Internet Killed the Video (and Radio) Star

In a very interesting interview, Jaron Lanier describes something that annoys me to no end (boldface mine):

I’m quite concerned that in the future someone might not know what author they’re reading. You see that with music. You would think in the information age it would be the easiest thing to know what you’re listening to. That you could look up instantly the music upon hearing it so you know what you’re listening to, but in truth it’s hard to get to those services.

I was in a cafe this morning where I heard some stuff I was interested in, and nobody could figure out. It was Spotify or one of these … so they knew what stream they were getting, but they didn’t know what music it was. Then it changed to other music, and they didn’t know what that was. And I tried to use one of the services that determines what music you’re listening to, but it was a noisy place and that didn’t work. So what’s supposed to be an open information system serves to obscure the source of the musician. It serves as a closed information system. It actually loses the information.

So in practice you don’t know who the musician is. And I think that’s what could happen with writers.

This happens to me all the time (the gym is the worst).

There are a lot of reasons why the music industry got hit hard, including some severe self-inflicted ones. But radio always served, even in the era of 45s (ur-mp3s for you young’uns), as a way to introduce new music to people. Essentially, it was free advertising (when royalties were paid, it was ‘advertising with benefits’). But that system only works (or works well) when you can actually figure out what was played. Too often, there’s no way to do that.

Unlike many, I never mourned the death of the album–there were a lot of crappy albums. What can be called ‘decontextualization’ is about who is defined as the author. That is, who will make much of the money. When music becomes identified with the channel and not the musician, what we’re witnessing is the de facto ownership of music by music channels–and less payback to musicians and music companies. Over the long haul, that won’t work out well. We will get the musicians we pay for.

And, as the kids used to say, because I can:

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7 Responses to Internet Killed the Video (and Radio) Star

  1. Lynn Dewees says:

    It’s simple, really. Listen carefully, pick a phrase out of the lyrics that you can understand, go to google and search for that lyric – presto/changeo – you’ve got your song. Does not work with instrumentals…..

    • Bayesian Bouffant, FCD says:

      There are many lyrics sites on Teh Interwebs. And many of them are low quality. For example, it is par for the course to find the most recent or famous performer credited with the song, rather than the songwriter.
      As just one example, enter “teenage diplomat” into Teh Google and see who gets the credit for the classic Blinded by the Light.

    • Bayesian Bouffant, FCD says:

      Also, not all music has lyrics.

  2. “When you play it, say it” is a slogan record companies have used over the years to try to get radio stations to announce what they’re playing. That might have worked in the days when pretty much the only way anyone got introduced to music was radio — except that radio stations didn’t even cooperate in the old days. Now it’s really hopeless.

    Could it happen with writers? I look at Tumblr and think, yeah, maybe.

  3. dr2chase says:

    So, hi, former college radio DJ here. There’s upsides to the modern world — now, with the internet, if you hear a song, their playlists are online. Back when your usual option was to hear the DJ saying it (or call him/her on the request line), and a music-oriented college radio station might make you listen for a while (15-30 minutes) before songs are listed. Or worse, see how many 1-minute songs can be played before the DJ falls off the rails — if you happen to like one of those, good luck picking it out of the fifteen that are listed. And no bar codes, either — we wrote those songs on dead trees, with pencil or pen, putting needle to vinyl, taking care to avoid songs containing “FCC material” (“We are Maggie and Terre and Suzzy, singing ‘shit hit the fan’ in 3-part audio-verité harmony.”).

    A friend of mine heard “Folk Song” on the radio years ago, didn’t catch the title, and spent 18 months trying to figure out what it was. If the song’s good enough, you’ll track it down :-).

  4. kaleberg says:

    I used to listen to the radio. I know the DJs actually did announce what they were playing, but usually at the start of the song and usually in a 3.4 millisecond burst overlaid on top of the music. In other words, if you missed the start of the song or inhaled during the intro, you had no idea of what you were listening to. I usually asked friends who had heard the album. The albums had the lists of the songs printed on the record label.

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