Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Blood, Bunny, Larkhall

In an age of digital media, almost anything can be distributed freely an easily. Information is reduced to 1s and 0s and can be copied infinitely. So, as a musician, a writer, an artist, a creator, how does this affect me? There's huge discussions about music sharing across the internet and the moralities behind it and what should be done about it.

I like music. I listen to a lot of it and I own a lot of CDs. I like having CDs. I like having the cases and the booklets and the artwork and all that. I like the fact that I have a back-up of all the music I own. But, the amount of music I like is far larger than the amount I can afford. Hell, I think it's unlikely I'll ever own all the music I "want".

So, what do I do about all this music I can't own? I download it. I take an active role in "liking" this music. I can't afford to buy the music, but I do whatever I can to support it. Whether this is something simple like recommending it to someone else, or something that costs money like going to a gig. Without the freedom that downloading affords me, I wouldn't have discovered or considered many of the artists I now consider favourites.

So, as a consumer, I'm pro-downloading. But what about as a creator? Currently I don't play gigs, so the most common avenue for people to discover my music is closed to me. So I've turned to the internet. Initially I only allowed people to stream my music and maybe download a few tracks. I later thought about the way I listen to music. Rarely will I repeatedly stream music. It's hard for an artist to grow on you and find a place in your heart when you can only listen to them in a certain way or in a certain place (I have many albums on vinyl I haven't "got into" as it's easier to listen to music on my computer). So, I decided to make all my music freely downloadable.

People can listen to my music as much as they want without me making any money. How can this be a good thing? Well, they've heard it. Someone hearing my music and disliking it is better than someone never hearing it. People are far more willing to try something for free. So, I reach a larger audience because of this willingness.

Admittedly I pay nothing to record my music (except in time), so there's nothing I need to make back in selling it. But I'd still like people to buy it. So, how do I do that? Well, using the same idea as Radiohead did with "In Rainbows", I give them something better than the free version. If you buy music from me, you get a CD in a case, with art and everything and you get higher quality audio than you do if you download it. I'd love to offer more, but I can't easily produce something more.

This brings me to my dissatisfaction with optical media and the way it's produced and packaged. I don't buy mp3s because I don't feel they're worth paying for the same way a CD is. They're lower quality and I don't get things like cover art or a booklet or a back-up for if my hard drive fails. But then, I still don't like CDs. I don't like the plastic casing (if I can, I buy digipak format albums). I don't like the fact a tiny scratch can render a CD unplayable. Though I'm not some "audiophile" who wants everything on vinyl (though I do love to have things on vinyl, not least for the fact that the large covers are so much better). I like things to be digital. I like that I can easily transfer all my CDs to my computer and then take whatever music I want wherever I go.

What I want is somewhere between CDs and mp3s. Full quality audio on durable media that offers something more than just music. One thing I miss about using a personal CD player is that I used to be able to buy a CD from a shop and listen to it on the way home. This brings me to things like flash memory.

I borrowed a Nintendo DS this week for my Gaming Technologies module. The games and their packaging is a good example of what I'm thinking of here. Imagine a standard SD card holding the tracks in an uncompressed format, with all the information about the tracks, etc. on there as well. This would be packaged in a Digipak style case. Then you just need an SD slot in your mp3 player (which many already have) and you can listen on your way home.

This is just an idea right now. I don't know if it's feasible or anything. I doubt any major record company would be interested in it as the fact that you can easily copy the music to any device (a great feature in my eyes) is something they'd hate (unless they slapped DRM all over it). Though I'm sure they'd love the chance to tell people to buy all their music all over again in the new format...

For now, I'll just keep downloading mp3s and buying CDs and making my music.

Alice in popular culture sighting no. 25: In episode 9 of series D of QI, Stephen Fry notes that Dodos were almost completely forgotten until they were mentioned in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. By that time, they were very much extinct.