Monthly Archives: September 2010

Secretly Awesome

Secretly Canadian is an independent record label with a wide variety of tasty genres to choose from. You’ll be tempted to lick everything at least once. On the front of their site, the OUTNOW artists’ album covers are shown in miniature squares above the OUTSOON album covers. When you hover over whatever catches your eye, the typically-clever band name is displayed. Their catalog includes “critically-acclaimed” performers such as Suuns, JJ, David Vandervelde, Yeasayer, Windsor For the Derby, Here We Go Magic, The War on Drugs and more. After you make your selection, you are directed to a mouth-watering description of the music itself and a partial description of the artist’s journey. You get a feel for the individual’s personality and interests as well as a glimpse of their sound. Usually, there is a downloadable link where you can grab a sample song. Clicking on their name again takes you to a list of downloads and purchases you can make – every artist has free downloads available. This appears to be the label’s primary lead-in to ultimately generate sales.

I believe that, in this case, the technique of offering free downloads is effective because people will be so delighted to find these particular bands that they will want to support the “little people” in hopes that more music like this will become available. I, myself, was greatly heartened when I sampled the sounds on SecretlyCanadian.com. I felt comforted to know I wasn’t alone in my musical experimentation and creativity – and I also felt a thrill of hope that I might find new artists of interest to me. I’ve long become bored with radio play and I’d all but given up hope that there was anything truly different out there. I believe that many people feel the same way I do about the nauseating repetition of cookie-cutter genres on the radio and on the Billboard hit lists; that’s why companies like this one are so important.

My research on Secretly Canadian revealed that this lean group of 15 was predominantly concerned with “artist development.” Chris Swanson, an original founder of the label, explained to Emile Milgrim from Spacelab Music News that his close-knit group of music and record-culture enthusiasts was interested in creating a catalog which reflected the musical tastes of the company’s members. “It’s really important to us that we put out records of all shapes and sizes,” he professed. As eclectic aficionados and talent scouts, they waded through scores of applicants and retrieved those they found to be the most stimulating. As businessmen, they expanded their horizons, pushing into other arenas, such as distribution, and partnering with other companies in order to attract larger distributors – not in pursuit of fame and fortune, but rather as a way to realize their ambitions for custom handling of each artist. Swanson explained the importance of discovering the “specialness” of each project. He placed great emphasis on keeping the individual musician in mind. His desire was to tailor each campaign to each record. All records are available for online purchase on their websites – as well as on Amazon.com – and, due to Swanson’s big thinking and entrepreneurial maneuvering, they are also available at stores such as Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, CD Universe and Second Spin.

The fan being targeted by Secretly Canadian is clearly one similar to myself: artistic, appreciative of originality, bored with the status quo and desperately in search of something new under the sun. The biggest obstacle facing labels such as this one is summed up in one word: greed. Corporate greed, to be exact. Larger companies swallow independent companies whole – sometimes outright and sometimes merely by virtue of their mass. There are precious few businesses in the United States that are satisfied with sharing the market; most capitalistic entities here in the States prefer to compete only as long as it takes to ultimately monopolize their markets. In the music industry, MTV and VH1 are both holdings of a $13 billion media giant – and there are no real competitors for music television at all. According to Bedford St. Martin’s Media and Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication, Clear Channel dominates the airwaves in the United States, boasting ownership of over 1,100 radio stations with access to upward of 110 million listeners. Since Clear Channel has stringent policies which enforce limits on their playlists, it is unlikely that a listener will sample an artist who is Secretly Canadian on the radio. And, although Secretly Canadian is bigger than other labels, it still can’t toss advertising dollars over its shoulder.

But the most obvious obstacle to these fine folks is this: not everyone is going to care about discovering new music and not everyone appreciates art when they hear it. Many people simply prefer to cozy up to what’s familiar and leave the scary unknown outside their door.

However, these obstacles merely hinder the label’s potential for billion-dollar expansion. Is this a problem? These guys have clearly decided that the Billionaire’s Club isn’t really for them, anyway. No; they’re dedicated to the dream. They’re interested in watching creativity bloom and talent thrive. There’s no dollar value on that and that’s what makes it so worthwhile.

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In late May 2010, Lala.com – a free online catalog of over 6 million songs from independent artists – was shut down. Apparently, iTunes bought them out in 2009 for $80 million. This site made it possible for new artists to reach consumers in an open, unrestrained forum of artistic expression and reciprocal appreciation. Each user had an online “cloud” where they stored their favorites and could come back to listen to them anytime from virtually anywhere. After the takeover, eager listeners bent on discovery were left with nothing; all virtual clouds evaporated, leaving users drenched in the aftermath of corporate greed and capitalistic aspirations.

