Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Smiths: A Modern Study in Music Acquirement

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A few days ago, I decided to do a quick study in music acquirement, specifically that of the modern age today. The topic of the choice: The Smiths.

I really hadn't explored The Smiths much until this point, so I felt it was the perfect way to jump-start my capstone research. Because I needed a slightly older band with history. A band that have had experience releasing vinyls in the past. A band with a large following. With a lead that girls would kill over. YouTube videos. Past massive success.

I needed a band that would heavily contrast to up-and-coming artists (I know a couple in Brooklyn and Chicago), due to budget constraints or by choice, have chosen to release completely digital records to the Internet for consumption. More on that later.
For now, it's all about The Smiths and how I naturally searched the Webosphere for their material. It started with an MP3 given to me by a friend about 2 years ago. The song? "I Know It's Over." I hadn't heard the song in ages. It was dreary, full of pent up angst, and beautifully crafted like an origami boat. It sparked excitement in me. I had to find out more.

Being a poor graduate student, my next step on the Internet was clear: Google, YouTube, and Soulseek. Google would provide me with 50 best recommendations. YouTube would give visual stimulation in addition to playlists by members. Soulseek would give me the highest bitrate MP3 for free. All of this seemed natural and satisfyingly procedural knowing that it was a fail-safe method of acquiring the information I needed to further my understanding of The Smiths. Seeing as this method had worked time and time again, I saw no need for an alternative process.

The next few songs were the hit singles: "How Soon Is Now?," "Bigmouth Strikes Again," and "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side." I found these songs by rating via Google. There was also a Yelp post asking, "What are your top 5 Smiths songs?" dated back in 2007. There were over 100 responses. I read through them all and listened to all of the songs the members suggested, first by YouTubing for an initial skim, followed by a search in Soulseek, then downloading the highest bitrate MP3 I could find. I never settle for anything 192kbps or less.
I continued by downloading an entire "The Smiths Hit Singles" set on Soulseek after finding a user who had all 320kbps MP3s. While listening to "Panic," I gleefully watched my downloads go from 16 KB/sec to 100 KB/sec to slowly fill up my "impossible to fill" 2TB hard drive on my desktop PC. Never once did I question the legality of my process. It seemed too natural and intuitive. Just the next step after another. The passing of an idea.

Before I realized, I had about 33 curated and tested songs by The Smiths sitting in my Downloads folder. I had renamed them all to have a consistent naming convention. That was my OCD at work. It was 3AM. My headphones had been blasting for over 4 hours straight. I listened to "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" again.

It's been about a week since this process and my new MP3 collection consisting of my current top songs by The Smiths patiently sit in my Downloads folder, awaiting some sort of sorting process before it finally goes into my MP3 folder. Seeing as I've already acquired about 20 more songs over the past week from various music blogs and recommendations by friends, The Smiths - along with half of its album art missing) - starts to lose its priority.
And that's okay. Because these MP3s won't degrade. They don't take up much physical room. They'll just sit on my hard drive. Like a Word document. Like any other multimedia I collect on my hard drive.

"Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before," I ask. I think many of us take a similar, if not identical, approach to music discovery today. Sure, some may prefer Pandora, HypeMachine, and Rhapsody over others, but the real problem lies in the lack of nostalgia/emotional connection tied to the music we acquire today.

No longer are the "memories of Dad putting on the record player for all of us to listen" - it's "Dad connected the iPod into the sound system." And that's just fine with me. What does bother me is the modern day lack of consideration for music and movies as a form of collectible art. Perhaps due to the fact that there is no longer a piece of art associated with mediums (digital album art itself has its own set of negative connotations to being easily replicated), the end result is a medium that feels unfinished compared to its predecessors. Technology-centric. Lacking something that makes us feel human.
My only hope is that digital music could one day be experienced a little differently. Collected differently. To one day be held and valued as much as the records we collected back in the day, but feel just as warm, nostalgic, and satisfying to keep as the books and vinyls seen in our fathers' den.


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