Steve Albini’s Keynote Address at Face The Music – The State of the Music Industry

Steve Albini may not be an expert at public speaking. But he IS a 40-year veteran of the music industry – working as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, record producer, audio engineer and music journalist for most of his life. He lived and worked through the age of commercial rock radio and payola, through the birth of MTV, and through the most formative years of filesharing and torrenting right up to the present day.

Albini has worked on an estimated 1500 albums, which certainly qualifies him to speak on the state of the changing music industry.

He delivered a Keynote Address at Face The Music in 2014. The first 30 minutes comprise his essential arguments – exposing the self-perpetuating system of major labels, commercial radio, and the convoluted laundry list of associated professionals who were all guaranteed to profit from a band’s record, usually leaving the band with nothing.

He demonstrates that the old system was in place to serve everyone EXCEPT the band and its fans – the two inconsequential and often ignored parties of the music industry.

Albini then outlines how the internet and improved recording technologies rendered the old system obsolete and empowered artists. The web and filesharing gave bands, for the first time, a direct and personal relationship with their listeners and exponentially increased the reach of their music.

In closing, Albini describes the resulting listening culture as discerning and passionate, with the ability to pursue their own niche musical fetishism, and that these listeners find a way to reward the artists they love in return.

The old industry giants loudly proclaim that the new system is “broken” and a “crisis” that must be remedied. But in reality, the bands and their listeners are better off now than ever before.

This address shattered my shame about filesharing, and restored my faith in music.

Published in: on May 30, 2015 at 10:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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And in the end…

After a brief discussion with a friend today comparing and contrasting the merits of print vs eBooks, I began to re-examine my obsession with record collecting (and with materialism of any form).  I’ve been grappling with both sides of the collectibility coin for years, but the end of a calendar year seems a fitting time to look back and reflect on exactly what I’m doing and at what cost.

My purchasing of printed books has become more selective and refined in the past year (as it has for much of the public with eBook sales still on the rise.)  Statistia.com forcasts that ePub sales will exceed those of printed books by 2017.  This has been my most active year ever for book purchases – the same year I built myself a virtually-departmentalized library of eBooks.

eBooks vs Print Chart

Similarly, my vinyl purchasing has become specialized as well.  2014 has been Innerspace’s most-active for both digital and vinyl acquisitions, with each directly inspiring activity in the other.

107 LPs (accounting for each of the discs in multi-disc box sets) were purchased in the last 5 months alone, making the second half of 2014 our busiest purchasing period in the history of the Innerspace Library.  Actual spending for album acquisition in 2014 (purchases between Jan 13 and Nov 26) totaled $1,140.30, including all spending for overseas shipping and other courier services, with a mean monthly expenditure of $103 for the 11 months of activity.  The vast majority of these purchases were special-edition, limited releases, and original-pressings of milestones from my favorite genres.

Comparatively, 4,138 of my digital album folders were added or modified in 2014, (though this number includes folders in which tag maintenance or restructuring occurred during the last calendar year.)  The increase in digital album “consumption” had a direct impact on my vinyl-ordering activity.

But increasingly, the reasons I’ve used to justify my LP purchases are being eroded by the changing landscape of the FLAC community.

And so I thought I’d take each head-on.

beethoven-with-headphones
CLAIM 1: Vinyl often features better mastering and production quality than their digital counterparts

The genres I collect, particularly avant-garde, modern classical, ambient, and experimental electronic music have an audiophile fan base dedicated to the digital preservation of these recordings.  Where once fans had to rely on pirate remastering work by Purple Chick and Dr. Ebbetts (among other legendary engineers), the democratization of recording technology has made home-archiving inexpensive and easy without having to chase down shiny black discs.

And for albums previously only available on wax, we have claim #2.

okeh1007side-bsleeve

CLAIM 2: You can’t find these recordings anywhere else

Thanks to archival technology, there has developed a large and well-networked community of collectors eager to share their rare vinyl recordings with the rest of the world.  The community has evolved to the point where vinyl-only issued and limited-press recordings are now readily available in the form of community-generated digital lossless archives.  While commercial networks like Spotify offer only a tiny fraction of these recordings (I think there are six) due to their limited commercial interest and costly rights negotiation, actual fans of the music have stepped up to the plate and made the albums available where a commercial market has not.

"Armand De Brignac" Champagne Party at the VIP Room

CLAIM 3: Supporting the artist

This is a moot argument in my specialized case and in the case of those like me.  99% of the albums I buy are used records pressed forty years ago.  The used market has little to no impact on composers and artists, (with a few special exceptions like that of Rodriguez).  One exempt title which comes to mind is Thom Yorke’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes LP.  Yorke made headlines when …Boxes became the first album ever to be sold through a commercial torrent channel, demonstrating the viability of the sharing medium.  I saw my purchase of the deluxe LP as a contribution to a cause I supported.  But those two exceptions aside, I don’t think Ludwig or Karlheinz need my money that badly.

audiophile-main
CLAIM 4: It’s all about the experience

The experience is one of the outstanding merits of vinyl albums with which digital music cannot compete.  Selecting the album, removing it from its artful gatefold cover, dropping the needle, and so many other elements of the vinyl experience remind us of the value of music in an age of digital gluttony.  The experience is what still motivates me to purchase records, but with greater selectivity than before.

