We appear to be living in an ever more digital age. On the one hand, this is good as it allows so many DIY bands and musicians an outlet to get their material out there whereby previously the costs of getting records made would have been prohibitive. On the other, we’re living in a world where the market has been flooded by music; a lack of quality control means there’s a potential for so much good stuff to go unheard and – to paraphrase the great Brian Wilson – appear like little more than a cork in the ocean.
At Real Gone we’ve argued against digital mediums regularly…with people who totally sympathise with our own viewpoint and feel the need for music to be tangible, but also with those who champion Apple products and who don’t feel like they’ve been ripped off by paying the price of a physical CD for lossy computer files that essentially don’t exist. On a basic level, the mp3 is the marketer’s dream – they can essentially sell the consumer fresh air; the format doesn’t really exist, but yet some people consider it to be the way forward. It’s like the emperor’s new clothes – there’s nothing to savour and whatever this invisible format is, is it really good enough to make a challenge for the dominant role in the music market? [Don’t even get us started on the fact that buying mp3s is only a rental and the small print from your vendor of choice suggests that these files can be revoked at company discretion].
Not only are record companies selling you the worst possible musical solution, but their greed to make money out of the cheapest option means they aren’t necessarily always looking at the demographic. In 2013, one of the more bizarre digital marketing decisions occurred. Australian rock band Cold Chisel released a box set’s worth of rare b-sides, previously unreleased demos and live material. Among the treasures was Chisel’s first major radio appearance on the station later to become known as Triple J. The half-hour’s set was unique in that included a couple of tunes never to see the light of day again, an early version of ‘Four Walls’ with completely different lyrics and other material that differed to its eventual appearance on Chisel’s 1977 debut LP. Given the age of the average Chisel fan – men who’ve seen vinyl replaced with cassette with compact disc – the digital medium will surely be a dead loss? People over a certain age will expect a physical format…and given the kind of band Cold Chisel are, not to pursue this is utter madness. We wonder how many of these rarities actually sold when offered as computer files? The jury’s out…
There’s an equally worrying problem that comes with digital only releases. Twice recently, Real Gone has posted reviews of EPs that only exist in the digital realm, only to be told by the musicians who created them that – again, paraphrased – they’d “almost forgotten they released that music!” Another musician gave us the demos for his second (never to be released) album. In the middle of the disc, we found a previously released b-side which, yup, you guessed it, he’d forgotten that he’d released as part of a digital only single. It seems that throwing something out there digitally also has the drawback of making the product utterly disposable. For those artists, if they’d issued those tracks in the old fashioned way – paying for pressings of vinyl or CDs and then lurching up and down the motorway in a knackered van and playing to paying audiences – they’d probably not be so forgetful.
Thankfully, the resurgence of vinyl (or even cassettes in the DIY world) is something we should celebrate. It isn’t always as easy as chucking works out there as part of a download forum, but it has a mystique, a romanticism of something that still feels like high art…even if it wasn’t meant to be. Support bands by buying their products directly if you can – buy proper formats if and wherever possible. There’s more to music than the click of a few buttons. Don’t let the music business just become digital noise…and just business over art.