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Music Doesn’t Matter

As the main face and evangelist of ccMixter I have compiled a rather large list of the excuses to not participate in the site from both music appreciators and musicians. All the excuses seem to stem from a constellation of symptoms one might call boomer-itis. The boomers’ view on remixing, sampling, commercialization, sharing and the creative process in regards to music is the reason why music, of all transitions from analog to digital, has been the most wrenching. At the psychological core is the buried, traumatic truth that music as a cultural influence has completely dropped off the radar.

Boomers who lived through the 1960’s and still hold sway in the halls of politics and culture were so heavily influenced by the popular musicians of their day it is impossible for them to conceive (i.e. they live in complete denial) of a world where 99% of teen males are gaming and only a tiny percentage identifies in any culturally significant way to musicians. On the other hand, for people born after 1980 there is no sense of this loss at all, buried or otherwise. They have no reference point and therefore no understanding of the enormity of say, every release of a Beatles 45 RPM record. To them, the festival at Woodstock is at most “a concert” or more likely, an entry in Wikipedia about a concert some pony-tailed out-of-touch teacher made them look up.

The loss of teen-angst projection onto celebrity musicians is nothing but a favorable development to everybody else but a loss to the boomer’s point of view. On the shallow end of the hand-wringing over this shift, once acknowledged, is nothing more than the sentimental self-aggrandizing that boomers have perfected. The most valid case is the front and center ideology, no matter how naive or contrived, of a John Lennon has been replaced by what Jason Rohrer calls “murder simulators” like Grand Theft Auto. “Today’s pop-rock is a paradigm of a society that has no values; it is ubiquitous even though the record companies admit that most of it loses money,” mourns Donald Clarke in The Rise and Fall of Popular Music (1995, out of print) even before the advent of Halo and GTA.

Clarke is a boomer in every sense. His passion for music and what it represented in his life inspired him to devote his life (once laid off from his unionized auto factory job) to writing and critiquing modern pop music. Unfortunately, by the time he looked up from his assembly line to follow his muse in the mid-1990’s, he found the once powerful and influential world of Elvis, Dylan, Lennon and Morrison to be less relevant than a $3 cup of burnt espresso drowning in milk. (Note that by 2008 this transition is complete as it’s commonplace to get boomer music by Sir Paul, Ray and Joni while buying a latte at Starbucks and unheard of the other way around.)

“The economic machine unwittingly created by the counterculture,” Clarke continues, “sees to it that pop-rock is aimed at each generation of new customers, yet each year not only is it of less musical value, but the market gets smaller, so it is not selling very well these days.” 
Even though Clarke had no real way of predicting the rise of PC-based home recording or the Internet his diagnosis is shockingly relevant today. That these words were written when the ultra-boomerific Jonas Brothers were zygotes can be seen as prescient or depressing. Or both. Focusing strictly on the business model that became prevalent in music since the 1970’s he still manages to nail the cause on the head, still relevant 15 years later: “Perhaps the problem begins with the fact that nowadays we have less input into our own popular culture.”

Some marketing assholes with way too much time on their hands (is there any other kind?) are happy to declare that user generated content is dead. (FTR: if you actually use the term ‘user generated content’ you are already suffering from one-meeting-too-many-itis and need to find a real job.) As long as net neutrality holds I think it’s pretty obvious that any group of musicians that are sincere about their art will find an audience, including fans who tip, film producers who license and sponsors who sponsor. We just have to hang in there and remember where we really are in the cultural food chain. Hint: Not John Lennon circa 1970.

Happy and healthy new year to everybody!

Oh… Five Oh

…and on a personal note…

I normally don’t talk of such things in public but I guess I can’t resist noting the semicentennial anniversary of the parturition of a certain ornery, perpetual outlier whose accomplishments are to be judged with mixed results.

I only bring this up because I want to take this moment to thank all the people at Creative Commons, past and present, especially Neeru Paharia, Mike Linksvayer, Lucas Gonze and Professor Lessig for their ongoing support to the ccMixter project which I am lucky enough to continue as project lead. Their devotion to the project’s integrity over any personality (including myself) has been an inspiration, a model for how I treat it. I hope I live up to their ideals. I’m also grateful and humbled by the musicians who have taken up the cause at ccM and have been so generous with their time and music. I often worried at the beginning of the project that we weren’t going to attract anybody serious but then along came teru, spinmeister and MC Jack in the Box who have stepped up and given so much to the community and in the process, given me more than a break or two.

While 50 may feel like I’m numerically halfway to something, I’m grateful for all my friends, colleagues and fellow travelers through our online trek for making what I’m sure is the short end of the ride such a fun, greased downhill slide.

If now, or ever, you’re feeling in a giving mode consider the Ella Baker Center, Green for All and Creative Commons.

Here’s a wall stencil I recently saw in Stockholm. It made this old hippie smile.

Is Creativity any Match for Gameplay?

Is creativity any match for gameplay? Not if you believe the more than 3,000 reviews of Spore on Amazon that gave it an average of 1.5 stars out of 5 (!)

It seems the kids were confused by the idea of a “game” where all you do is use your imagination to create creatures. I’m not saying this is a Bad Thing. It is what it is. The end of boomer aesthetics.

My bud Lucas is enamored with a very, very groovy Flash ™ app without any game play but crazy fun nonetheless “You don’t score points by playing this game, you make music” or in this case, a video. I give it a 5 – but then, I’m on the short end of the ride. Here’s my insta-video.

I’m Giving Away Vinyl Records

I have 7 bins of vinyl from the late 60’s through the mid-70’s. Each bin has about 150 records (maybe more, more less, I’m just guessing). Rock, folk, fusion, guitar oriented stuff. I’m in the No. Berkeley hills so if you’re in the bay area in the next four days contact me and it’s yours. This is first come first serve. Everything must go.

Sorry but there’s no picking through the bins – if you come, you get a bin. If you don’t like what’s there, take ’em to Rasputin and get trade or money.