I learned of Lala.com’s tragic end as I was doing research for this very assignment. Angered – and a little panicked – I googled frantically to find an alternative source for free, downloadable, independent music. I came upon a site called Spotify, which was structurally similar to Lala.com. It is a place where users can store playlists, search for their favorite artists, share tunes with friends, find similar artists to the ones they enjoy – and even find local artists in their area. Unfortunately, when I tried to subscribe to this magically-delicious-sounding service, I was informed that, although their dream is to have all the music in the world available instantly to everyone wherever they are, “…for the time being, we’re not able to launch in every country. We’re really sorry about this, but it takes time to arrange licensing agreements with record labels and local publishing rights societies. Rest assured we’re doing everything we can to resolve this, and hope to offer Spotify in many more countries as soon as possible.” Spotify is available in Finland, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

I then went on to discover that yet another liberal, cloud-utilizing company – SimplifyMedia – had been obtained by one of the other media monsters, Google. It shut down in March of 2010.

Other alternatives to Lala.com weren’t valid alternatives at all; they were pay sites.

The conclusion?

We need more hippies and less billion-dollar corporate takeovers… but for now, we just need some more Kleenex.



CitizOn

In the late 1960’s, The U.S. Defense Department lays the foundation for what is to be known as the Internet.

In 1971, microprocessors are created, laying the foundation for PCs (Personal Computers.)

In the early 1970s, email is invented.

In 1982, the National Science Foundation (NSF) makes it possible for computers to connect across the nation.

By 1993, Web browsers are available to the public.

In 1999, Blogging software initiates the blogging revolution.

By 2005, Broadband’s popularity all but quashes the now-antiquated process of dial-up Internet connection.

By 2010, Most people get internet on their phones. Texting is the new phone call. Blogs are like phone numbers: everybody’s got one. Social networking is a must – you’re either on Facebook or MySpace or you’re homeless. YouTube is the new star-finder. Almost no one purchases CDs – they merely download music from the internet and either burn it or rip it onto their digital device of choice. However, bots and spammers have inundated the major chatrooms; the only way to make friends with a live stranger online is to join a fantasy world. World of Warcraft, City of Heroes, AION and many other MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) offer participants the opportunity to chat with human beings on the internet – with the additional bonus of seeing a visual depiction of the person’s fantasy role play character.

In 2015, All of the rules have changed.

Television news – all but the shocking, witty, humorous and entertaining commentaries – is essentially obsolete. Instead of newspapers, local stations or radio, consumers are spider-webbed together in a never-ending, ping-pong exchange of hearsay, rumors and occasional information. A networking system called CitizOn – which functions on mobile phone apps and the internet – connects everyone to one hub. Citizen journalism rules in this world; consumers prefer to hear news – however inaccurate – from the source. Everyone is a contributer. Everyone is a consumer. Contributers can enter newsbits by text, email, phone call or at the site itself. Consumers can sort news by selecting personal preferences at the site, voice searching terms, texting keywords and various other methods.

The gatekeepers are left behind for a setting that resembles a loose gathering of the community for the passing down of campfire folklore. The public cries out less for information and much more for entertainment. Television is primarily utilized for images worthy of shock-value; anything less results in minimal ratings at best – consumers prefer the medium of the internet to television. In order to get viewers to purchase cable, let alone plunk themselves down in front of the tube at specified times of day, is a nearly impossible task. It is the enormous undertaking of the television networks to grab the attention of the masses… which doesn’t always work.

Very few journalists are paid for what they do; it is a dying art. Certainly no one is impressed by the quality, vocabulary or content of the messages; therefore, craftspeople of the written word are unnecessary and obsolete.

A Long Time Ago, In a Land Not So Far Away…

The possibilities were endless. Nursing homes and retirement communities, it seemed, had effectively taken over the state of Colorado. With one set of grandparents dead and one set of grandparents not responding to my emails, I armed myself with deadly precision and accuracy up to speeds of 100wpm and listened as some lady I never met told me about the good old days.

Carol Lookabaugh. 74 years old.

On the Record

When I asked about what records she listened to and who her favorite recording artists were, she talked about the Carpenters, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Johnny Cash – but she mentioned Elvis Presley about five times. “Elvis, naturally,” she said, as though her preference was not due to an unshakable melody tugging at her heart, but was merely a social decision which had been made for her. Naturally she liked Elvis – since everyone else did, too. This is curiously antithetical to the highly-individualized tastes of the teens of today – try as I might, I cannot conjure a single musical figure who everyone is naturally expected to enjoy in this day and age.

Her financially meager existence was mirrored by those around her; she said she couldn’t even remember her “wealthy” girlfriends owning a record player. She couldn’t even remember how much a record cost, she’d bought so few of them. When asked where she got her records from, she told me that she bought them from whatever store was in the neighborhood – she wasn’t raised in the big city, after all. There were less franchises at that time and less musical selection. There was a smaller range of musical tastes and genres. I would be willing to bet that most big cities didn’t carry anything different in their stores than the local shops did. Even if they had, it didn’t seem as though most people were able to afford record players and records to play on them, so the music business wasn’t nearly as convenient nor as massive as it is today.

