An industry commits suicide and blames us
[ once again, I am translating somebody else's material – In this case, my good Costa Rican friend Carolina Flores. Please excuse my stylistic mistakes — My English is far from native as you well know. But this material is worth sharing, and worth investing some tens of minutes doing a quick translation. If you can read Spanish, go read Caro's original entry ]
Have you been to a music record store lately?
I did so last Saturday, as a mere excercise. I was not planning on buying anything but I wanted to monitor things and confirm my suspicions.
What was I suspicious of? First, that I would only find old records. And so it was: The only recent record I found was ...little broken hearts by Norah Jones. the second, that I would only find music for over 50 year old people. so it was: Were I there to look for a present for my father, I would have walked out with 10 good records. Third, that in the store nothing worth commenting would happen. About that last point, I should point out it was around 10 AM and the store had just opened its doors. Lets concede the benefit of doubt.
I don't think many of you will remember, but in Barrio La California (where there is now a beauty parlour, almost in front of AM.PM) there was Auco Disco. In Auco Disco there was a guy specialized in rock (Mauricio Alice) and another one specialized in jazz (I don't remember his name). In that record you could always find rare records, but if they were not there, at least you were sure to find somebody to say: "No, we don't have that, but that's an excellent record, it's the best that [insert group here] have ever recorded because just afterwards they switched their guitar player, they had gone a bit south but with that record they are flying. But no, we don't have it; I can recommend you this record by [insert another group] because it has a guitar solo in track six that is amazing".
It would happen more or less like that, which means, one would arrive to Auco Disco at 10 AM and leave around 5 PM with three new records, after having listened to a spectacular music selection. What happened to those stores? Were they killed by The Pirate Bay? That's the simplistic answer from the recording industry! The answer is that those stores never got anything from the industry but an invoice. The industry –specially in prescindible markets such as ours– was limited to hiring artists, taking care of them recording a sellable product, producing the object called record, and that's it. The more commercial radio stations were paid to program those songs —as it cannot be casual that "Mosa, mosa" is the summer hit in all of Latin America, can it?— but, record stores? Nothing.
Lets carry on with that idea: Radio stations are paid to program said music. This idea should not lead us to believe that recording companies are to blame for bad taste. I won't reveal my sources, but I know the success of the "Locura automática" song by La Secta was a real example. Nobody paid for it. That song got to the number one because of its own merits(?) (you don't know the effort it took to find that thing, I cannot recommend it to you). Same thing happens with other stations that don't program reggaetón, that try to save the species, and where they play what we do like. But the thing is, everything we like is not available in any record store in this country. Then, even if we wanted to buy a record or give it as a gift to somebody, it is plain impossible. And don't tell me it's the same to present as a gift a link or a CD full of downloaded MP3 as it is to give a record with cover and booklet, wrapped in gift paper.
I might be old-school, but the fetish object record still exists, not only because of its cover, but because of its sound. A 3MB MP3 is akin to drinking coffee dripping from a bag that has been used eight times with the same coffee beans. That format is the worst that has ever happened to music, and if we had any bit dignity we would never purchase digital files in Amazon or iTunes safe for MP3 with an acceptable compression level. That, if we could buy them, because not only that is allowed to us. As the musical industry has no interest in resolving ITS problem (that is not our problem, it is those companies') it has not even been resolved how to charge for a MP3 download that includes import fees (well, if downloading from here a MP3 from a USA-based file server can be considered importing goods into Costa Rica!!!) so we don't have to get dizzy entering into the nineties to Titi Online to discover there is nothing by Muse, Andrew Bird, The Killers, Death Cab for Cutie, Paramore, Björk... (believe me, I looked them all up, even Norah jones and La Secta. They also were not there).
This all leads me to the question, which I present with all due respect (NOT): What the fuck do they expect us to do??? It is outrageous; above all because in the best case they will sell us a watery coffee download that won't allow us to get all the details a vinyl or less compression would give us. In the worst case, post-MP3 groups will end up recording music with no harmonics or hidden sounds, because, what for? Nobody will hear it. They even admit it: "Some musicians and audio engineers say the MP3 format is changing the way studios mix their recordings. They say the MP3 format "flattens" dynamics –differences in tone and volume– in a song. As a result, a great deal of new music sounds very much alike, and there is nothing as focusing to create a dynamic listening experience. Why working so hard in creating complex sound if nobody can detect it?" (Rolling Stone, The Death of High fidelity, December 26 2007, taken from here).
That's why I am not surprised by Adrián's post regarding the sales of old records. The price has nothing to do with it. The causes are related to the fetish object record and what it means or does not mean for people that have never purchased one. Adrián also asks if somebody here keeps buying records. I answered that I would if the stores sold anything I like. I do it even after the nausea I feel while reading "This phonogram is an intellectual work protected in favor of its producer… COPYING IT IN WHOLE OR PARTIALLY IS FORBIDDEN…" (like that, uppercased, yelling to whoever is only guilty of having bought a record and defending the producer, not the artist). But I am sure that almost nobody buys records because doing so is no longer a gratifying experience; because if buying a record is clicking to wait 15 days for it to reach the mailbox, we prefer clicking on the download link.
But there is another reason for people not to buy records anymore. In one of my talks regarding the dictatorship of the all rights reserved, I asked the 30 twenty-something-year-old students if any of them had ever bought a record. One answered he had, because he is an author and performer (cantautor in Spanish) and understands the effort that producing a record entails. The rest of them had never done so. Is it possible that said young people have never listened to real music? Is it possible that, were it not for concerts, what they consider music is a set of washed-out MP3 that are about to fill up 1TB of their computer? Does people no longer buy records because they cannot differentiate one sound from the other?
It is not very clear for me where do I want to get to. The recording industry is despicable. An industry that instead of innovating sets its energy on suing adolescents for downloading songs, trying to pass laws restricting our freedoms in Internet, putting up DRMs making us hostages to our devices* and forcing us to listen just the aroma of music, deserves my whole contempt. If we add ot this that said industry won't allow us to legally download their breadcrumbs because it has not understood that Internet does not need a van crossing borders, besides my contempt they deserve my pity and my heartfelt condolence.
But the condolence is also for music, real music, that which is not compressed under the shoe using a terrible format. It is also for independent musicians that have not realized that begging for a bit of space to that industry they just add to themselves the "despicable" tag, given they deserve the fruits of their work to enter their bank account.
However, there are good things that have come out of this absurdity. Be it for those that have joined projects such as Autómata (even if it is in MP3) and for dreams come true such as Musopen (that have achieved that the music that's in theory Public Domain becomes so in practice as well). Good for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the list of lawyers willing to defend people accused of ilegally downloading music in the USA. Good for the Creative Commons licenses that allow free sharing.
All those are growing solutions, although none of them allows me to buy the Panamanian Carlos Méndez's record. Thankfully, a friend of mine who knows I will never give a dime to Apple, bought the files for me in iTunes. I thank him deeply, although I would have prefered to go to Auco Disco and have Mauricio tell me that the 2007 EP I have from Carlos is better than the record he did on 2009.
* My devices don't have DRM because I use free software. I also use the ogg file format.
Image by verbeeldingskr8