Soft Tigers - Gospel Ambitions

If you know of Soft Tigers, it is most likely for their two biggest songs, M.A.R.I.A. and Mr Ice Cream. This is no surprise, because after all, these two songs are undeniably great. Catchy, energetic and fun, these two have ‘hit’ written all over them. You may also have seen them live and discovered a whole new side to them. Their on stage show is far more chaotic, mixing shambolic recreations of their recorded material with all sorts of new sounds. This experimental (and a little apathetic) approach means you never what you’re going to get.

Well their debut album demonstrates yet another side to Soft Tigers. It isn’t a collection of hits. In fact a number of the songs deviate significantly from any sort of ‘song’ structure. Similarly, their rough edges have been smoothed and their chaos given some direction. These changes are certain to leave some fans a little disappointed and as a result, it’s hardly a shock to see this album failing to make waves in the music community. But as far I’m concerned, it delivers everything the Soft Tigers promises to deliver, even if it’s not quite what we expected.

The problem is that on first inspection, Gospel Ambitions certainly seems to be rather weak. You can’t help but hold on to the hope for an album full of M.A.R.I.A.s. But on closer inspection, you’ll discover this album to be great for plenty of other reasons. It’s softer, more intimate sound displays a genuine for love creating music filled with cool sounds and engaging melodies. At first I thought it to be rather sloppy, but I realise how well they’ve captured the spirit of music, imperfections and all.

I’m not trying to proclaim that this is some sort of spectacular album that everyone should love. All I’m saying is that it appears widely misunderstood, and as far as I’m concerned, critically undervalued. What impresses me most is that their rise in popularity has certainly seen no compromise of integrity. Soft Tigers make music how they like to make it, not how they think will sell best. They haven’t just found a winning formula and stuck to it and their shows aren’t just live recreations. They offer far more variety and as a result, a far richer musical experience.

Making Love – This song perfectly demonstrates some of the different sounds to expect on this album. The song travels through a number of different styles, each reflecting the mood of the story being told. It actually quite an interesting song that really captures your attention.

– Despite all the talk of a different sound, it doesn’t change the fact that all their biggest hits are still on the album. Not only that, but they also fit in seamlessly as the album progresses.

Heaven 07

I have super gig on offer for all you Sydney people. Basically we'll be setting the stage up and inviting a heap of Sydney musicians to come play. It will all be for a bit of fun as they play covers and collaborate with each other. On top of everyone listed above, we've managed to reel in Brian Campeau, Richie Cuthbert, Dead Letter Chorus and many more. This mayhem will be bookended by a bit of sanity thanks to full sets from The Ringleaders and Justin Grounds (Melb). Check the myspace for a full spiel.

Also, if we manage to organise ourselves, we may be forming a 'band of bloggers' composed of people from A Reminder, Twelve Major Chords, Get Big, Little Kid and Open Your Eyes. Crazy! Of course, knowing us it will probably fall through, but its a possibility.

It all takes place this Sunday, from the early time of 6pm at The Hopetoun Hotel.


Arcade Fire Are Coming....

I think if there's one band out there that I'd like to see more than any other, it would have to be Arcade Fire. It's a big call, I know, but just the thought of seeing their music performed live gets me excited. Well as you probably already know, they are coming to Australia for the very first time, this January. It's a momentous occasion, and I should be over the moon, but instead, I'm just depressed. You see, I don't have tickets. A mental blank on the day of sale and my decision to skip Big Day Out this year has left me empty handed. It's a sad story. But don't worry, I'll be there. I'm on the hunt for spare tickets and if that fails, I'll be working extra hard on my sneaking abilities. Not even big angry bouncers can stop me from going to this event. It's my calling. Why Arcade Fire? Why must you be so damn popular!!

See you there.

