Sunday, December 5, 2010

3 Sins of Free Music and How to Fix Them



3 Sins of Free Music and How to Fix Them

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I'm the worst person to write this article. During my tenure as manager and recording artist for the netlabel New Bird Landowner, I've commited all three of the following sins. But if I don't write this, who will? Someone must state the obvious.
Free Music sucks. The shit passing for free music nowadays could suck boulders through a tiny tube.
We don't want to admit that we failed - that after a whole decade, our only accomplishment is keeping this shit off of CDs as not to clutter landfills. But we can't pretend like our music reflects well on the utility of Free Culture. We've failed to make music with staying power. Until we do, the public won't support Free Culture, and copyright law will never change.
It's painful to admit, but necessary to confess. So with my sin stained hands, I type these three crimes of Free Music and my strategies for suction reduction.

It's all ambient.

Excuse me, but what
THE FUCK is ambiental?
There's nothing wrong with ambient music. There's also nothing wrong with Fiddle Faddle. But if I had nothing but Fiddle Faddle to eat for the rest of my life, I'd tie myself a good strong noose.
Electronic musicians Nerds have stuffed free music collections with ambient music, IDM, and something called "electronica," which, as far as I can tell, is slang for music that no one can enjoy. Ambient and electronic already top the Jamendo tag cloud, and as of last Saturday, 3,001 free albums had ambient tags in the Internet Archive. This makes free music sites heaven for techno-snobs. Yet if the Free Music movement hopes to attract anything more than a niche audience, it must offer more variety.


Electronic music's popularity online shouldn't surprise anyone. You don't need fancy equipment to make it. You don't need to learn an instrument to get started. Thanks to the Internet and Free Culture, you don't even need fans or a record deal. Free audio software and music blogs take the place of three chords and the truth, and now everyone's an "artist".
And what's wrong with that? Don't we rely on amateurs to take the risks professionals fear taking? Don't computer companies start in some schmo's garage? Yes. Fuck yes. And I thirst for daring, digitally liberated hacks to usurp the future of music from the depraved despots who dare call themselves "musicians". But not if it means even less variety than what the big four push for. Not if it means a choice between "Ambient" and "Electronica".
So how does a populist music uprising put out such uninspiring garbage?
Perhaps the electronic music fan's obsessive-compulsive tendencies to mince music into microscopic, nearly identical subgenres encourages cooking sub-culturally correct music from recipies (hypnotic dance beat + squelched 303 + "trippy" dialog = Yeah, you're fuckin' Infected Mushroom now!). Musicians have always looked to the past for examples of what music can sound like. Today, electronic musicians can look to the Wikipedia entry for dubstep to learn the precise tempo-range used in dubstep and which LFO settings will make that same wobble sound in every fucking dubstep song (least the new ones, anyhow).
Well stop it! Electronic music can sound like whatever you want it to sound like.
We've made music with our hands and lungs for the last few millennia. Electronic music is still soaked with afterbirth. We haven't even begun to exhaust the possibilities of synths and samplers. So why have we surrendered to the stereotype that electronic music must merely pivot between hyperactive dances and repetitive drones?
Don't let the tools used to make your music define what it has to sound like. If Derek Bailey played the guitar like a guitar, would anyone still give a fuck about Derek Bailey?
You're an amateur. You don't have to worry about selling tickets or pressing CDs. You can afford to take risks. Instead of sounding like every other ambient artist, take a chance on a new sound. Maybe it's ambient done your way. Maybe it ain't ambient at all.
And would it kill you to make some music with your hands once in a while? Synthesizers ain't the only instrument... Just the best.

Part 2 of this article to come (ON Tuesday @ midnightish (EST).

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