if no one knows it exists, no one is going to buy it. Yes, record companies make millions of dollars a year off rock stars, but they also spend millions of dollars a year promoting rock stars (not to mention buying them drugs, hookers, and lobsters boiled "just right.") The existence of mp3s does nothing to change the fact that to make money, you need money. (Or at least you need to be sleeping with money.)
- Music is a Product:
An amusing philosophy thatís floating around in the world of independent music is one that says "even if I couldnít pay anyone to listen to my crappy band five years ago, millions will download my music off the net if itís in mp3." Nonsense. Music has to sound good; it has to have a certain shine to attract a large fan base. Large music corporations utilize a number of tools for quality control. One way is to use professional sound engineers and producers to record a band. These are skilled motherfuckers who know their job, whereas most independent records are produced by a friend of the band who still buys his TV dinners with food stamps.
In addition, I donít think many people realize how often session musicians are used on todayís pop albums. Remember how you could always find a liner note on your Motley Crue CD that said something like "additional guitar tracks by XXXXXX"? What that meant was XXXXXX did all the hard parts while Mick Mars was off snorting coke and humping some 13 year old runaway in Beverly Hills. And donít think todayís alterno-bands are any less guilty. How else can you explain the fact that that they sound great on their albums but suck live?
- Music is a Tangible Beast:
Thereís a lot to be said for a CD. Itís a physical object; you can hold it in your hands and rub it against your body in a sultry, erotic fashion. Mp3s miss out on one of the best parts of modern music - the packagingÖ the j card, the box, the song lyrics printout. And the truth is that records, tapes and CDs are still the most accessible way of getting music to your fans. You can throw out CDs while youíre playing live, you can juice up some chick or guy you want to nail by giving them a copy of your bandís latest. When the day comes that we all walk around with credit card sized hard drives and can exchange files via microwaves maybe we wonít need cds, but until then; they rule. And thereís one other thing about CDs - theyíre expensive to make. A band thatís willing to shell out a thousand bucks to make some CDs is probably a lot more committed than a couple of guys who spent an afternoon recording a ditty and then posted it on mp3.com. (Not that commitment necessarily equals quality.)
Iím not saying mp3s donít have a future, in fact I see two groups who stand to benefit significantly from the mp3 revolution. One group is already established rock stars. These guys donít need the big promotional push needed by bands just breaking out; they can ride the wave of publicity established for them years ago. And with mp3s they make a much higher profit margin off music sold. Thank god weíve figured out yet another way disgustingly rich rock stars can make even more moolah. Itís more money they can waste at Trumps in Los Angeles while discussing Marxist theories with Rage Against The Machine.
But there is one, more noble group that benefits: People who play music just for the joy of playing music; people who donít measure their success in albums sold, fashion spreads for Spin or groupies penetrated; people who play music that gets limited support from record companies anyway: folk music, jazz, classical, modern instrumental music. In previous years, these musicians had an audience that consisted primarily of their family and their pets. (Yes, I know: pets are family!) For such folk, getting even minor attention on the Internet is a big leap from where they were. Suddenly they have a venue.
Wil Forbis is a well known international playboy who lives a fast paced life attending chic parties, performing feats of derring-do and making love to the world's most beautiful women. Together with his partner, Scrotum-Boy, he is making the world safe for democracy. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit Wil's web log, The Wil Forbis Blog, and receive complete enlightenment.