The Internet has irreparably harmed the music industry in just the same way as being a pillock has irreparably harmed Justin Bieber.
Illegal downloading has haemorrhaged cash away from artists, meaning record companies can no longer afford to invest as much money and time in developing new bands over the long haul. Revenues generated by the music industry are down 64% from their peak in 1999.** In 2001 the average American spent almost three times as much on recorded music as they do today. The reason? Fewer people buying whole albums, and the effects of piracy.
It didn’t take long for the effects of the switch from analogue to digital to be felt in the worst possible way. In June 2003 a nadir of sorts was reached as The Fast Food Rockers topped the charts whilst music industry executives threw themselves off tall buildings in despair.* This was unquestionably The Internet’s Fault.
But…..was it really so terrible?
On the other hand, it was Napster, the iPod, and the sudden availability of information on the Internet, that rekindled my interest in music and that of many people.
I say “rekindled”. If you ask any of my friends, they’ll tell you that my interest never really went away. This was the Britpop era. I saw Pulp at V-Festival and Dodgy and Fun Loving Criminals at a recording of TFI Friday. I bought those double CD “Shine” Britpop compilations. That kind of thing. But in the latter half of the nineties, before smart phones and broadband connections, the whole “writing a music blog”thing? That wasn’t me.
I can trace the resurgence of my interest in all things musical back to my curiosity over a comment made by an Amazon reviewer of a “Best of The Black Crowes” CD I was considering buying. It said, simply, that whilst it was alright, the CD didn’t even have The Black Crowes’ best song on it – a song called “Feathers”.
The thing was, just like Gary Barlow’s songwriting talent, there appeared to be little physical evidence to prove its existence. “Feathers” didn’t seem to exist in any recognisable format that I could find.
And so began a quest for a song that didn’t officially exist, where the only evidence was some random nutter’s throwaway comment on the Internet.
So far, so good.
Twenty years ago, as we discussed previously, that would have been that. A search for B-sides would have been time-consuming and, as it happened, fruitless. So where was this song? And how come this guy on the Internet knew about it and I didn’t?
If life was a movie, this would be the bit where we’d see a montage of clips of me looking through microfilm in the library, wiping my brow, then typing into a computer under desk lamp light, now finishing a cup of coffee, then shaking my head meaningfully, or perhaps talking to someone in a bookstore like JR Hartley in that Yellow Pages advert. I’ll let that montage run through your mind…
What actually happened was the internet. Over the course of a month, I read the Black Crowes message boards in an epic grail-like quest*** for knowledge.
Commonplace and somewhat taken for granted / seen as a geek-and-troll-infested backwater now, message boards were actually incredibly liberating when the internet was in its infancy. Here’s why:
1. You Are Not Alone: In 2000 the number of people I knew who liked The Black Crowes was precisely zero. I was, it appeared somewhat astonishingly, rather unusual in liking them. Over the course of my previous thirty years on the planet I had become accustomed to this state of affairs of course – I have never been entirely sure why, for example, there are more Cliff Richard fans than Judas Priest fans. I mean sure, one is into leather and studded belts, but on the other hand so are Judas Priest… so what the internet did was tell me I wasn’t alone in my liking of a band.
2. There’s a message board for everyone: Do you like lamenting how the use of compression impacts audio quality on vinyl? There’s The stevehoffman boards. Like knitting? There’s knittingparadise.com. Like dressing up your dog in clothes? There’s www.whatiswrongwithyougetalife.com…
3. Your Interest Is Normal: Message boards are very reassuring in some respects. The Black Crowes board told me (amongst other things) that there were some people out there who liked them waaaay more than I did. In some cases possibly unhealthily so. Thank goodness for that though. I felt pretty normal compared to some of the obsessives out there who were hoarding and compiling a CD of Every Show.
4. People Like To Share Their Knowledge: There’s little point in obtaining an encyclopaedic knowledge of obscure Black Crowes B-sides if you can’t show off that knowledge just a little bit. Which saves time for the rest of us, who are just looking to dip our toes in a bit.
5. It’s a great way to share your enthusiasm for something and find out information. The Black Crowes board told me about Feathers. It was recorded as part of the “Tall” sessions – an unreleased album I remembered reading about years before – prior to the Amorica release. I also discovered this was the tip of the iceberg. There were two unreleased albums, and many of the tracks had been played live – a CD compiled them all. Not only that, there were other sessions, including something called Sweet Pickle Salad that were even more legendary…
Which leads us to…
6. Message Boards feed your enthusiasm. The Black Crowes board not only revealed those lost albums, but was a “trading” site, as The Black Crowes were “tape-friendly” – i.e. they allowed fans to record shows and trade (not-for-profit) live recordings. As long as these were not commercially available songs, you could send a fellow board member a blank CD and an SAE, and they would burn the discs for a show of your choice. Just do the same for someone else. It was a wonderful friendly eco-system. I grabbed an acoustic Royal Albert Hall show and one from France (which included Feathers).
Of course, message boards do have their minus points also.
More on that next time…..
* I’m exaggerating. It reached number 2. Actually The Fast Food Rockers did produce one of the funniest moments in TV Series “Popworld” when Simon Amstell asked them whether forming the band would be the start of a long career….in fast food. I miss Popworld…
** Source: www.businessinsider.com
*** it was neither “epic” nor a “grail-like quest”. It was me, surfing the internet.