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Think harder. Keep in mind that you can be active or passive about your cassette, record, compact disc , or download purchases. There is more music being released now than ever before. If you're serious about your music, you're going to have to think harder about what you buy. Keep in mind the four levels of music releases: #1: no label-an artist puts material and sells it without a label involved; some of these artists may go on to create their own label #2: small independent label-usually run by an artist who releases his/her own material and may release material from others as time progresses; most of these companies survive from one release to another #3: large independent label-a label that has grown and has been able to broaden their roster, advertise, and gain a larger profile. Some large indies, however, are now operating more like majors. #4: major label-larger staff, advertising, and publicity budget; with recent mergers, a handful of major labels now control the majority of music we hear about. Only you can make the choice whether to support an indie or a major. Buy a turntable--it doesn't have to be a Technics 1200-- you can get a good used model at a flea market/pawn shop just about anywhere. If you're just buying CDs, there's a lot of good music available only on vinyl that you're missing out on. But, in the same regard, buy the records because you enjoy the music--don't be sucked into the hopes of becoming a superstar DJ. Enjoy music for the sake of it; leave the ulterior motives behind. Be political about the music you buy; music is the only universal language and yet we take it for granted far too often when we bring out our wallets. Make your music purchases personal: don't buy anything just because you've heard it's good, read it's good, or it's been charted by a certain DJ or in a certain magazine. Support your local music store before the national chain; support your local music scene and put an end to the sad reality that most artists are never appreciated in their own area. Listen to everything before you buy it-any store worth supporting will let you listen to a release to help you make your decision. The next time you're drawn to the top sellers wall, examine why you should even care about what's selling. Does the fact that a release is selling well mean it deserves more attention? Is that release selling well because of a major advertising and promotional campaign or because it's quality music? Radio: examine the radio you're listening to. If it's commercial radio, keep in mind the fact that music is played between the advertisements only because this is a requirement. More and more stations are being automated because it's cheaper to have computers play the advertising and the music than it is to have humans do it. Is this what you want to support? Think of the repetition to which you're being exposed on commercial radio. The playlist you hear is designed to appeal to the lowest common dominator: are you the lowest common denominator or is there more to you than being just another sheep in the fold? By making the choice to seek out alternatives, you are taking a stand against sameness. Music television functions the same way; you can't deny it. Should the amount of money spent on a flashy video influence what ends up coming out of your home stereo speakers? Buy music as if you might be stranded on a desert island with it. There won't be anyone there to show off that you've got the latest this, or the limited edition that, or what's #1 according to your favorite magazine or DJ. You've got to work to shape your own music collection because there are too many people trying to shape it for you. Think harder.
Songs Vs. Tracks
Tracks and songs. Songs and tracks. These two elements are intended to be pieces in the puzzle that is the mix, yet where once they complemented one another and were woven by the DJ into what would become our soundtrack for the evening, they've now become different styles of their own. What happened to the days before the remix and the track, when the short version of a song was simply reedited for longer dancefloor play? This would become the A side of that single's twelve inch, backed usually by an instrumental or reprise, bonus beats, and perhaps an acapella when the song was vocal-based. Why? Because it was the DJ who did the remixing=--live-with these versions, never creating the same result twice, because it was the DJ whose goal was to bring about something new and unique, made exclusively for those dancers in attendance. Here in 1998, as electronic music continues to subdivide like some foreign organism into more and more niches and "next big thing"s, the biggest problem seems to be the number of producers who create only DJ tools, and not songs, and that there are DJs who will play complete sets of what are essentially bonus beats 1998-style. How often do we hear the word "monotonous" in reference to 4/4 one-bar loop tracks? Too often. Many DJs play only tracky material because it is so easy to mix. This is probably best explained by the explosion in DJ culture, the change from days past when the DJ was the music lover who got a gig because of the size of his/her collection, to a time when the urge to "be a DJ" has never been stronger. Does a good DJ play only songs in his set and avoid the loop tracks entirely? No, not at all. S/he uses them for transitions from one part of his set to another, to add another layer to what the crowd is hearing and stamp his individuality on the flow as he reworks the original. And yes, he's not afraid to play a short tracky set at times. Many others in the industry, including label owners, musicians, DJs, and music consumers, agree: we have to bring back the song to electronic music if it is to survive. As Interdimensional Transmissions' BMG said, sometimes all there is to a track is the amount of music between one kick drum and the next. Music must be made memorable, something that stays with the listener after hearing it, something tangible, not just a fleeting bar of sound that is forgotten in the time it takes the DJ to bring another track into the mix. Should we blame Jeff Mills for the plethora of track-based cuts currently being recorded, released, and spun worldwide? With the superstar status some DJs attained, many want to be just like him. Record tracks like his. DJ a set like he does. Neil Landstrumm puts it rather succinctly when he says that the hysteria around Jeff Mills has peaked to the point where Mills could release a turd and people would buy it, he could record and play anything and fans would say, "that's amazing." The problem is that reproduction of someone's ideas and inspiration-taking what you've heard and using it as a catalyst for your own creativity--are two separate affairs. Mills has never asked anyone to record tracks with his blueprint, yet there are now more labels releasing material a la Mills than ever before. What people fail to realize is Mills records for himself-to be used as a snatch of sound in his sonic whirlwind. DJs who play a tracks-only set must keep this in mind and work harder to play more cuts to make their mixes more interesting and give them more movement. A track is not designed to be played in full, it is a component that needs more input, an opportunity, a chance to work another track or a song in and invent individuality Mills' Purpose Maker is a complement to his more song-based Axis. What he promotes is a truism beyond the world of music-the need for balance. Tracks and songs. Songs and tracks.
