Oct 30, 2008

Music & Journalism & the Web

Apropos the back-and-forth below about the future of journalism in the Web age, I've been thinking a bit more about the relationship between content and the Internet. When I chatted recently after my interview with Duncan Sheik, and the fortunes of the music business came up, I realized: Damn if I haven't been pursuing the two fields most egregiously decimated by the ascendance of the Web! (Somehow the movie and TV businesses have more or less avoided the economic apocalypse facing music and publishing--yet another reason to kick myself that I didn't make more use of my film/TV degree.)

Apart from larger career and industry concerns, this dilemma affects me on a fine-grained, almost minute-to-minute basis: As an unmediated, still essentially un-monetized distribution platform, the Web has made my life as a consumer of music and journalism so much busier, more active, and, some might say less charitably, more obsessive-compulsive (more on that in a second). As a maker of music and journalism, the Web has been important but not central to my life and work--so far. But I'm beginning to glimpse the forest through the trees, and to see that if there are millions of obsessive readers and listeners like me out there/here, with reading and listening habits shaped and sharpened by the Web, then we sometime makers of things to read and listen to will not be starved for an audience, at the very least. Whether it's a paying audience, or an audience advertisers will pay to distract, is the rub.

As for this brave new world of seemingly unlimited distribution and consumption, the picture isn't all rosy. More is not always better. That seems an obvious point, but until you live it firsthand it's not self-evident. I wrote a little on this theme a few year backs, in a be-careful-what-you-wish-for post about how the iPod and iTunes had changed my relationship to music (I'm still wrestling with the same issue--to wit, I'm still not sure I've heard every track on the Elvis Costello CD I referred to in that post, let alone the 17 albums he's released since then). And this post on the emusic blog (h/t Digital Audio Insider) hit very close to home:

If I think back to the time when I was getting really hooked on certain bands, I was purchasing probably 1-2 albums a month; where now I get 10-15 albums, plus all the free stuff...and don't get me wrong it's great, but sometimes I feel I lack the time to really get to know a particular piece...I definitely spend less time with each album than I used to. It's not even that I get bored with albums, it's that I have 75 downloads per month, plus a few subscriptions to Song of the Day podcasts, plus music my friends give me...the end result being I can love a band one month and get so distracted the next that I forget about it...It's a trade-off of the Internet age -- more bands to listen to, and less time to spend with each one.

...I'll get stuck on one record for a few weeks at a time. As a consequence, I start getting anxiety about all the really great stuff that's passing me by just because I can't seem to stop listening to, say, J-Live or Shearwater. There are so many records that I keep "meaning" to get to -- so many records that I know I'd probably love -- and I'm afraid I'm just going to end up missing them.

I feel very similarly about the news and opinion blogs I look at several times a day (particularly this election season). Trying to turn this picture around, how does such consumer behavior affect the livelihood of those who make the stuff we consume? In the case of journalists and musicians--so far, so abysmally. Still, the fact that music and journalism continue to be made and eagerly, all too eagerly, consumed, gives me a few tiny shreds of hope.

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