Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What I've Been Listening To Lately & A Rambling Tangent

Not that I think anybody but me would care, but I just thought I'd mention what I've been listening to lately. It'll also give you an idea of how far behind I am in the long list of things I want to listen to. I don't tend to listen to things in the chronological order in which I get them, but I jump around a lot. I find music is a great therapy during bad times (as I suspect many bloggers in the blogosphere do), so it's a constant source of enjoyment and succor. Listening to many of these (mostly) downloaded treasures provides many hours of much-needed joy and relief, so I'd like to put out a blanket thanks to all those wonderful bloggers who made these available.

I'd just got through listening to all 10 volumes of the Easy Tempo series made available at Endless Mike and it was fantastic. I was suprised at how consistently listenable hearing it all in a row like that was. Usually I don't like to listen to too much of the same music all at once; I tend to get bored with hearing the same sounds for too long. So I was expecting to break up the different volumes with other albums, but I ended up listening to them all in a row. I suppose if you don't like Italian lounge music, it might drive you crazy, but I loved it. So much great Italian soundtrack material there and a surprising attention to consistency and flow of material on each disc. I don't see the Easy Tempo CD's in the stores here as much, but if I get the chance to buy them, I'd love to get them.

Some people might find that funny, but I think like a lot of people who download music, it doesn't preclude them from still wanting to get the CD's. It's a little like the difference between getting a print of the Mona Lisa and owning the original. You're happy to have the print, but if you had the opportunity to own the original, you wouldn't mind that either. Sometimes some (but not all) people who attack music sharing (or who attack bloggers like Hans, for instance) seem to forget that mp3's, m4a's, etc. are still compressed files (unless it's in some kind of lossless format); they're not totally interchangeable with the original CD's or LP's. People still like having the physical thing in their hands - the artwork, the liner notes, etc.; sure you'll read a book as a PDF, but a lot of people still want the actual book in their hands. And so it is with music too. Yes, we're happy to have the mp3's and enjoy listening to them, but it doesn't mean we won't still buy it, if we have the chance. Mp3's are still pale copies after all. Good enough for most of us for listening pleasure, but not the same as having the album.

I suspect that for a sizeable segment of the people who download music, the vast majority of the things they download are things they wouldn't have purchased anyway. The overall costs involved, not being exposed to the material or even being aware of its existence, not being willing to experiment with something that costs $20, and the unavailability or rarity of some material are all factors, I think, in why those downloaded albums wouldn't have been purchased in the first place. I think that's true with a lot of (if not most) people; if they took a look at their downloaded collections, I suspect that most of what's there aren't things they were planning on buying in the first place. I know that's true with me (but then again, I don't really gravitate towards the top 40, so maybe my view is skewed).

Actually, I wasn't intending to go off on this tangent, but hey, why not? That's what blogs are for, I guess. I can remember when I first started buying CD's they were in the $12 to $14 range. This was when they first started supplanting LP's in record stores. Actually, for the first couple of years that I had a CD player, I think I only bought maybe 2 CD's (long story), and so I only started buying CD's coincidentally around the time when some of the major record store chains started phasing out LP's. It was an interesting time. As CD's became more and more popular, you expected the prices to come down. It did initially in the 1980's, I think (I wasn't paying too much attention to that back then), but in the 1990's as they became dominant, the prices seem to steadily rise (long before mp3's and file sharing). I didn't really think much about it at the time. I guess I just attributed it to a combination of inflation, the cost of the transition from LP's to CD's, and the record stores needing to make more of a profit. I only started noticing when the prices got closer and closer to $20 and that's when it started to make me wonder. Although I do remember wondering a little bit when I would see classical CD's selling for $4 and other things that weren't in the public domain (as far as the composers were concerned) were closer to $14 or $15. I couldn't help but wonder how they could make a profit on $4 to $10 CD's or what accounted for that disparity.