The decline of the music media?
"My job is to make albums, yours is to describe them." (Speedy J's response in the July/August 1997 issue of Magic Feet when asked about his "Public Energy No 1" album on NovaMute.) Magazine. Megazine. Webzine. Zine. The foundations for new print and web-based magazines are laid every day. Many produce their first issue and, in spite of the statistics, join the global fight for readers. Two out of three magazines go out of business before their first anniversary, with the gulf widening between the worlds of the glossy and the photocopied. The magazines you see on the news stand or at your local record store come in all types. There are magazines that have grown into corporations. Ones that feel all photos of women must be accompanied by a sexist cutline. Mags that merely repeat press releases verbatim. Vehicles started by promoters as essentially a giant flyer for their parties with some words sprinkled throughout to give them that "magazine" look. Vanity projects abound where a number of pages are devoted each issue to pics of the editor with various "celebrities". There are fashion and youth culture rags masquerading as music magazines. Media machines that say you're the bomb one week, a bum the next. Publications with writing so verbose you'd need a dictionary and a map to navigate them. "Labor of love" is certainly a cliche, but it usually fittingly describes the underground music media. While sniping at the majors and praising the independents is a favored hobby for some, the free press is not without problems of its own. Money for these zines, or lack thereof, is usually the biggest obstacle. Because these are often started without a business plan, the editors soon learn that the urge to get the word out alone does not pay the bills. And after going in the hole from production and distribution costs, the reality of putting together a magazine slams home. Some magazines are under the impression that accepting no advertising makes them underground. But not attempting to at least break even on a venture is shortsighted at best. Those who do seek advertising revenue often complain of advertisers who don't take them seriously enough to pay on time--or at all. The goal is to have a balance between advertising and copy, but we've all seen the result when the editorial department can't keep up with their super successful ad counterpart--the next time you pick up a mag and it takes just five or ten minutes to read all of the copy, count the number of pages of ads versus the written stuff--often the percentage is heavily weighted in favor of the ads. There are many artists who refuse to do interviews or restrict the number they do. Why? The complaint heard time and again is that they are tired of getting asked dumb questions. And these questions are always the same, they say, just asked by different writers. With a lack of diversity in the music press, you need only buy just one mag. If one role of the music media is to talk to musicians, what does their growing lack of cooperation imply? Is true music journalism disappearing? Does honesty no longer rule over bias? Is the goal to be informative and critical gone? Speaking of which, are writers now afraid to be critical? Whether coming from the hype machine or the trainspotter's digest, mythology seems to reign supreme when it comes to certain areas. The code becomes "artist X or label Y can do no wrong" and future reviews become announcements of a new release, not critiques. Plus there's the magazines that give glowing reviews (of albums often universally panned elsewhere) to artists soon DJing or performing at events they've sponsored. It's time to rethink our beliefs. There is no music bible, all have their strengths and weaknesses. Journalists merely become publicists with these lazy styles of writing, and magazines lose their value and integrity. No one benefits when the music press loses its journalistic values, its zest to be creative, to be daring, to be unique, individual, and, above all, original.
