Jun 25, 2007

To Download or Not To Download?; Or Why Are Okkervil River So Unbelievably Good

We have seen and read all the evidence. CD sales continue to fall as buying digital music continues to rise. However the biggest dent in the sale of CDs is the downloading of music via Internet file-sharing networks. Now of course if you are a music fan it just has to be great to receive great music free of charge. But is it right to do it? I think it can be, but not if you never intend to buy the work that a label and their artists have poured their life into. Now myself I never used to download music and I still only do it occasionally. I only do it when I hear a CD has leaked and if it is by one of my very favourite bands, I just can't help myself. This year I have downloaded Spoon, Handsome Furs, Do Make Say Think, Wilco and Explosions in the Sky. Oh and a bit of New Pornographers and Interpol. That is all, and in each and every case I have either bought the CD the day it came out or I intend to buy it when it is released. Make sure you buy "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" when it comes out. Why do I do this? Because if no one buys the music, will the artists concerned be able to actually make music anymore? Plus I like the feeling of having the CD in my hands, reading the liner notes and lyrics and enjoying the feeling of ownership.

Now I have heard the arguments of downloading music and never bothering to actually buy. "I can't afford to buy CD's." Well if you see a nice shirt in a shop and you can't afford it, do you just take it off the rack and walk out with it? "I need to listen to the whole album before I decide whether to buy It". Well do you read a book before you decide to buy it? Maybe you just need to make a leap of faith sometimes. I know we all make copies for friends of CDs we love. But we can be selective there and I know I have lent or copied CDs to various friends who have often become fans of the music in question and gone out and purchased more music by the artist. I think in this day and age many musicians realise that their music can be spread all over the internet and they can do nothing about it. I guess they hope that there are still enough fans that will make the effort to buy their music. Of course bloggers have a role to play in all this. We try to turn people onto music without posting entire albums on the internet. I try to only post tracks that have been approved by the artist or label. And once the album is released maybe post an extra track to give a little more of a taste. I normally avoid putting up any music that is on a major label and conversely if it a small band trying to make an impression maybe posting more songs will help their career.

Anyway here are some views from musicians I respect who have a pretty liberal and thoughtful approach to the whole issue-
Jeff Tweedy on Wilco albums leaking-
"I think it is antithetical to being a musician to expend any energy on stopping people hearing their music. I have no idea of what the percentage of people who would decide not to buy your record after it leaked would be. If you are making something that you really believe in, then you have a choice of a lot more people hearing it and falling in love with the band (when it happens). Anyway, most people really want something a little more substantial than ones and zeroes on a hard drive."

Noah Lennox on the next Animal Collective leaking in part-
"The only thing we’re really upset about with the leak is that it’s only parts of it. I think there are six songs out there now. People aren’t even able to get the full experience of the album, which bums us all out quite a bit. So if you’re listening leakers (speaking directly into the tape recorder), put up those other three songs, man, pronto."

So there you have it. "Leaking" is inevitable and downloading is here to stay. I think the idea of sharing music is great. But the idea of just downloading all your music and never paying a cent for it just has to be wrong. Please continue to buy music and preferably full albums. Listen to a whole album front to back the way the artist intended it to be heard and if you can afford it, search for more and go and see it in the live arena.

Anyway you might have known by now that the new Okkervil River has leaked and it is truly special. I was surprised at first that the band didn't include "The President's Dead" and "Love to a Monster", two amazing songs that could easily have made their way onto the "The Stage Names". But I am sure Will Sheff had an exact way he wanted this album to sound. It seems to me that he has left behind (maybe briefly) the vein popping emotional train wrecks that dotted the "Black Sheep Boy" sessions. The songs seems to be either insanely catchy up tempo numbers like "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe" or "Unless It's Kicks" (this song totally rocks) or beautiful, touching songs like "Savannah Smiles", "Plus Ones" or "Title Track" (could be my favourite track). And the closer "John Allyn Smith Sails" is next to perfect as it segues into "Sloop John B". Just deliriously good. I have no intention of posting any songs except the one already approved by the label. Just trust me, come August 7 buy this album. I definitely will be.