On the Radio

This woman was one who’d grown up in a home of very little means; she was one of the middle children in a casserole of thirteen siblings. She was a country girl who did a lot of chores. Her memories involving recorded music are vague; she couldn’t even recall if they’d had a record player at all. She’d had a tiny radio which accompanied her as she did mountain after mountain of dirty dishes. She told me that her favorite programs were My Gal Sunday and Shadow Knows. When I asked why, she explained, “They were convenient to the times when I was doing the dishes, I guess.”

She dismissed the idea that any type of media censorship was conceivable then and asserted that parental limitations on media were virtually non-existent, due to the innate integrity of the music and film of her time. She consistently suggested that I survey the younger generations to discuss parental censorship issues. Such a thing wasn’t even discussed in her time. “No, I was fortunate to grow up in the 50’s; it was an extremely good era for that kind of stuff. We could walk the streets and we never had any of the concerns that we had in the 60’s and 70’s. We didn’t have to worry about walking down the street and someone’s gonna steal from you; there wasn’t even a war going on when I was a teenager. One when I was a kid and one when I was married, but during the time when I was a teenager, we didn’t even have wars,” she insisted. This seemed to correlate with the fact that she found out about the artists that she listened to exclusively from the radio. Since radio at that time was a singular, unalterable source, and since there was very little opportunity for content tweaking from the masses, I’m guessing that anything unconventional didn’t get its pinky in the door. “It wasn’t like it is today where you can buy all the garbage you want,” she criticized; then added, “We were pretty limited in choice.”

She recalled having occasional static on the radio, remembering that it faded in and out when the radio technology first came out. But when she was a teenager, she said, they had very good technology. She couldn’t recall any major changes in the airwaves when FM came out other than a few extra channels.

Overall, I was receiving a “so-what” attitude from her toward radio and music. She seemed disinterested in the entire enterprise. This indicated to me that she saw the music and radio stations of her time as a media with which she was saddled; one from which she didn’t derive much pleasure due to her lack of options. Maybe she didn’t even like the music back then; it appeared to me as though she settled for the types of entertainment that she chose, as opposed to freely choosing things which appealed to her. There was very little variety then and, due to that fact, I believe that many people derived very little pleasure from what they got stuck with.

On Television

“Well, most people just had little bitty TVs; they were – you know the little black-and-whites that they have? That’s what we had. You were just lucky to have a TV period,” she recalled unenthusiastically. She mentioned that, at the time of her childhood, the country had been recovering from the depression; she didn’t recall her own family having a household television until she’d already moved out and gotten married. That her aunt owned a television set when she was young stuck out in her mind; she used to watch her aunt’s TV when she’d visit. However, the same sentiment of indifference crept into this discussion as well – to her young eyes, it wasn’t that different from going to a movie, except that you could watch it at home.

When I asked her what she remembered about the commercials, she told me that there weren’t nearly as many commercials back then as there are now. She said there might have been one or two commercials for every half hour of television. She told me that she remembered very little about the commercials themselves except for a few jingles – she claimed that “they” (meaning the media) had to make the commercials interesting and catchy to get people’s attention. She also extrapolated regarding the size of the screen, saying, “If we had seen a screen like the ones we have now, we’d have thought we were in the movie theater.”

On Movies

Carol told me about the first time her father took her to the movies; she’d seen the Disney movie, Fantasia. She seemed to invoke a bit of enchantment at the memory of her first movie-going experience; she called it a “fantasy musical.” She again referred to herself as a country girl, explaining that she wasn’t in league with her peers when it came to viewing films; she said that many other teens probably went to the theater once or twice a month, whereas she didn’t get much opportunity to do so. When her father took her and a few siblings to see Fantasia, it was a rather large family expense. Her favorite films growing up were Bette Davis and Doris Day romance flicks, such as Move Over, Darling and Pillow Talk. She also remembers Al Jolson, the white man who made a living impersonating black singers. “Al Jolson was a pretty famous singer; he was kind of – he sang a lot of negro songs and painted himself black to be able to sing those and he did it real good and that’s how he got his popularity,” she reminisced.

Gone With the Wind was another huge hit in the theaters; Carol came to comprehend the far-reaching scope of this blockbuster when she saw that stage performances were copying the movie. Its Academy Award wins launched it starkly into the public eye.

Perhaps the most telling answer I obtained from this septogenarian was her last response. I asked Carol what movies were the most influential for her. She questioned the exact meaning of “influential,” and I defined it as something that changed her perspective, point of view, or outlook on life. She replied, “The only thing that I could kind of say… Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds, Vivien Leigh – all those gals were very lady-like and the men were gentlemanly so that’s kind of what you expected to get when you grew up and got married; it influenced the way you thought about adults and marriage and that kind of thing.”