J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Notes From Underground - #28
Resolutions You Will Now Make


It's a new year and with less than five years remaining to the impending Mayan apocalypse, resolutions are more important than ever. You only have so long to perfect yourself for eternal judgment. Thus, as a public service to you, devoted reader, I offer the J's Indie/Rock Mayhem - Resolutions You Will Now Make. You can thank me in the comments.

First, don't use digital music services that don't offer DRM-free music. The limits placed on digital files by services such as ITunes (though they are by no means the only offender) are more evidence of the music industry's archaic notion of their own market. Despite the numerous court decisions supporting the concept of 'fair use,' they continue to scrape and grab at every right you have with your purchased art. Ultimately, the music industry seems to despise the digital market - what else would explain putting limits on music that aren't on the physical CD versions? They want you back in the brick and mortar/Big Box stores paying full retail price for albums rather than online, downloading only the songs you want at (comparatively, not actually) fair prices. It will limit your ability to legally download all the music you might want, but as a solution, check out DRM-free services like EMusic. If you can't find an artist there, make sure you are purchasing your physical CDs from your local, independently owned record stores. If that's not an option, go online and find your own sources.

Second, go see concerts, especially local artists. Some of the best music you haven't heard is playing right now in a venue near you. Take the time to check out some of the smaller venues in your area, not just the big ones. Artists often make a big chunk of their money by playing live and by going to see them, you're helping them along their path. If you're one of the increasing number of Americans who, alienated by an out-of-touch and insulting music industry, have taken to illegal downloading, going to see live shows is even more important. The cash you're not spending on buying records needs to head straight into the hands of bands via their live shows. Those local venues can use your presence and money as well. They can't keep bringing top notch national acts to your area, and additionally bringing the local acts on board as openers, unless you're helping them by attending shows.

Third, take some time to explore some new genre of music or open your mind to bands you shut out long ago. In the case of the former, for example, in 2008 I'm going to work on broadening my knowledge of jazz. I know so little, almost anything could be a door in for me. By doing a small amount of research online, I can find what people think are some of the best 'gateway' records and artists for me to explore. Soon I'll have broadened my understanding, not only of jazz, but of all other modern music as well. I'll have that much of a broader sense of understanding and musical vocabulary. By the same token, I'm going to find an older band I've ignored or shunned in the past and give them a second chance. I came around in recent years on Pink Floyd, the Beatles and the Breeders. Not only did it give me a second chance at trying to appreciate what these artists were doing, it gave me whole new oeuvres to explore and discover. Sure, it may be a little laugh-inducing to get excited and gush over a record that people got years and years ago, but I can't help it - "She's Leaving Home" is a great song. The bottom line is that it's time to open up.

Fourth, stop listening to critics. What do I mean? Don't let reviews and the popular, conventional wisdom about music (or any art form that is critically reviewed) guide your decisions. I admit that I will often let hype get to me. An artist who comes barreling out of the gate, with seemingly every single arm of the critical press behind them, often gets shut out of my listening experience. This is the part of me that occasionally gets me called 'pretentious.' I'm honestly very egalitarian in nature when it comes to listening to music. But I let my knee-jerk feelings guide me sometimes and that's not the way to be a good listener. I enjoy reading criticism of all shapes: I read Pitchfork because I need my dose of critical snobbery and the slaps to the face to remind me that art can be viable and scary and way out of left field and still make you dance. I read the AV Club because I tend to agree with their reviewers more than any other site. When they praise something, I take it seriously. They are also much more self-reflective in their role as critics and I like that they are constantly checking themselves and seem to really enjoy their jobs because they love art. Find your sources and take them all with a grain of salt.

Lastly, communicate. In person, online, however you would like to do so. Leave comments on blogs, start up conversations with strangers on the bus or a plane, smile at people. Whoever the anonymous commenter was who left a slightly critical (or else just honestly opinionated) comment on my Top 25 Albums show a few weeks back, I appreciate that they left that note. I tried to respond honestly and hope they come back to read more and comment more. I love dialogue, and the comments are the only way I really get to do that with y'all, short of you calling into the station during my show. Communicating with someone makes your day a bit brighter, especially if it helps you see the world in just one new color that you didn't see before.

All this is kind of hokey and idealistic and boring. But that's what the new year is all about. Before we all become jaded and cynical again (and obviously in a presidential election year, that will come quicker than normal), it's good to just be sappy for a moment, to rally the troops, to bang the gongs, to get it on. So here's to 2008 - may we all be better by the end.

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