Here are the opening verses from "Plus Ones" to give you a taste-
No one wants to hear about your 97th tear
So dry your eyes or let it go uncried, my dear
I am all out of love to mouth and to your ear
And not above letting a love song disappear before it's written

And no one wants a tune about the 100th left balloon
that was seen shooting from the window of your room
To be a spot against the sky's colossal gloom
And land deflated in some neighbor's state that's strewn with 99 others

MP3: Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe


  • At June 26, 2007 , Blogger Oz said...

    I actually have to dispute that downloading of music is the biggest dent in the sales of CD.

    While it is a factor I personally believe it is overstated as it ignores other factors that have played a role in its decline (and the previous highs of CD sales)

    The rise of other consumer products such as DVDs and consumer electronics. More things to spend limited money on.

    CD sales were previously much higher because people were changing from vinyl to CDs. This transition which happened over many years provided a good base for growth in CDs.

    Those people who say they can't afford to buy CDs (if that's actually true) then it would merely be a hypothetical loss.

    Here's a good research report on it all.

    Sorry for the rantage but I just think the myth that file-sharing is the only reason for the decline in CD sales needs to be smashed.

    My approach to downloading is more liberal (since its introduced me to lots of music I would've never heard before) but still I do think you should buy and support good artists when possible (and see them live). Support the good artists, let the bad ones leave the record companies in red.

    On a somewhat related note, whenever anyone discusses downloading it makes me think of this comic.

  • At June 26, 2007 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Nice write-up, I tend to agree with most all you have said...

    I d/l the new Okkervil River; it's superb. I liked it on first listen, but have since played it from beginning to end about 4-5 more times, and it really is sensational - I am waiting for it to appear on Amazon as pre-order, as Insound.com charge too much for delivery of one album ($10USD) to Australia.

    The deluxe edition (limited to 5000 copies) will have a bonus disc of Will singing solo demos of the album tracks - sweet...

  • At June 26, 2007 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    OK, just checked Amazon (the album was added overnight) - the deluxe edition is the SAME price as the standard - weird.

    Although, at Insound.com it's also the same price for either edition. Why bother?

    Anyhow, this is good news, I will pre-order now.

  • At June 26, 2007 , Blogger Wayne said...

    Oz- You make several valid points. My views were based on anecdotal evidence of many people saying to me "I don't buy CDs, I just download them". I think any form of sharing good music is great, I just hope that people still outlay some money on music rather then never spend a cent. Obviously the rise of digital music sales (Itunes, Emusic, etc.) shows people still buy music, I just prefer it in hardcopy and I also like to go to CD shops and search thru the racks hoping to find something I like. Anyway I welcomed your comments and I naturally welcome any other thoughts on this topic.

    NBA Games- I can't stop playing "The Stage Names". It is truly special I believe. These deluxe editions are a good idea. Merge Records in particular probably realise it is good way to encourage people to buy their CDs.

  • At June 26, 2007 , Blogger bill.elenbark said...

    Excellent post Wayne. I've been wanting to post on this topic recently, specifically about the New Pornographers/Iron & Wine leaks out last week. I have in recent years done my best to avoid pre-released albums to save up the joy of the songs for when I would actually purchase the album. But it's been impossible with so many leaked tracks coming out to avoid hearing much of, say, Neon Bible, before getting the "whole album experience" like Animal Collective said.

    I think that has kind of ruined some of these albums for me (ie. Neon Bible) where other albums like the new Modest Mouse - I resisted until I bought the album and the experience was much better. That being said, my resistance for the New Pornographers/Iron & Wine CDs was not there, mostly because they're not exactly my favorite bands and I wanted to see if I liked the new CDs (Challengers - YES!, Iron & Wine - eh...) So now I'm faced with, ok, I guess I have to buy the albums when they come out in August or September, but it does feel kind of anticlimactic. I'll do it for the artists, but it does feel almost a little foolish. I kind of wish there was a way for the artist not to let leaks out there so far in advance.

    Which brings me to Okkervil... as you know, I'm a huge huge fan and you're just informing me that it's leaked. I'm going to try to hold out again - completely - but it will obviously be difficult. I'm not sure I have an answer either way.


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