Tuesday 28 March 2017

The Choice Is Yours (except it's not anymore)

I haven't downloaded (paid or otherwise) any new rap music so far this year. This is down to 2 things, the first being that nothing has really caught my attention and secondly I've become increasingly fed up with the restricted availability of certain songs. Before anyone draws for the 'old man yells at cloud' jpeg, I've tried to articulate this as best as possible without coming off too Abe Simpson about the state of things. I feel it's a legitimate grievance. Walk with me...and then tell me how you stay on top of everything in the comments section.

Firstly I should say that I always fully embraced music in a digital format. I downloaded my first track in 2002, and bought Serato in 2008. Unlike a lot of DJs I kept my vinyl, but if you were playing out it seemed insane that would prevent yourself from being able to access certain tunes that were only available on mp3. I don’t want to get into the pros and cons of vinyl vs digital as it’s a well worn discussion that - unbelievably - still gets bought up now.
My beef is with the current situation music consumers find themselves in, where there are so many platforms to acquire music from that it’s becoming impossible to keep up with what’s out there, and even if you have the time and motivation to do that, actually being able to buy what you want is a considerable mission.

Taking it back 20-25 years or so, we had shops. You heard a song you liked and you went and bought it. It might have been harder to find some releases than others, but essentially you could either buy something or you couldn’t. There were the promo only joints and demos passed on to DJs that you’d have to be a bit more savvy and connected to get hold of, but there was a hierarchy and people knew where they stood. If something was only on a mixtape you lived with it, treasuring the tape itself.
Skip forward to the early 00s and the mixtape game became dependant on those exclusives, providing an outlet for material that was never intended for a full retail release. Some songs only existed in the wider world with DJ drops and shout outs on them and again, we learnt to live with it.

Around 2006-2007 things really started to change. Shops were closing. YouTube was up and running and some rappers looked at this as the best outlet for their music. Artists trying to get signed saw the potential of social media and made songs available through their Myspace page. Blogs began to become tastemakers and started to take the place of the mixtape and radio DJs, often making new music available for free. In addition, the illegal downloading thing was in full swing and the music industry couldn't seem to figure out how to deal with it. The music buying public was split between those who buy everything from iTunes or Amazon, due to either enjoying a sense of moral superiority or not being clued up enough to find it for free, and those who would doggedly trawled through every torrent site and Rapidshare link rather than pay 99p for a track.

We now find ourselves in a situation where everything has got a bit out of hand and there’s no obvious first port of call to get your musical fix anymore. The lack of any quality control by way of a "gatekeeper" has often been cited as problem (usually by people no longer being paid for the role) but for those of us comfortable enough to discover music of our own volition, that isn't too much of an issue. It's that there were too many places to look. 

Streaming brought a new dimension to the game, and definitely suits a certain type of listener, but as with everything that’s popular, the moneymen got involved and decided simply being functional wasn’t enough so we’ve ended up with releases that are only available on certain platforms, with Spotify and Tidal and their ilk fighting it out for your business.
Some labels don’t seem to realise that not everyone uses Apple products and only have their releases on iTunes. Amazon, for some bizarre reason still sell their MP3s on a variable bit rate rather than offering 320 kbps or WAVs.
Soundcloud might have alienated a lot of users with its take down notices and unnecessarily shutting down accounts for breaching copyright but still seems to a be reasonably popular for showcasing new releases. Audiomack is like Soundcloud’s dodgy cousin. It’s considerably less fussy and is a lot more flexible with what can be posted. Both are something of a lottery in that the song may or not be available to download. You could bookmark it but if you're being honest with yourself 50 other songs will have come along by the time it's available for purchase and you'll never go back to it.
The vinyl revival isn’t something I’ve got caught up in, but with people discovering or rediscovering their love for actual proper records it was inevitable that some artists have seen fit to make some songs vinyl only releases. 7”s (or 45s as they seem to referred to these days) are often the format of choice and at some point everyone seems to have decided that it’s perfectly fine to charge the same price for  single that would’ve got you a whole album not too long ago. Don’t even get me started on re-issues.
There’s also Bandcamp, which can throw up some real gems if you know where to look. There’s the plus of more money going direct to the artists and them having more control over what they can sell. It’s mostly the preserve of the independent artist but in an ideal world, everyone would just have a Bandcamp page and we wouldn’t need anything else. Sign in, pay the money (if they’re charging) and bounce.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Heard a new song you like? Quite fancy buying it? You can only stream it. OK, maybe it will be out soon. For now it’s only on Tidal and you don’t have an account with them. You saw on Twitter that there’s a new tune out that seems to have people excited. It’s only a video on Youtube though. You could use that download converter thing but the sound quality is always terrible and there’s a cutaway to some “acting” in the chorus which doesn’t work without the visuals. You check the rapper’s Instagram for more info only to come across an old video of him in the studio playing a track that still isn’t out 6 months after the fact. That group you liked back in the day have just dropped some previously unreleased songs from their album that got shelved in 1996. Too late, the pressing of 250 copies sold out on pre-order and it’s now being resold on Discogs for three times the price. The list of Record Store Day releases has come out but you quite rightly don’t want to pay £25 for a blue vinyl 10” featuring 2 tracks that weren’t considered good enough for the album. More than happy to cop your favourite indie rapper’s new album? They’ll need £20 upfront but you get a free t-shirt and action figure thrown in, assuming their “manager” can be bothered to ship the package 7 months after the promised release date.