Digital Music: iTunes

(click to visit)

As far as digital music goes, iTunes is the king. It kick-started the industry and continues to dominate it. While others were hurt by DRM, Apple powered on regardless. Exact figures are hard to find, but their share of the digital download market stands at something absurd like 80%. It’s not all bad news for the competitors, though. There’s plenty of room for improvement and the keys to Apple’s success are hardly a big secret. It will be interesting to see how the expansion of this market pans out, but for the time being, iTunes sits at the top for one very good reason: it’s the best.

Now don’t get the impression that I’m some kind of Apple fan boy. Far from it. I’ve never owned an iPod and I’ve always steered clear of iTunes because it lacked flexibility. But there’s one thing I’m always willing to admit: Apple has style. Everything they put out is so damn cool and I can understand why people throw themselves at it. If I had a spare $400, I’d buy an iPod Touch to admire how thin it is. And the way all their products seamlessly integrate just makes them all the more amazing. I would love nothing more than to surround myself with everything Apple. Sadly, however, their products are a little TOO good.

You see, in order to truly enjoy one of Apple’s products, you have to enjoy them all. I can’t just buy an iPod and bask its sexiness. I’d have to use iTunes to manage it, sacrificing many of the features I enjoy in other programs (read: obsessive tagging and organisation). Similarly, if I wanted to skip the iPod and just enjoy the products on offer in the iTunes music store, I’d be out of luck. Sure, iTunes is beginning to sell some songs as unprotected mp3s, but the majority will still only work on the iPod. Sadly, it seems you can’t enter the Apple world half-heartedly. It’s either all or nothing.

If money wasn’t such a concern for me, I would buy their ipods, buy all my music on iTunes, buy a PowerBook, buy an Apple TV and probably buy an Airport or two to connect it all up. Life would be bliss. Sadly, money is a concern for me, as it is for most of us. And so, my life has been relatively Apple-free. To an extent. Both my brothers and half my friends have iPods so I know the iTunes set up quite well, but up until now, the store was only ever entered by accident (argh! how do I get out? please don’t take my money!). Well now I’ve finally tried it and was rather surprised with what I found.


I always knew that iTunes had a big catalogue. After all, it is the most popular service so you’d hope so. But after exploring it, it exceeded all my expectations. It is undeniably impressive. Unlike other services which may cater for a specific audience (independent or mainstream etc.), iTunes caters for pretty much everyone. I found a good 95% of everything I would want to buy, including a number of smaller releases by local bands. They have Cloud Control and John Columbus! Wow.

Their catalogue is so extensive that it is actually beginning to rival physical CD stores. In fact, in many cases, it surpasses them. That certainly can’t be said for any of the other digital music stores. The popularity of iTunes has put Apple in the perfect position where artists actively try to get their music added. This means their catalogue stays updated without them having to chase music. Still, not everything is rosy. Relations with Universal have been a little rocky lately and the loss of major labels is always going to hurt. Also most of the music you find is protected and thus limited to your iPod and the iTunes software. The iTunes Plus range, which gives you unprotected, higher quality files, is still fairly limited and leaving a lot to be desired.


Anyone who leaves their house will know that you can buy vouchers to use in the iTunes music store. They come in a variety of sizes and are available pretty much everywhere. They are a nice alternative for those without a credit card, though it can be annoying when you’re left with $1.50 that isn’t enough to buy anything. Whichever method you use, you’re credit is displayed in the top right and is automatically reduced as you buy music.

If you want to use the iTunes store, you’ll have to have the software installed. Though it depends on your particular setup, I’ve always found iTunes to really eat away at my computers resources. Of course this isn’t ideal, but it isn’t too big of an issue. Once it gets going, everything seems to run smoothly. In typical Apple style, the interface is very simple and uncluttered. The home page gives a number of different recommendations, including personalised ones. Search results are also laid out nicely, allowing you to easily find what you what. As far as options for browsing go, iTunes is as comprehensive as you’ll find.