The importance of innovation
The future of electronic music belongs to those who learn from their predecessors and innovate, not those who settle for simply recycling the past. With hundreds of new records released every week, you'll never hear a DJ or stockist or music lover complain there aren't enough records from which to choose. You do, however, hear the continual cry for less vinyl mass, more music with a purpose. Most independent labels do not have the publicity power of the majors. The latter can employ a team to promote and focus on a single artist with some staff taking care of the press and others servicing radio and the clubs. A full length album can be worked for a number of years as successive singles are released, remixed, and sometimes rereleased. Take Daft Punk, for example. What's the difference between Daft Punk now (on Virgin Records and still riding high on the wave of admiration for their "Homework" full length as yet another single is pulled from it) and Daft Punk from their days on Glasgow's Soma Records? Publicity, nothing more. The music hasn't changed, in fact some of the material on this debut album was originally released close to four years ago. Independents must have a regular release schedule to ensure they've always got a new release on the shelves and on the twin tables. Without a publicist, the label has no one working the phones to ensure constant attention--it's the records themselves that must carry the reputation of the label and keep it on the must-buy lists of consumers and regularly covering the slipmats of the jockeys at the nearest party, club, lounge, radio, or Internet station. Risk too long between releases, especially as an artist, and you've got to make sure that next release is brilliant. Stay in the shadows too long while taking a rest from the busy schedule and be called a flash in the pan. Or worse yet, a comeback artist. Can the independents ever gain ground with such hardships? Furthering the problems, most of these independent labels are run by the artists themselves, not businesspeople. Artists must juggle recording with DJing, distribution with accounting. And they must pay the bills no matter how many records they manage to sell. With so many labels vying for attention, artists face less and less payback from just one record. See the new one from such and such an artist on all the hype sheets and think s/he must be styling? Think again. DJs forced to choose from the onslaught of fresh new tunes can't follow certain artists and buy the majority of their particular releases anymore because record buying budgets can't keep pace with the wax. While some musicians take on a variety of aliases in order to moonlight and try different styles, others do so because they have no other choice. With the shelf life of some records extended to a number of years due to the efforts of press and publicists, many consumers start looking at productivity with a skeptical eye. When we see a large number of records under the same name in a short period of time many of us assume an increase in quantity must mean a decrease in quality and the artist's anchor--the very work they must produce to stay in the scene--becomes an albatross. Thus you'll see many artists choosing pseudonyms and different names for other labels in an effort to beat this assumption. Or waiting in line at their label for their release to be pressed. Labels started up merely to follow the latest trend only make matters worse, as the legitimate ones are overtaken and savvy wins over passion. Any music lover will tell you that despite all this there's nothing better than weeding through the latest batch of vinyl and putting the needle down on a platter infused with that certain something. If the best electronic music is that which can't be imagined until it is actually heard, it is the innovators who will continue to break new ground and chart the course in the years to come. Independent artists and labels will be forced to strive for a balance between music and business, two words that together can leave a bitter taste in one's mouth, but must coexist in order to continue the viability of electronic music. Artists will aim to please those sitting down as well as those standing up, tempering their need to experiment with the knowledge that the dancefloor must be sated. When the right combination is found, this is artistry is all its glory. Artists will continue to make it work. And thanks to the innovation of electronic musicians who have a need to express themselves, the music continues to thrive.
Are we obsessed with DJs?
Are we becoming obsessed with DJs? Check out the cover of the nearest dance music magazine and you'll see that the answer to that question seems increasingly to be positive. The faces smiling back at you, vinyl in hand, are no longer the music makers, but the turntable technicians. With turntables outselling guitars in some countries, the call to the world's youth seems to be stronger than ever to "be a DJ". The DJ is no longer merely the person who plays the records on the radio or at the club or party, but has become the focus of attention; and this is downright scary. Why? Quite simply, DJs have the power to make or break music and are increasingly abusing this position. Think about it for a moment. How often do you hear a song in the mix on the radio or Internet and never find out what it was because the DJ didn't mention a tracklisting or backannounce any of the material played? "When you play it, say it" was the sticker making the rounds on 12"s a couple of years back, and for good reason. Once the artist have recorded and released their material, they've got no control over what the DJ does with it. The radio DJ can get on the mic with "You're in the mix with DJ So-and-so", but you'll never find out what tracks are being played. This happens all the time, and DJs who do it should be ashamed. Often you'll hear the excuse, "I'm playing tracks on wax that the Average Joe or Joanne will never be buying anyway cos they're into Cds, not vinyl". Bull. Dance and electronic music CD compilations outsell albums from artists solely because of club and radio play. If people don't know what they're hearing, they're never going to be able to go out and buy it. The same goes for mixtapes and DJ charts. DJs at clubs and parties almost never announce the tracks they play, but Top Tens and mixtapes are a representation of what's in the crate. How many DJs actually include a tracklisting with a mixtape? While some are sticklers about it, most don't bother. Whether out of sheer laziness or the worry other turntablists are going to check the list and bite their style, when DJs don't credit their tracks the artists suffer. The DJ gets a booking, makes some fans, scores a quick buck, but without a tracklisting the artists played get squat. Most artists appreciate being played out on a mixtape because it gets their material out to the ears of those most likely to buy it--music lovers and other DJs. Skip the tracklisting and you might as well be bootlegging. If you love the music enough to play it out and chart it, give a little back to the artist. Show some respect and you'll continue to have plenty of quality tunes to thrown down the next time you're on the 1200s. Play DJ Superstar and you'll put these artists out of business. And then we'll be stuck with DJ-produced tracks that sound good only over a massive sound system.