I used to think that the cost of the materials to make a CD would naturally be much more expensive than the vinyl it took to make LP's. Then you find out how cheap it is to actually manufacture a CD (especially once they were produced on an even wider scale for computer software, CD-ROM's, etc.) and I couldn't help but scratching my head over why CD's were so expensive. It didn't seem to make sense why they would be so much more expensive than new LP's were. It didn't seem that everybody who was taking a cut from an LP would've needed to take an even bigger cut where CD's were concerned, but still I didn't think too much about it because I figured there must've been a good reason for it that I wasn't aware of. Maybe distribution costs went up or something like that.

Then I remember going to 1 of 3 major music chain stores in the area, maybe 8 or 9 years ago, and noticing that they raised the prices on most of their CD's about $1 or $2. It was noticeable since they had to re-tag everything from the last time I was there, so you couldn't help but notice the new tags over the old ones. Didn't think too much of it - figured it was a normal price increase. But then I went over to the other 2 chains stores to check out their selections and noticed the exact same thing. Again, I didn't think too much of it, but thought it was strange that there should be a simultaneous price hike at all 3 stores. I figured that it must've been some kind of increase in costs by, perhaps, the distributors that the companies were using, or something like that. Then I saw a similar $1 or $2 increase on some of the CD's at the local Best Buy. It did seem kind of strange, but again, I didn't think too much of it. Then, some time later, I heard about allegations and I think eventually judgements against some of these companies for price-fixing, and then it made a lot of sense.

Years later, when prices were now closer to $18, $19, & $20 per CD and filesharing was well under way, only then did I really start thinking about these issues. Yes, call me dumb, but the debate over these things, started making me really consider the issues of just how & why the companies were marking up the prices. Now, don't get me wrong. I thought about some of that before as I've mentioned, but when there really isn't much of an alternative (other than not buying at all, which I also did), you don't give it much thought. Now, out of fairness, I should say that, except for those early days, I really didn't buy full retail on most CD's anyway. I always waited for a sale, bought at used record stores, etc., so that was another reason that I didn't think too much about what the companies were doing as far as their full retail prices were concerned. (Although, you can't help but notice that stores can run a $4 or $5 off sale on their CD's and still make a profit!).

Then along comes file sharing, downloading, music blogging, etc. and people start using these as the sole excuses for why record sales may be going down or why the music industry may be stagnating or in trouble. I couldn't help but start considering whether the companies bring it on themselves. Now I'm not one of those who think we should share music so we can 'stick it to the man' and the vast majority of the blogs I visit seem to be also about sharing for the love of music and not out of some perverse desire to make it harder on record sales (although I have seen a few out there). I think record companies, etc. have a right to make a profit (and it's funny how the argument always revolves around the artists when they seem to make such a small cut in the equation) even if they may be gouging us. It's like anything else. There are lots of things out there that seem to be priced way too high, but we still buy it because we want it. So, I don't think it's totally unreasonable that record companies along with many other companies would overcharge us, and still make a profit. I think Rolex watches may be overpriced, but I don't think it's unreasonable that Rolex should make a profit from it or that people buy them. But by the same token, people shouldn't be totally surprised that people manufacture and buy Rolex knockoffs either. It doesn't mean that they're as good as the originals or that perhaps they should even do it, but it can't be totally unexpected either.