Like most digital music stores, iTunes has a fairly rigid pricing scheme. Tracks all cost the same and full albums can be bought as a slightly discounted package. It’s all pretty standard stuff. Thankfully, the iTunes Plus range doesn’t any cost more, which is a promising sign. Hopefully this means they’re aiming to move the entire catalogue into this format.

Once you’ve found want, you simply click the buy button and the songs are added to your purchased list where they start to download. The whole system is brilliantly straightforward. You can pause the downloads, alter the order they’re downloading in or just continue browsing while you wait. Once they’re done, they are automatically integrated into your collection for you to enjoy. The process goes so smoothly that I’m starting see the appeal of having your music player and store wrapped up in one nice application.

Most of the music you get from iTunes will be protected and in Apple’s proprietary AAC format. For those of us who don’t use iTunes or an iPod, this can be problematic. You could just leave this music as it is and use iTunes whenever you wanted to listen to it, but this would be rather limiting. The better option is to burn it to a CD. Not only does this allow you to enjoy it like any other CD you may have bought, but you can also rip it back to your computer as a standard mp3. After all, you did the right thing by paying for it, so bending the rules a little shouldn’t hurt.


If you’re an iPod and iTunes user, this store is a Godsend. The combination of range and simplicity actually makes buying music a pleasure. If you want to buy music online, you have the perfect solution. For the rest of us, iTunes isn’t so saintly, though it does fair pretty well. It’s hardly practical to burn and re-rip every album you want to buy, so I’d say it serves best as a backup option for the hard to get items. On the other hand, you have the smaller, but more friendly iTunes Plus collection. If you find a CD you want in this format, go for it. You do have to manually convert it to mp3, but this is nothing compared to the trouble you’ll go through with some other on-demand music stores.

Before I tried this service, I was very negative towards it. The way Apple forced protection and their own formats on buyers just didn’t sit well. Whenever I saw a ‘Buy on iTunes’ link, I scoffed at the thought of giving my money to this big corporation and would look elsewhere. But iTunes isn’t as bad as I always thought. On protection, they are at least trying to improve things and when it comes to the whole selling process, they are the beacon of hope. I’d still like to see more improvement, but they certainly deserve some credit for all the good things they’ve brought to this industry. The iTunes music store is a genuinely viable option for buying your music. If you’re yet to try it, I recommend you shed your preconceptions and just give it a go. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Next: JB-Hifi

The Grates

Like many who have come before me, I’m here to exclaim that Patience Hodgson is one of the best damn performers ever. The Grates played a special Christmas show at The Annandale last Wednesday and it was amazing. She came out bouncing and didn’t stop bouncing. She jumps around like a crazed fan and genuinely gets into her own music. It’s brilliant. With her having so much fun up on stage, it’s pretty hard not to get involved. Her enthusiasm is infectious. For those who find her voice slightly annoying (I was one of them), I’m telling you, it pales in comparison to the energy of their live show. You’d have to be pretty cynical to watch them and not to have a great big smile on your face.

While Patience undoubtedly steals the show, I was impressed by the band as a whole. They had quite a bit of new material to show off, but rather than shoving it down our throats, they played it sparingly, making sure to give the fans what they wanted. Still, my initial impressions of these new songs are pretty favourable and I can see the next Grates album being just as big as the last. If you’re yet to see The Grates live, I recommend you do it as soon as you can, regardless of how you feel about their music.

Digital Music - Subscription Services

Unfortunately a combination of factors (time, money and the law) meant that I wasn't able to actually try any subscription services. However, I did the next best thing and scoured the internet to get a feel for what they involve. They are quite intriguing indeed......

For those who don't know, these things work by giving you unlimited access to their catalogue (usually in the order of 2 million tracks) for a flat monthly fee. You can download and listen to as much as you want and in some cases, fill your mp3 player up with the music. The catch? You don’t own the music. In essence you are renting it rather than buying it. Still, at $15 a month, this all-you-can-eat option seems pretty enticing. So why has it done poorly? This was the business model that looked set to revolutionise the music industry. Why isn’t everybody taking it up?

