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UK Mike (miner2049er)

The Bi-Weekly British Backtrack - iTunes Schmitunes

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For a long time now, I have used portable media players of one kind or another, cassette based, CD based, CD-MP3 based, Hard Drive based and the solid state variety. I have always been a fan of portable media players and have owned several which have always served me well, but recently, things have changed, and not just for me, but for people in general. The way that we listen to all audio based material, but particularly music, has changed.

Gone are the days of watching and listening to long news programs, we want our headlines delivered in short soundbytes so we can listen and then move on to continue with whatever is so important that we have to do it right now. Our collective attention spans are so short that when we return from a commercial break we have to be reminded of what happened in the previous segment we watched less than 3 minutes ago. Heaven forbid we should go a week between instalments of a TV show as the first 5 minutes is then taken up refreshing our memories about what happened last week.

"Previously on ........"

Primarily though, in this article at least, we are concerned with audio and its own idiosyncrasies, and that is no different, we have changed the way we listen to our music, and in my opinion not for the better.

Remember the days of vinyl? I mean the real days of vinyl. The days when everything came on vinyl and that was how you listened to your music. At home, in your lounge, or if you were of the teenage variety, in your bedroom. What you would do is trudge physically all the way down to the record shop where you would sort through huge racks of empty record sleeves (for those under the age of 20, they were the same size as a pizza). Remember, this was also a time when album artwork really mattered too, and choices could be made on that as well as on the actual music contained within. You would trudge all the way back home again (I know, so lame) where you would remove your pizza sized piece of plastic from the protective sleeve and place it onto your turntable. You would then take whatever measures were necessary in order to make the needle lower itself onto the revolving plastic and what would ensue would be the first half of the album you just bought. If you were lucky, about 40 minutes worth.

You could sit in your easy chair or if it suited, lie back on your bed, and listen to it. Just listen. You didn't even have a remote control in your hand. If you wanted to hear that last bit again or skip ahead to another bit, you got up, walked over to the turntable, lifted the needle, placed it on the relevant area of the pizza sized plastic and it played. Often this would be far too much effort and you would just listen to the whole darn thing in its entirety. From start to finish, including that all but forgotten item The Album Track.

The Album Track was that song not quite good enough to unleash on the Top Of The Pops crowd, but good enough to occupy a concentric inch or two on the album. Lots of them proved to be quite pleasing on the ear if given the time and effort required to listen to them. Some even enhanced one's listening pleasure simply by providing the hypothetical troughs above which the peaks of the Album's stand out tracks and singles would tower.

So what changed? What turned us from that patient, attentive lot into a race of people whose attention span has all but eradicated the album listening public and turned us into a bunch of Fast Forwarders? We went digital is what happened, we left analog behind and went digital. We were empowered by the remote control. We had to have what we wanted and we had to have it when we wanted it.

So, to give an example, I was lying on a sunbed here and relaxing while I listened to an album on one of these. Yes, a whole album. Despite having a button I could press to skip the current song and listen to the next one, I didn't, I lay back and listened to the whole thing, and why wouldn't I? It was Nirvana's In Utero.

At the side of me was an iPod, a 30GigaByte iPod Video to be precise. It belonged to my Brother In Law so I picked it up and started to scroll through the list of albums on it. I had used an iPod before but not very much, yet I found scrolling through the menus became almost second nature very quickly. I work in I.T. industry but I just about managed to stop myself before I said "Nice interface." That would have made me a geek, and only my wife thinks I'm a geek.

I found an album I wanted to listen to and hit Play. Three and a half minutes later the "album" finished. I investigated and found that it only contained one song. I scrolled through and found another album, a better one, this time it was James Brown, now I could listen to a James Brown album for ..... another three and a half minutes apparently. That too only contained one song.

I reported the fact that I thought his iPod was broken but he informed that no, in fact it wasn't broken, he had only bought one James Brown song. I picked up my Creative Zen again and found my own James Brown Greatest Hits album. It lasted much longer on a Creative Zen than on an iPod. Another bonus was that nobody wanted to mug me for my player but I'm sure I caught people looking at him with envious eyes. He did have white earbuds in after all. WOW! He had an iPod! Little did they know all his songs were missing.So, I left my Creative Zen NX on my sunbed while I went for a swim. Nobody laughed at it, but nobody stole it either.

