Shimura Curves

Friday, May 05, 2006

Are Release Dates Meaningless?

This started as a comment I was leaving on Mela's Blog About Leaked Albums but it soon became an epic, so I decided to give it my own post here.

It's started to really fuck me off, with YSI and downloading, that release dates seem to have been rendered meaningless.

Firstly, because I am a musician, and you want to make sure that people have the proper, finished article - you don't want to be judged on some shitty, unfinished, unmixed version of a song. (Though lord knows how many different Shimuras demos there are floating around out there.) I don't think that's precious, I think it's the fundamental nature of being an artist. Yes, those songs may have been floating around live for ages, but live performances and recordings are two different artforms.

And I understand, from my brief time as a journalist, about just how long lead times for reviews, articles and other press aspects are. This is the number one thing that fuels release schedules, especially for smaller artists that *need* the exposure.

But mainly, it's about my experiences as a fan. A couple of years ago, it seemed like all my friends were working for record companies or PRs, so I would have every album months before it came out. In some cases, I got rough mixes off the band themselves. At first this was very exciting, that feeling that I HAVE SOMETHING REALLY SPECIAL AND THIS MAKES ME IMPORTANT BECAUSE I'VE HEARD IT FIRST. But the problem was, I couldn't discuss it with anyone, I couldn't share my joy because no one had the faintest clue what I was on about, or if they did, they just thought I was boasting.

And by the time the album actually came out, and all the fans were talking about it, I felt like I could no longer join in the excitement, because it was all already familiar, even old to me. I made a decision just not to listen, just not to seek advance copies out.

But these days, with album leaks all over the internet, it's almost the exception that people hear that album for the first time on the day it's released or after. Discussion on interweb boards and the like takes place months in advance of when I get to hear the record. The Secret Machines album Mela mentions was a case in point - the leak was all over I Love Music, the dronerock kids were discussing it, but I still hadn't heard it. I kept going to record shops, looking for it and expecting it to be there. By the time it came out, it was almost an anticlimax. And the album is a grower, it's not an instant download hit, which needed repeated listenings and mulling on it, and letting the songs get stuck in my head. My comments and attempts at discussion fell on deaf ears, because they'd moved on to downloading whatever else was next. I was the lonesome cowboy because all the other kids on the block were playing spacemen (to quote the Beano).

To be honest, maybe this is because I'm not much of a downloader*. It's not even because of the "music should be free"/"support the artists" debate. Part of it is because my only internet access is on a work 'puter with no speakers. Part of it is because I don't like the way MP3s sound - all tinny and pixilated. And a big part of this is because I'm just so attached to the fetishistic idea of a record as an ARTEFACT, an object - music and pictures and cover art and liner notes.

(*I'm secretly a bit of a luddite. I don't even own an iPod.)


At 1:13 PM GMT, Blogger melanie said...

I do have fond memories of standing in line outside Tower Records to buy Mellon Collie and Adore and Kid A at midnight rather than wait the next day to buy them. Going home and lying in bed listening to it through my headphones with the moonlight and stars shining through my bedroom window when the rest of the world was asleep.
But I am also an impatient person, and before leaks became so common, I would hem and haw about waiting or downloading now, when I had access to a leak. Mainly it's just been for bands I adore whose records I am dying to hear. And I would always give in anyway. Because I'm weak. Because I do fetishize the actual CD itself, too, and because as much as my iPod is beloved to me I do like the sound of CDs better, the release date is still meaningful to me because that's the date I get to hold it and kiss and call it George and smell the booklet and look at the artwork and read the lyrics and liner notes. And I think because there aren't many people in my day to day life that I get to talk about music with, aside from the people on the few band message boards I go on, and those people are big fans like I am and we all have access to the leak, so we are all talking about them at the same time, that I don't experience what you're talking about here, though I can see where you're coming from.

At 1:27 PM GMT, Blogger Andrew Farrell said...

mp3s aren't necessarily pixellated and tinny, it's just that obviously you mostly hear them over such systems.

At 1:30 PM GMT, Blogger Masonic Boom said...

Well, yes, I can see that there is a lot of music that I have got advance copies, and then buy anyway - often on multiple formats!

Though I've had some albums ruined that way - the rough mixes of Medazzaland were a lot more pleasing to my ears than the finished product! I kinda wish I didn't know that.

I guess the problem is, I don't hang out on messageboards for specific bands, but rather a general music messageboard, where I don't think their level of obsession/fetishisation is the same. They just want what's *new*, just because it hasn't been released, not necessarily because they care about the band.

But then again, I never did work very well on single band messageboards, because I can never stick to the topic.

At 1:32 PM GMT, Blogger Masonic Boom said...

x-post (that has never happened on my blog!)

Andrew, it depends on the sound quality and resolution of the MP3. I know, from ripping my own music to MP3 in Cubase, what loss takes place at what resolution. (I must admit, I'm a bastard that way and sometimes deliberately rip low sound quality if I know it's headed for MySpace or something, because I want people to wait and get the real release.)

At 1:57 PM GMT, Blogger melanie said...

I'm horrible about staying on topic. Thankfully the couple band boards I frequent have tons of sections with a large variety of threads for those of us who do a lot of weird random posting. And a couple of them have specific threads specifically for random posts. And the mods on these boards are very patient and gentle about people going off-topic. And then there is the DuranDuran official board, which is pretty much total chaos and has been so long that it probably always will be.
I'm no good with general music boards because I tend to really fixate heavily on a handful of bands and can't keep up with all the new ones. And to my ears, a lot of the bands sound the same.

At 2:58 PM GMT, Anonymous mitya said...

I don't think I ever found anything so crucial that I stood outside at midnight, although I definitely went through periods of pointedly visiting shops on new release Tuesdays to pick up things.

The problem I have with your complaint, Kate, is that you essentially say, "I used to have access to music well in advance but had no one to talk about it with. And now everyone else has it well in advance but I don't [through choice and circumstance] and I can't talk about it with everyone else." But then I probably don't have much sympathy, as music has always been a kind of solitary experience for me.

The biggest problem, I think, is the fact that d/l makes it much easier for people -- at least people outside the industry and criticism circles -- to cycle through music. There's always something new out there to distract you from what you got last week, or being sort of non-plused by "All at Once" and "Lightning Blue Eyes" and not bothering with the rest of the album.

At 10:23 AM GMT, Blogger Masonic Boom said...

It's more like "getting music in advance ruined the communal aspect for me, which is one of the important things to me in music." I like being a fan, I like connecting with other fans, to share the rush.

I think downloading makes it easier to be a grazer, (maybe even a diletante), it encourages just listening to something once and then moving on. Which is not bad in and of itself, but it does kind of lend itself to more immediate music.

And despite my love of pop and bubblegum, many of my favourite albums have been growers. The new Secret Machines album is not immediate in the same way that the last one was, it's much more dense and it took a few more listens before I got sucked in. That's the kind of thing that gets lost in downloading culture.


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