REAL FRIENDS HELP YOU MOVE RECORDS

With the erosion of the above arguments in vinyl’s favor, the reasons against collecting grow larger than ever.

REASON 1: They weigh a ton.

Ask anyone who’s been generous enough to help me move.  Collecting records requires the dedication of space and the enlistment of an army should you ever need to relocate them.  I know it’s part of vinyl’s charm – they are Objets d’art, but they’re admittedly a burden at the same time.

REASON 2: The stuff I’m after costs a fortune.

That $100 a month is over a grand at the end of the year that I could put toward living more comfortably and taking care of my beautiful partner.  I’m grateful that I am able to accommodate the limited disposable income I have for a fulfilling hobby and as a means of social interaction, but greater selectivity may yield a greater reward in the end.  Contrariwise, the only available digital resource for these vinyl-ripped and rare recordings is the file sharing community, which is 100% free.  And there isn’t much that can compare with free.

REASON 3: Accessibility and Organization

What I love most about our Digital Library is that it is meticulously organized and instantly indexable by multiple points of metadata.  With just a few clicks I can export charts and visualizations of library data for my annual reports.  And with 100% of the content on my home server, I can access any track wherever I go.  My unlimited data plan grants me uninhibited access to my content in FLAC without needing to transcode to stay below a corporate-determined threshold of data.  I take several TB of content to work each day, enjoy it on the walk there and back, and DJ my office for the 8 hours in between.

(Oh yes… and 13,000+ albums don’t take up any real estate on the shelf.)

And so…

Moving forward into the new year, I’m going to significantly pull the reins on my vinyl-buying impulses.  I might attempt to quantify my purchasing decisions with a 3-question qualifier before buying (as I’ve a fondness for doing things mathematically.)  There will still be incredible albums here, and there is no reason I can’t talk about a FLAC vinyl-rip and throw up a shot of the LP… (it’ll be our little secret.)

I welcome your thoughts.  Please feel free to share your support for or against this notion.  And I’ll see you in the new year.

A Thought Piece on Retiring My Physical Library

I’ve had a humbling revelation, and I’m honored to be able to share it with my audience.

A few days ago, I prepared multiple discographic digital FLAC archives to upload to the finest private tracker on the net.  I posted an inquiry to the moderators of the site – asking if there was any way to preserve the folder structures of the megatorrents I’d created thusly:

– Studio Albums
– Live Albums
– Soundtracks
– Remasters
– Compilations
– Singles
– Solo Projects
(etc)

I had tagged each disc’s %album% and named each corresponding folder with:
[%YEAR%] %TITLE%.  

My core belief was that artists and labels should be experienced in the full context of their discographies.  I’d labored to create resources for those researching the evolution of a composer’s sound and to help listeners track the development of a genre through the chronology of releases on its primary record label.

But the harsh realization came when it was explained to me that the system in place by the tracker with which I’d elected to share my files already had a superior archival method in place.  Namely – all artists’ work is auto-populated in chronological order of release, and sub-categorized by commercial recordings, live recordings, singles, etc.

But more importantly, the site’s torrents grow better with each upload.  Users can choose to download one album or all albums at any bitrate they desire, whether 192CBR, 320VBR, or FLAC.  And as members upload new releases or superior torrents (such as FLAC + .log), the previous entries are automatically replaced.

The site maintains a strict file naming convention and organizational structure, which was the reason I joined their network in the first place.  Shockingly, this realization shattered the labor of love I’d be building for the past five years.

My local archive was old hat.  It was no longer relevant.  The new system already in place is an ever-evolving organism, superior to my method in nearly every way.  I was old and in the way.

Recursively archived torrent systems composed of magnetic links comprise the greatest library of media, literature and human knowledge ever assembled.  The user-constructed collage system of this particular tracker allows members to collaborate and design maps to help new listeners navigate and discover these wonderful recordings.

And perhaps most importantly, this magnificent system will survive long after my modest archive has long been forgotten.

Will I stop collecting records?  Surely not.  Though I will likely be more conscious and selective about which gems I select for my personal archive going forward.  As an independent archivist, I will adapt and re-direct my efforts toward perfect, FLAC + log archives of exceptional and rare recordings.

Please do not misinterpret my words – by no means am I abandoning my life-long affinity for dusty old bookshops and record libraries.  I am only shifting my methods for the sake of practicality and preservation.

My goal has always been to archive for the enlightenment of the generations to come, for the sake of great music that should never be forgotten.  This goal remains unchanged.  It is simply the means to that end which begs revision.

I welcome your thoughts.  Thank you, friends for letting me share.

dusty-library

Published in: on January 26, 2014 at 10:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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