There’s too many outlets, not enough consistency in what’s made available and the sheer volume of music getting released means it’s a full time job keeping on top of it all, and often it's not worth the effort. Maybe it’s time to give in, sign up for everything Apple throw at you, and just listen to Dr*ke and Ed Sh**ran for ever and ever.  


  1. Nice article. I feel it all boils down to the use of RSS feeds and subscriptions on different streaming sites to get the music fix I want on the daily. But I have a lot of patience plus urge to find stuff that no one posts so in addition to that I go out of my way in searching online for music. Part of my career is being a Social Media Manager so I have optimized and refined my approach to music discovery over time.

  2. Good read right here. It is hard to keep up with everything that is coming out. Everyday I do hear something I like but to be honest one song on a whole album is not worth my money. I guess as me being older I am a hell of a lot more picky these days and the attitude I have to have everything is not for me. I still spend money on a lot of stuff and most of it is from Discogs as I when you think you have it all something comes along that makes me buy it.

  3. Good point, not only is there more material being released daily, but it's being released on a plethora of different mediums. DJ Eclipse shared a similar sentiment, although he was writing more about the quality of the material: http://2dopeboyz.com/2012/01/07/2dope-presents-dj-eclipse-give-the-dj-a-break/

  4. Another problem is that due to the availability of platforms quality of what you actually listen to has gone down. I can't be arsed to sit down and listen to 50+ artists on Bandcamp, Youtube or whatever to come across something worthwhile. 25 years ago paying £15 for an album was a big outlay - you made sure that it was worth the money, nowadays less so

  5. I've fully learned to live with Amazon MP3s and rips of tracks which only exist on Soundcloud.

    Rappers who post snippets on Instagram and then take forever to drop the song in question should be fined for every week that passes.

    For more obscure rap scenes like northern California and Louisiana, Instagram and YouTube have been the best way of finding new shit for the past couple of years.

    Audiomack is definitely the best platform for bloggas like us and it'll be a sad day when the place ends up getting related. The Reggae section is also the best place on the entire internet for finding new dancehall bangers.

    All the Spotify/Apple/TIDAL exclusives tend to be by rappers I have no interest in so that hasn't really affected me yet.

  6. The internet is mostly where I discovered a good majority of the music I know but at the same time because of the internet it's made trying to discover new music extremely overwhelming. The older I get the less time I have to look through a million different streaming services to find new music especially when a good majority of it isn't that good.

  7. HAHAHA '£20 upfront, assuming their “manager” can be bothered to ship the package 7 months after the promised release date'.

    Dont know how many times Ive heard about this kinda guff. Mr Jam Promotah takin peoples pennies and offering no more than a promise in return. So, in 2017, within the music industry were still 'surrounded by criminals, heavy rollers even sheisty individuals'.

    Yeh, well said man, im not such a fiend for new music any longer simply because its a feckin headache to stay on top of and the vibe just isnt there for me.

    Imma keep my listening habits in the 80s and 90s and be done with it !

    Now where's the Megabass on this thing ? :]

  8. AND .....

    I was looking forward to be able to easily tune in to some of the Beats shows that are featured on Apple Music, but I dont use Apple products, so to paraphrase a Monty Pythin bit, 'That's that sketch knackered'. If Q-Tip had a show I wanted to hear, I simply couldnt hear it. Unless it was transferred to YT and ended up soundin like it was recorded in a bin, in a snowstorm.

    And if SiriusXM had been an easier platform to access I wouldve signed up and probably been a paying member for a number of years by now.

    Sadly, the navigation of Sirius reminded me of Treasure Hunt with Anneka Rice. First few minutes were tons of fun, then I'd just switch over cos when it boiled down to it, it was tosh.

    Attempting to register and use Sirius was not unlike being 13 years old, being force-fed vodka through your nostrils at a grown ups party, and attempting to satisfy a beautiful woman twice your age, while wearing goalkeeper gloves. It needed fine-tuning.

    1. That has to be the first ever reference to Anneka Rice on the rap internet.