So, last night I’m listening to some music and my wife asks what I’m listening to. I tell her the band name – Zola Jesus – and that it was given to me by one of my music-sharing friends, and we talk about the music a bit. She says it’s an interesting sub-culture, and I agree: “They sound like they’ve listened to a lot of Pere Ubu and PIL.”
Susan’s reply: “I meant the sub-culture of people who share music.”
I never thought of it that way. I’ve been sharing music with friends since the late 70s, although it’s been shared in different ways over the years. Under the influence of my friend John, I got real good at making mix tapes in the 80s. I’d made them before, but they’d just been one song with a gap then another song – from John I learned the art of blending one song into another. And on a good cassette deck it was easy to check levels as you recorded, and a challenge to end each side of the tape smoothly. There was an art to it, and those who were good at the art and shared similar musical tastes – it was always great to give or receive a tape like that. So much went into it.
With cdr’s and Itunes and similar programs it’s far easier to put a mix together. You never have that gut-crunching moment when your last song for the side doesn’t fit and you have to rewind to the spot where it was going and replace it – and those were always tight segues, starting at the exact moment after the previous song ended. Recording on a computer means you get told whether your songs fit or not, and there’s no exact time frame you have to fit – you just have to be under 80 minutes or 700 megabytes or whatever your disc allows for the format you’re recording in.
The artistry of the mixing aside, the point for me is I love music, and I know other people who love music. And if we form a sub-culture, it’s a sub-culture that supports music released on small labels. And the music shared causes others to purchase music from those small labels. Because God knows, I don’t listen to the radio much, to a large degree because commercial radio plays shit and noncommercial radio is both hard to tune in and inconsistent. I’ve never heard Zola Jesus on the radio. I expect I’ll buy their next album if I can find it.
Recently I was looking for the Sector 27 album that Tom Robinson recorded shortly after the break-up of the original Tom Robinson Band. Tom has his own website, and above some free downloads he was offering was the following text:
“Free Downloads: iTunes downloads cost 79p per track. Writer/publisher get 6p, Performer 6-8p, Visa/Mastercard 7p, Apple 12p, and Record Company almost 50p. Sod that. Help yourself to my songs & share them with your friends:”
In the meantime, I expect I’ll remain part of this sub-culture that I didn’t know existed.