When you charge $20 for new CD's when you used to charge $10 for new LP's (not to mention that you used to charge $13 for new CD's), you can't act all surprised (or outraged) when people look for alternatives. And although it's not exactly the same, it puts me in mind of people who might complain about people looking for alternative fuel sources because they feel gas prices are too high. I'm actually one of those people who don't think it's entirely out of line if the oil companies or oil producers want to charge more. I'm not crazy about paying more, but I think they have the right to charge whatever they want. But of course the way it's supposed to work is that demand is supposed to go down and prices drop. People walk more, ride bikes, go for more fuel efficiency, etc. or to extend an already strained analogy, they buy less music, demand goes down, and prices drop. Now, maybe that's a very naive view of economics, but in some form or another, that seems to be the way that it's supposed to work in a free market economy. Oil is, of course, different from music; it's much messier to put in your CD player, for one thing. Demand for oil is only going up in other countries, so even if it goes down in America, that won't necessarily guarantee a price drop here (amongst many other reasons), but theoretically it should've worked a little more like that for music. As demand for CD's went up in the 1990's and supply increased and manufacturing costs went down, we should've seen some decline in the prices. But we saw a steady increase. Imagine if that had happened with say, computers, or electronics in general. I don't know if that happened with LP's, for instance. Did they start out at a relatively low price and then in the space of a decade go up in price by $4 or $5? I don't really know if they did or not. Doesn't seem like they would have, but perhaps the 1990's were operating under different market forces. I don't know. I'm willing to believe there are legitimate reasons for the price hikes, but still it makes you wonder.

So, if you could make a cheaper 'copy' of oil for your own use and then you shared it with other people, I could see how oil companies would be mad, but I think you also have to see it from the consumer side as well. It doesn't mean that either side is completely blameless, but both sides have their legitimate points. We're already doing a lot of talking (again) about looking for alternative renewable fuel sources. If the technology existed today that allowed people to manufacture their own oil cheaply (even if it was, say, produced from the oil that the oil companies were trying to sell to us), and then people distributed it widely to their friends (or even to strangers), would people blame them? I wouldn't blame the oil companies for trying to stamp out that practice, but it would also be pointless to attack your own customers or deny the existence of a flourishing technology. Would that even be an issue if oil was cheap? or as cheap as it used to be? And most people would still buy the oil from the oil companies rather than using a cheap copy. It's not a perfect analogy, but you get the idea. Imagine the dancing in the streets if we could do that with oil. People feel outraged by the high gas prices (at least in America) so they would think of that as a blessing. People aren't similarly as outraged by the high prices of CD's (unless you're an avid music fan), so there's more of an uproar against file sharing. Oil is considered a necessity (even though it's really a luxury like music is) and people use it much more often, but the ethical arguments would still be the same. Somehow I doubt that the reaction would be the same though. You'd still be hurting the business of oil companies, but I doubt there would be as much outrage as there is about file sharing. And we know that the oil companies have blocked the development of alternative fuels (just think about what happened to the electric car for instance - high demand for it from everyone who had one, but they were eliminated anyway), but we're much more bothered about the idea of that than we would be if record companies tried to block alternative distribution methods. (Yes, I know, the analogy is getting even worse, but it still applies) Oh, well, I get tired just thinking about it.

Whew! That was a long way to go to review things I've been listening to lately. Sorry about that long rambling side trip. I know these things have been debated a million times and these are all hackneyed issues by now, but I got on a roll. Well, this gets into many other issues which I don't have the time or energy to pursue (like the use of ethanol and other fuel sources, all the other issues of file sharing, the fact that I download things even when I've already got the CD since it saves me the trouble of encoding them myself, and a whole myriad of other topics nobody else wants to hear about).

Where was I? Oh, yeah, back to other things that nobody wants to hear about. Let's see.........

Other things I've been listening to recently:

Some great things from Lellebelle - Camille 2000, The Ventures in Space, Talkin' Trash, & Wavy Gravy, Vols. 1 & 2, among other things. The Wavy Gravy volumes are great. I love the way they precede each track with movie trailers. If you already have the Trashorama volumes, you probably have heard most of the trailers already, but it's still fun to listen to. And the songs ain't too bad either!

Just listened to all of Reverend Frost's Christmas mixes. Yes, I know it's June, but that gives you an idea of my listening backlog. They were fantastic, by the way, as is everything that he makes available on his site. I don't know if they're still available (or his Halloween mixes, for that matter, which are also great), but if you feel like cooling down over a hot summer with some Yule tunes (and you've exhausted everything at Falalalala and Red Ryder BB Gun), then go over there and get some.

