Friday, April 04, 2008

iTune Thoughts and REM-state updates

Hey guys, I am not bereft of thoughts these days, just time. I am still at Indiana University finishing the final two months of work, however I am not certain that I will be back. As wonderful as the assignment has been, and I have loved my time there, there is no guarantee for a renewal. Also, I have not scored even one academic interview... yet. The result is I am on the market in many ways and while I am making baby steps on my research agenda, I have to spend those few hours a week trying to land work in some form or capacity. That said I have no desire to give up the work and thoughts that have been germinating in the last few months and I hope to share more of them here later. I know, I know, I have promised that before. Problem is to do research you need a sense of stability and doing a 500 mile a week commute with a brand new prep and in the search for a job, well, I have little time.

That said, here are a few thoughts: if anything the recent news that iTunes is now the biggest record retailer in the nation is not surprising. However it does obscure a number of issues that we need better data on. First question: how does legal downloading compare to other the high points of the record industry? Right now people are listening to more music than ever before but are they actually buying more? Obviously those pieces of plastic we call CDs or Vinyl are done, but are people simply repurposing their CDs and sharing more DRM free files or simply stealing? The fact is that this interesting news, but hardly the most interesting news we could discover if we only asked the right questions.

Second thought: LiveNation has corralled U2, JayZ and Madonna in the last few months. That means that three of the English-speaking world's most valued live performers will essentially be handled as a sort of roster much like labels did with artists. However, LiveNation will manage the one final asset that only an artist can control, i.e. live performance. Since a U2 concert is really beyond duplication, what this means is that LiveNation in the last week has emerged, along with those EMI, SonyBMG, and Warners the 900 lb gorilla. Those aforementioned media companies can hold on due to a large number of publication assets, so don't expect them to fade away. However, the emergence of LiveNation is part of the rearticulation of music industry, a rearticulation that has been going on since the emergence of Napster in 1997 and something that I think many of us still don't understand (guess what I am studying right now, btw).

Third Thought: The way that REM has gone about their business in the next month is bot exciting and disturbing at the same time. Clearly REM wants a hit. Going on the Today Show and The Colbert Report on the same day, playing SXSW for the first time ever in their career, pressing reporter flesh... it all points to a concerted effort towards relevancy. Two admissions: it turns out I am one of about 10 people in North America that really loved "Around the Sun" and REM was, until I was about 30, my favorite band for an almost 15 year run. So take what I am about to say with a grain of salt. A) The new record is good... it has some great moments (the title cut, "Accelerate" is positively terrific), but it isn't anywhere "Murmur" or "Out of Time". Indeed, what is nice about the new record is that it actually feels "loose". I kind of wish that REM had taken this recording ethos of two takes and let's go to "Monster", which is a record with some nice songs that just never feels, well, monstrous. "Accelerate" has, for REM at least, an "off-the-rails" feel which I haven't heard since "Reckoning".

But... well, REM won't get a hit and here is the reason: they are simply Dad's alternative band. REM, for all the work that they did in their first 15 years of existence seemed to push toward the future of what rock could be. "Accelerate" feels like a nod to the past, one that actually feels like a nostalgia not for older forms of music but THEIR past form. All I can think of when I listen to this record is that the band really wishes that they had Bill Berry back, that they could get back in that van with Jefferson and simply rock from new wave club to new wave club. The problem is both Berry and Jefferson are gone, those clubs closed down years ago and the van is now a charter plane. The record, which I enjoy as a fan, feels as desperate as a lover who has lost his love and wants to win her back being the man she fell in love with. No doubt REM is the one band in the world who sis most capable of acting like "old REM, but as charming as it is, I have my doubts. Would I see them live now? After hearing some of the SXSW concert I would say yes. Will they mean the world to me like they once did? Well, I am not certain that REM means the world REM anymore... Let's hope they can prove me wrong.

Ok, I got some more to write about later... but for now ciao

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