Monday, February 23, 2009

I Pod. Do You?

There was a time when life was so easy. You sang. People liked you. A&R agents would sign you. You would record. Radio stations played your work. Fame brought you wealth and the opportunity to continue performing. It was not easy to break through the system, but if you had talent and flair you could rise to the top.

This old world has disappeared. Record companies have consolidated into just a few mega-monopolies. Only huge stars are allowed to flourish. Others are not allowed. No wonder American Idol attracts so much attention! The world of American media promotes what they deem as superstar music and they try to make you listen to it ad infinitum. Does this brainwashing work? The current young generation simply doesn't buy it.

Dry rot usually occurs after years of abuse. Finding new artists is time consuming, expensive and requires effort. Lots of money can be spent chasing ghosts which negates profits. Radio and television do little to promote music or the desire to create it. Commercial content and DJ chatter kills all possible airing of radio tunes during most dayparts. Promoting your act using movies only works if you are part of the Disney machine. (It may bring horror to most but repetitious Radio Disney actually airs many acts not heard elsewhere!) It took decades to kill radio. The carcass is now only bones. Even satellite radio has now fallen to greed. Is there no place to go?

My true love, XM Satellite Radio, has lost its soul while being eaten alive. After the merger with Sirius, the deterioration was swift and rampant. The amount of obscene humor channels doubled. Some channels seemed dedicated to discussions of genitalia. There was an onslaught of channels dedicated to single artists. (It became obvious that this was a scam to sell airtime to promote new albums or to bolster sales of standard archive material.) All the Latino channels disappeared except one. The new emphasis was not quality but financial greed.

Most disconcerting was the loss of programmer expertise. All the experienced and knowledgeable people who loved their music and knew how to present it disappeared off XM rapidly after the Sirius takeover. The few channels that did not follow FM sounding pop or single artist formats were dumbed down and homogenized. In simplest terms, the 'good stuff' was gone. Regardless of when you tuned in, there was simply nothing to comfortably spend your time with. The commercial content became more and more inescapable. XM Satellite Radio died consumed by the same mindset that killed FM before it. It was so good while it lasted. Why could it not continue?

For many years, I was a dedicated advocate of XM Satellite Radio. This was the medium that had brought a new non-commercial alternative to FM radio. Shows like 'Artist Confidential' and XM Public Radio made the service worthy of subscription dollars. Call me a music snob, but I simply won't listen to drones of stale pop music. This is now all XM has to offer.

Quick analysis will make obvious why radio music is so unlistenable. Back in the 1960s, rock radio stations would play music from the last few months with an oldie from a few years back tossed in now and then. The music was always fresh. We had no reason to hate it. Progressive FM radio appeared in the late 60s bringing forth a whole new concept in pop music. Disk jockeys were allowed to use their personalities and love of music to build audiences. It was a healthy time to listen.

Perversion of the musicradio art came later in the 70s with the domination of Top 40 radio. Very narrow playlists tried to draw in the most listeners possible who would always hear a hot hit when they tuned in. The repetition of songs and heavier commercial content and clutter removed the joy from listening. Some of the personalities remained but by the advent of 1980, it was done. Radio had lost its zeal to business greed.

Do the math: Most pop music stations rely on a music library of no more than about 5000 songs. You'll hear these songs over and over and over again. You have been listening to the same hits of the 1960s for 50 years! Even the hits of the 90s are ten years old! It is absolutely maddening! It is the same monotonous drivel over and over again! Make it stop!

My frustration is amplified when I think of all the singers, songwriters and musicians who can not get airplay no matter how hard they try. Thank the Lord for new oasis like MySpace Music, Pandora, YouTube, and Amie Street. This is where the latest generation of listeners find their tunes. What a shame that radio was not allowed to flourish.

New technology may be the ultimate savior. My knee-jerk response to the death of XM was the purchase of a Generation 4 Apple iPod. It is quite a sophisticated toy. This tiny, thin rectangle is capable of holding every CD I own (and then some) and also plays back remarkable video content all available at the touch of my finger. My only regret is that it does not have more than 16 GB of memory. Only a few days into this experience, my free space is dwindling rapidly!

Using an iPod is a lesson in do-it-yourself radio. You become your own music director and program producer. I find myself searching and searching for new artists and new Podcasts. There is a lot of trial and error. Being passionate about new music requires a lot of work. Luckily, for those who have true love of music, this is an enjoyable pursuit. Your best resources are links to other artists' web sites and word-of-mouth. You'll find well-developed communities of musicians all looking for attention and fame. This is more fun than any video game!

The results are immediate and satisfying. My tastes lean heavily toward Celtic culture and music. Using an iPod has instantly connected me with Cape Breton, Ireland and Scotland like never before. You can customize your delights unattainable anywhere else. The only thing missing is up-to-the-minute news and sport. Good old AM radio fulfills most of these needs.

Change requires adaptation. I'm trying hard. Yes, this is the world in the year 2009. If radio, in all forms, is obsolete you must move on. I don't mind going down the hill, but sometimes I feel as if I am traveling with the precariousness of someone on a luge sled! How foolish the broadcast industry has been in alienating all its clientele. Sorry, I just can't listen to endless snarky chatter and commercials. There is a beautiful new musical world out there. Have you heard this one?

Also, I congratulate all who have mastered the art of Apple’s iTunes application. This iPod support program and database requires hours of patience, experimentation and adaptation. The most important information about iTunes never makes it into any ‘help’ site. Learning how to fine tune the database using ‘Get Info’ is an honored skill all its own. I’m very pleased with my progress but I have resigned myself to the realization that your quest for iTunes knowledge never ends!

So welcome to the future of media where the Web brings all you ever wanted to your fingertips. Eventually, the entire world will be wired for WiFi and you will discover Web access nearly everywhere. You won’t even need a CAT5 cable to connect. Wait a minute. Isn’t wireless Internet really radio? It sure is.


Derek said...

Great piece. It seems radio is interesting lately. I too am an XM loyalist and have a lifetime subscription. There were 2 good things about the merger with Sirius and they are XM channel 55 and 124, but the NFL channel got old and the old music content from XM needs to come back.

It might even raise the stock price and allow them to pay howard stern which might start the turn around. I am still hopeful that XM and Sirius figure it out and things start coming back, but I guess we will see.

Anonymous said...

do you have and iPod or iTouch?

by Karl Zuk said...

4G Nano