I was happy with my Zen, I liked my Zen, I used my Zen a lot. I would soon use it even more. When I got back home I began to look into this whole iPod thing and found that in comparison they were quite pricey. I found that if the battery lost it's ability to charge which they seemed to do quite a lot, it meant you should buy a new iPod, and why not, a new model came out every year, but why did he have so many songs missing? How could he only buy one song and have it masquerade as a full album? Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the iTunes Music Store.

There is officially (according to Apple at least) only one way to put your music onto your iPod, and that is via the software iTunes. iTunes has the market pretty much cornered. If you have an iPod you need iTunes. If you have iTunes you need an iPod. iPods "officially" work with no other software, and iTunes works with no other player. You open iTunes, go to the Music Store, browse for the music you want to buy and pay for it online whence it will be downloaded to your computer and stored within the iTunes database. From there you can choose whether or not to add it to your iPod.

So the reason that so many songs are missing from iPods, is that you buy songs not by the album but individually. You can buy a song for 99p or you can buy the album for a fixed price. So what do people do? They hand pick songs they want from the album and ignore our old friend The Album Track. This is a good thing then right? No. It isn't. It is a bad thing, a very bad thing. It hastened the death of the Singles Charts too.

The Singles Charts used to mean something because people used to care about what was number one. That was because to get to number 1 you had to have a record that was not only more popular than any other around at the time but better than any other around at the time. you also had to outsell everybody else. If your song was very good and became very popular you could stay at number 1 for a prolonged period. That meant you were on the TV show Top Of The Pops that week.

Aaah, Top Of The Pops, remember that? The show that fashion forgot. The U.S. was no better off than the U.K. in that regard either. Remember Casey Kasem and America’s Top 40? Sure you do. Kasey Casem was on at what can only be termed Prime Time for drunks. Around 2am on a Saturday if memory serves. Right after Sledgehammer. You went out Friday night, came in steaming drunk, watched The Hitman and Her if you could stand it, watched Sledgehammer thinking you were cool because you loved a show that wasn’t mainstream, then just as you were slipping into your alcohol fuelled slumber, you were awoken by Casey Kasem and his awful home knitted sweaters presenting the most mediocre Middle Of The Road crappy music you’d ever heard. Too tired to get up and turn the TV off, you would nod off and dream the dreams of a 6 foot, 185 pound, mulleted American living the American Dream. Driving his Crown Victoria back home to Soccer Mom who would have the Meatloaf ready and waiting for him to eat in front of the TV while he watched the game.

No, Top Of The Pops got scrapped because people no longer watched it, because people no longer cared about the singles charts. Oh you will hear that it just got phased out due to the competition from channels like MTV and VH1, but that’s just sour grapes. Are those channels accessible to everybody in the UK? No. they are not, people just don’t care about Singles any more, and the reason for that is our old friend the Record Companies.

To get to number 1 now, you get the backing track from an old tune (you know, a good one) mix it up a little then get your good looking dancers to sing a few lines over it, then you hype it up. You market it, you let everybody hear a snippet, you send it out to radio stations and send the soft focus Music Video out to the TV Shows, and you release it a few weeks later when everybody under the age of 10 will go out and buy it. Those between 10 and 16 will either buy it when their friends aren’t watching or ask Mummy to buy it for them from Sainsburys.

That marketing scam means your act hits number 1, stays there for a week until people realise the song is crap and it sinks into oblivion to be replaced at number 1 by the next hyped up tune on the conveyor belt.

Compare the number of singles nowadays that stay at number 1 for 2 weeks to those that stayed there in the past, then compare those that stayed there for 3 weeks, 4 weeks, 17 weeks. See what I mean? Singles SCHmingles.

Most of the money from Album and Single sales goes into the coffers of the record company. Record Companies like sales, they love sales, they live off sales. That is why they are happy to do business with the iTunes Music Store and allow people to buy songs individually without them even having to press a disc, whether it be on vinyl or CD. Don’t fall for it, don’t buy your music this way, buy the whole album on CD, and if you really must use iTunes, rip the CD yourself and put your pristine Compact Disc on the shelf where it will still be fifty years from now.

Will iTunes?

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Updated 05-02-11 at 02:26 by miner2049er

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