Tag Archives: streaming

iPod, still – phone storage, streaming

Last week, while I was on holiday in the US, my iPod Classic (about 12 or 13 years old now) finally gave up the ghost on me. It would no longer charge or recognise that it was plugged in. I tried replacement cables and different USB sockets, all to no avail.

It was the end. But the moment had not been prepared for.

I’ve hung on to an iPod this long as it’s invaluable for carrying around 16 bit/44k mixes of recordings I’m working on (at the moment, that’s an album I’m finishing off with James McKean, an EP Mel and I are recording, and a bunch of random stuff of my own). If I’m working on mixes and test driving them, so to speak, as I travel around, I don’t want to hear them as MP3s – if I could store them at 24 bit, I would. But without a working iPod, I thought I’d try bowing to the inevitable: I’d use Spotify for general listening, and took about 20 mixes that I have on the go, reduced them to 256kbps MP3s and put them on the phone itself.

iPhone storage full.

Not a good start.

At the same time, I wanted to listen to some Go-Betweens records, as I’d just read Robert Forster’s Grant & I: Inside & Outside the Go-Betweens and it’s been a few years since I went through all their stuff. Spotify doesn’t have their first two albums, or the records they made after they reformed, or their US- or UK-market best-of compilations.

Sigh.

Off to eBay, then, for a second-hand iPod Classic, hoping I don’t get ripped off.

This is the problem that streaming boosters don’t seem to recognise. I get the convenience of having one device. I get that if you live in a big town or city, your Wi-Fi and/or 4G (or 5G, or even 3G) connection is going to be more or less constant, and I get that if you listen to contemporary music mainly, you’re always going to find what you want on Spotify.

But if your interests lie elsewhere, you’re reliant on deals being struck to get legacy artists’ catalogues up on Spotify (or Apple Music, or Google Play, or wherever) and kept there. And that’s far from a sure thing. The Go-Betweens are not a marginal group — they were well known enough to get national coverage in the UK, and are even better known in their native Australia – yet most of their albums are not streamable on the biggest online music platform.

As I’d long argued, there is still no truly viable alternative for carrying around a capacious hard drive stuffed to the brim with music if you want to listen to whatever you want, whenever you want. Which is why, even if I didn’t also need a device to store work-in-progress mixes at a half-decent audio quality, an iPhone and a Spotify account still doesn’t cut it, and why I’m the satisfied owner of a 12-year-old reconditioned iPod Classic bought off eBay.

Everything is Free – Gillian Welch (and, increasingly, others)

I had another post planned. I’m working on it. But I saw this the other day and it sparked some thoughts. So here’s something a bit more off the cuff.

I’m delighted by anything that gives increased exposure to Gillian Welch. God knows she deserves it. Everything is Free is one of the finest songs on Time (The Revelator) – Welch’s best record, and the album that I’d unhesitatingly pick as the best released in the first decade of the 21st century.  I can fully understand other songwriters wanting to climb inside the song and inhabit it.

But here’s the thing. Have they earned its anger at the changes in the music industry that threatened to destroy Welch’s livelihood as she was writing the song? And should the target of whatever ire these artists feel be the same as the one at whom Welch targeted her wrath nearly twenty years ago?

Welch made her first album five years before Everything Is Free was released. She came up in a very different industry to the one we have now – an industry that was predicated on the sale of physical product and in which gig and merchandise revenue were supplementary revenue streams at best. She then found that the music industry had no answer to Napster and file-sharing services, that a generation of young music fans were no longer willing to pay for her music or anyone else’s, and consequently saw her royalties from physical sales plummet.

Meanwhile a generation of digital prophets were telling her, Hey, it’s cool. Music should be free. Just get out there and gig and you’ll make your money that way. You can easily understand how galling such Pollyanna-ish nonsense was to anyone who understood the economics of live performance for any artist who isn’t U2 or the Rolling Stones.

Josh Tillman (Father John Misty), Anaïs Mitchell, Courtney Barnett, Phoebe Bridgers and the others who have recently performed Everything Is Free, either with Welch or solo, came to prominence in the post-Napster world. Tillman and Mitchell, the eldest of the crop, were both born in 1981, so were both around 19 or 20 when Everything Is Free was released, presumably in college and with access to the internet. Did neither of them ever share files, or accept CD-Rs from friends? Neither worked as professional musicians under the old receive advance–recoup advance–make profit model. And neither, to be frank, have had the experience of having a promised income whiffed away from them by changes in technology and consumer behaviour.

If I sound unsympathetic, let me assure you that I’m actually deeply sympathetic to those who work in industries that have been disrupted by the internet. I understand it first hand. I’m a copy-editor, so I work in a sector that has already seen wave after wave of editors and writers lose their jobs in the newspaper industry, and I know that what I do will probably not exist in 20 years, even for those of us that are still left at the moment; at some point, enough people with hiring and firing powers will decide that automated tools do the job well enough to make us obsolete. Yeah, it sucks. Yeah, I’m angry about it. But I’ve been doing this a long time; anyone who decided to be an editor in, say, 2012 owed it to themselves to find out the way it’s all going, work out if it was actually a viable way to make a living and then make their life choices based on that knowledge.

As much sympathy as I have for Welch – and it’s a lot – I don’t feel like anyone who knowingly went into the post-Napster music industry can now make the same plaint about diminished income streams and being expected to work for free without being a least a little disingenuous. What did they think they were signing up for?

And so we come to our last point. Over the last decade, the music industry, and the media generally, has moved away from an ownership model to a subscription one. People who stopped buying physical copies of records decided that, while perhaps they’d have preferred to carry on downloading from torrent sites, £10 a month to Apple, Google or Spotify was a price they’re willing to pay for unrestricted access to their catalogues. Now, that money, billions of it (€17.4 billion of it in 2017), isn’t reaching the artists whose music keeps the whole thing rolling. But that’s a very different problem, and it’s not the problem that Everything is Free is a response to. Everything is not free now; everything is yours to stream for £9.99 a month, plus data.

All of us who prefer the convenience of a streaming service, whether a paid subscription or a free one, all of us who shared files, and burned CDRs, we can’t honestly have it both ways. We are part of the problem, along with the tech companies and the record companies who are once more getting fat off the kind of money they probably didn’t expect they’d be seeing again. If Tillman, Mitchell, Bridgers et al want a song to raise awareness of the shittiness of unpaid (or very poorly paid) labour within today’s music industry, I’ll share the hell out of it and bang the drum with them. But let’s focus our energy on the problems that exist now, not the battles that have already been fought.