Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, April 26, 2005
"THE FUTURE OF THE MUSIC DORK IN THE DIGITAL AGE".....So last night Kim Cooper & David Smay, the editors of "Lost In The Grooves", hosted an event -- a reading, if you will -- at Moe's Books in Berkeley, CA. I was kindly asked to contribute a little something, and not wanting to embarrass myself by reading a flippin' record review out loud, I wrote the following "piece" for the audience. I wasn't heckled, I wasn't jeered, but my wife and I did have to hustle out of there quickly so we could stop the babysitter's clock from bankrupting us. A real goddamn hipster, that's me. Anyway, the night was a fun one. Chas Glynn and Max Hechter in particular brought the house down with respective tales of bizarre thrift store LPs & the joy of discovering THE SILVER.

My thing here was written for a listening, not a reading audience, but I reckon my predictions may hold true just the same. Here it is:


The winds of change have long been beating down upon the record collector dork and his old, archaic, socially alienating ways, with trends having accelerated at warp speed just the past five years. Modern music dorks, like many of us in this room, find ourselves both enlivened and thrilled by the digital age of eBay and of instant access to other people’s record collections via file-sharing, while completely befuddled by how we’ll exist in a world where our music collections are an intangible assortment of 1’s and 0’s. A book like “Lost In The Grooves” is a rapturous celebration of the tangible: finding and holding and nearly making love to some holy grail LP in a thrift store, being turned on to a life-changing record by discovering it in your older sister’s record collection, or holding on to the knowledge of some secret LP that only existed in a small pressing & only you and your hipster doofus friends know about. It’s old school to say the least, and it’s a way of life & of thinking that’s looking increasingly anachronistic every passing year.

Now it’s come down to the music, the music, with all of the trimmings starting to wither away. Today I can go onto a file-sharing network like Soulseek – which seems to be where all the modern collector dorks congregate – and pretty much find anything I want, including way-out-of-print 45s, obscurities from the punk era, rockabilly compilations made in Luxembourg, and private-press LPs that someone digitized and loaded onto the network for quick consumption. If somehow I’m still missing something, I can always find someone over the internet who’s willing to burn it for me if I search hard enough and send nice emails, because with each passing day more and more long-lost 45s and LPs are being transferred to MP3 format. All it takes is one lonely, socially-inept misfit with a large record collection and the right software, and in a few months, a million copies are literally there for the taking.

Let’s project to how this might play out five years from now for you, for me, for all of us – the proud, yet frightened music dorks of 2005:

1. There won’t be any worthwhile song that isn’t incredibly easy to find online. Music dorks will find it nearly impossible to trump someone else with their ultra-rare find, because as soon as some tastemaking blog or site posts the file, it will be snapped up & spread like wildfire over what will by then be an internet hundreds of times faster than the one we have now. Music dorks will move on to flaunting their bizarre ephemera that no one else has, like some paper-based fanzine or some ridiculous limited-edition promotional tie-in. A deep sense of loss and ennui will set in. Many will throw in the towel and become stamp collectors – or Christians.

2. People will think nothing of emailing or somehow zapping large chunks of their collection to many friends or associates at once. I foresee a time shortly when the discovery of music is not you going to a website or mp3 blog to download something, but some pal of yours sending you twenty files for you to listen to when you wake up in the morning. We do it with photos now, why not with music files in a couple years?

3. The storage capabilities of an iPod or some other portable device in 2005 will look ridiculously limited, but these fist-sized devices are where we’ll be housing our collections. I know it isn’t radical to say that portable devices like iPods will be popular, since they’re wildly popular now, but think of the ramifications when every single track you buy (or steal) is digitized and intangible. You think you were pissed off when LP jacket artwork shrank to CD size? I was, in that way that only people who need a girlfriend and some exercise can be. You’ll be even more pissed when that CD sleeve shows up as a tiny thumbnail on your iPod, or ceases to exist completely.

4. Even the mainstream writers at the New York Times or whatever have recognized that a collection of tracks assembled in some artist-defined order is soon to be dead. No longer will new artists record an album – they’ll record songs, period, and release them one at a time or in very small batches. This will re-shape the way we think about what it means to consume a quote-unquote “record”, and the term “filler”, when applied to a 40-minute LP or to a 70-minute CD, will no longer exist, since filler itself will no longer exist.

5. Those who still collect LPs – maybe even CDs -- will be looked upon by others as the equivalent of Civil War re-enactors or Renaissance Faire freaks – hopelessly bent, stuck in some weird-ass time warp, and lonely and frustrated beyond belief. These people will seek to broaden their obsessions and alienation from society by diving in deep to collector minutiae like flexidiscs, cereal-box records and handheld-camera concert DVDs.

6. Finally, all this abundance will by necessity lead to some filtering. Crap music will still dominate what most people listen to, but as now, you and I won’t concern ourselves with that. What will happen is that the truly great stuff will be heard, and heard by a great many more people than hear it today. The mediocre and the lame will also be heard by many more ears, but there will be a network of gatekeepers, often your friends, or sometimes a web site you like, whose tastes will help govern what you’re downloading and seeking out.

So hey, it’s not all bad. We can either become Luddites and rail about the injustice of technology & write Ted Kaczynski supportive letters, or recognize the glorious bounty before us and give up some of the cachet that came from having something no one else did. We’ll share in this wonderful, collective harvest of sound from here on. You’re all a bunch of communists anyway, right? We’re in Berkeley! To put as fine a point on it as I can : These next five years are when the oft-spoken, but rarely-believed mantra "It’s all about the music" will truly be put to its final test.