Friday, December 2, 2011

Rock and Roll is a Pyramid Scheme

I've been mentally adjusting my personal "best records of 2011" list in anticipation of writing it out for both this blog and for my acquaintance Matt's annual Top 10 Party and Blog, and it's led me to think a whole lot about something that's been brought up among a couple of us in the Latest Flame camp: the shifting role of money and social class in popular music. I mean, let's not play naive or stupid or anything; obviously, money's had a lot more to do with who becomes popular than music itself does for as long as we've had a record "industry." That's not news. But with the advent of the internet, MySpace, filesharing, Bandcamp, etc., a lot of writers all but declared a new era of independent freedom and visibility for even the most basement-ridden of obscure basement bands. Now artists can charge what they want to for recordings without need of a Big Record Label, and anyone can be discovered on their MySpace page, conveniently ignoring that the only artists who can make money off pay-what-you-want downloads are those who previously built an audience thanks to major-label ad dollars, and not realizing that thanks to the now deafening din of billions of media players on millions of Bandcamp pages, those dollars still have to get spent on PR and advertising in order to get them heard by the folks peddling the most influence.

It's not necessarily as nefarious as all that, of course--i'm sure the fine folks at Pitchfork and Spin and what have you are genuine music lovers. But when you have hundreds of PR firms flooding your desk with thousands of promo CDs that you'll never get through, how much time do you have to actively search for new music on your own? I'm asking--i don't really know. I'd assume some effort has to be put in; i know for me the temptation to get lazy and just focus on what's on my desk would be overwhelming, and thus, i'd likely miss out on a lot of the records that i'll be listing in my year-end selection.

I don't do this for a living, so when i rank my favorite albums of the year every December, it's just that--my favorites among what i've heard that particular year. This year, i probably managed to hear somewhere around 30 new releases, which is really good for me. But it also means i definitely missed some records that i'm sure i'd have loved. So it goes--there's only so much time in the day, even when you've been unemployed since May (actually, that could account for why my number is so high this year). I find new music from friend recommendations, a few places i trust online (which aren't many), and most of all, from going to and playing as many shows as i can. I'm in the shit, y'all.

On the flip side, i'm bracing myself for a bunch of "best of the year" lists at the usual Big Music Mags that will look awfully similar to each other. Paste already crowned Bon Iver by Bon Iver their #1 of the year, because of course they did. (Spoiler alert: that record will not be on my list.) Absolutely put out a record this year easily as good as anything on Paste's list, but they're a local Milwaukee band with no one championing them but themselves, Steven Hyden (who mentioned them in an AV Club piece earlier this year only to be met with snide "i've never heard of them, so Hyden must be trying to earn hipster points" comments) and me, i guess, so what are the odds that someone from, say, Pitchfork or Spin saw Hyden's post, saw a name they were unfamiliar with, and gave it a shot? Is that their fault? Not necessarily, because "Absolutely," while being sort of a ridiculous name for a band in the first place, is just one in a wild blur of band names they see every single day. Law of averages. That's just the way of the music world.

So when i run my list, i will be sure to list it as my "favorite" records of the year, not the "best of" the year, because that's a silly thing to say when i haven't heard every note that was recorded in 2011. And when the Big Boys run their "best of" lists, we should probably remember that it's just their favorites as well, because while they listened to a lot of stuff, they missed a lot as well, and for the opposite reason.

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Speaking of the authors of the song from which the title of this post came from, Radio K in Minneapolis had our boys Police Teeth and Waxeater on to perform live last June when the bands toured (and came through Milwaukee, which many of you missed. Shame upon your families). Three songs from each performance are now up on their site (and may have been for a while, i dunno--i just found them today thanks to Rob from Waxeater), and you can hear them for yourself by clicking here for Police Teeth, and here for Waxeater. Bands we like.

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