Also listened to the Ilona Staller compilation at PCL LinkDump - another fun blast from the past.

Listened to some great Blaxploitation albums like Coffy, Melinda, The Mack, Trouble Man, & Truck Turner - more fantastic stuff

Listened to some Association albums

Listened to An Evening With Groucho album from Chasradio. Have a copy on tape that a friend gave me maybe 10 or 15 years ago, and haven't heard it since then, so it was wonderful to hear it again.

Just listened to Man of La Mancha (the complete play from the London Original Cast) available at Bongolong Land - Really enjoyed listening to that one. I think I heard it on the radio a long, long time ago and may have it somewhere in my collection, but I'm not sure if I do, so it was wonderful to get a copy (one that I definitely know I have).

Scattered throughout, I listened to 3 or 4 programs of Coverville - always fun.....& an edition (actually the only one, I think) of Withdrawn Radio

Went through all the Al Hirt & Pete Fountain albums (& The Jazz Crusaders album) available on the old Hamhead's Basement site - all incredible stuff - love Al Hirt & Pete Fountain, so was glad to hear this rare out-of-print material from them. Unfortunately, those albums aren't available anymore (though I think the Jazz Crusaders album is still available at the newer incarnation of his blog, Hamhead's Cellar) and even more unfortunately is what happened to Hamhead. Hope things go better for him in the near future. And hope those issues he has with some of the other bloggers were just misunderstandings. If not, they should be ashamed of themselves.

The Standing Ovations with Rhonda Lee album from Pastor McPurvis - fun album. Another blogger who's retired from his blog. A shame, but considering all the great work he's done in the past, he deserves any rest he wants. Hopes he comes back someday.

Just finished listening to the David Soul album available at Dartman's World of Wonder and am in the middle of listening to the soundtrack to the original Little Shop of Horrors also available at Dartman's. The only song I was familiar with from the David Soul album before I listened to it was his hit 'Don't Give Up On Us', so I had some reservations about what I was going to hear, but the album is folkier than I thought it would be, so it was a pleasant surprise.

Am also currently re-listening to the double CD set of Miklos Rozsa's King of Kings soundtrack.

That's all the ones I can remember listening to lately, but there were probably a few others in there somewhere that I missed.

Wow! Until I listed it all out, it didn't seem like I had listened to that much stuff in such a short space of time. I guess your mind plays tricks on you. Well, it was all great stuff. Can't think of a clinker in the bunch. Nothing where I thought, 'That's so much worse than I was expecting.'

And in the immediate listening pipeline: more albums from Dartman including the Scott Baio album and the William Shatner tracks; some tracks from Ill Folks, specifically his Honor Blackman tracks & Gene Pitney material; the scores to Spamalot, Wicked, & the soundtrack to X-Men III: The Last Stand; and I may listen to some more albums I got from Barbecue Bods, I may start digging into some of the Down in the Groove albums I've been wanting to listen to, I may also listen to some Groovy Fab & Jean's Music Blog albums, and possibly catch up on my Music You (Possibly) Won't Hear Anyplace Else tracks -- I'm caught up all the way to early May on those.

Now if I can just listen to those 600 or 700 other albums and 600 or 700 other loose tracks, I'll be all set! (Actually, I don't know what the real number is, but I wouldn't be surprised if it isn't even higher than that.) Then all I have to do is download 600 or 700 more albums that I've been wanting to get around to and then the cycle begins all over again..............

Well, as you can probably tell, I don't usually listen to material immediately after I get it. It sometimes takes a long time to work its way through the queue. And it depends on my mood as to what I want to listen to. As a result, it makes it very hard to leave timely comments on people's blogs, so I'm glad I have the opportunity to comment on them here. Listing it all out reminds me of just how much great stuff people have made available and it makes me want to commend them for it even more, so I'm going to try to leave more comments on their sites as well, if I can.

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