For starters, every service out there is heavily tied to Microsoft. You must use a Window’s PC, you need a certified ‘Playforsure’ mp3 player and you are required to use either proprietary software or Windows Media Player. This is problematic because, let’s face it, Microsoft’s DRM technology is flawed. Sadly, more often than not, you’ll find yourself fighting the system, rather than enjoying it.

Secondly, these catalogues with millions of tracks are still missing a considerable amount of music. They cater towards more mainstream audiences, leaving a lot of independent (ie good) music out. Any music lover with half-decent tastes will find these services falling short of their needs. Finally, people simply like to own their music. It’s something to treasure. With subscription services, you don't get to keep any of it (unless you want to pay more). If the service was to suddenly shut down, you’d be left with nothing.

Now this has been a rather negative account and to be honest, it’s really not fair for me to rip into them when I’ve never even tried them out. However, I am merely trying to offer some insight into why these services haven’t taken off. As far as potential goes, I think they are incredible. If someone was to get it right, with a service that catered to my tastes and was easy to use, I’d be the first to jump on board. All reports seem to suggest that these services are gradually improving, so I may not have to wait that long.

Unfortunately these services aren’t available in Australia so I couldn’t try them if I wanted to. They are mostly based in America, though UK and European listeners should be able to find a couple. The dominant force appears to be Rhapsody, while Yahoo! Music Unlimited and Napster seem to be big competitors. If you’re interested, be sure to do plenty of research beforehand.

Next: The Mighty iTunes

Brown Bear - Music To Swim To

You’d be surprised how inefficient the promotional process is. Of all the emails and CDs I get sent, rarely does it lead me to discover something I like. I’m not sure if it’s my laziness and meticulous tastes or poor choices those sending me the music, but the success rate is pretty pathetic. However, every now and then, something incredible will land in my lap and it makes the whole process worthwhile. Brown Bear’s second EP, ‘Music To Swim To’ falls into that category. It only took a couple of listens before I realised I had something special in my hands. It was quite unexpected because they have a sound that is much softer than I would normally listen to. But clearly the might of their song-writing won out because I’ve well and truly fallen for them. Their sound is one that manages to combine calming minimalism with a richly textured atmosphere, driven by some excellent vocals. Strangely enough, I’d say their closest comparison would the similarly named Grizzly Bear. There's also a parallel with some of Radiohead's slower numbers, though I'd hate to set the bar too high. With 7 tracks coming in at over 30 minutes, Music To Swim To is more than just your average EP. Incredibly, each song seems to have at least one moment when you feel like you’re witnessing some musical brilliance. Unfortunately, this potential isn’t always met, but it doesn’t stop the EP from being an outstanding effort. It’s early days yet and I’m excited to see what this band delivers in the future. They’re currently based in Brisbane, but will be heading down to Sydney in early January to play a cool 4 shows in as many days. I'd recommend you try to see at least one, I know I will be.

– This song was the first to really grab my attention and it seems I’m not alone. The tranquillity of it is irresistible.

Was That It – At 5 minutes, this song is more reflective of Brown Bear’s typical song length. It further demonstrates how effortlessly they appear to craft these humble, engaging melodies.

Released: 26/10/07 | Myspace

Digital Music: eMusic

(click to visit)


eMusic is a subscription-based service that specialises in independent music. With over 250,000 users, eMusic is currently the largest online music subscription service. Unlike others, which let you 'rent' unlimited music from their catalogue, eMusic gives you a certain download quota per month and the songs you get are yours to keep. What makes eMusic amazing is the value. The cheapest package gives you 30 downloads for US$9.99 per month. That works out at just over 30c per song, a whopping 3 times better than you'll find in most places. And premium packages give even better value. Not only this, but all eMusic downloads are unprotected mp3s. They truly are the beacon of hope in the digital music industry.


The eMusic catalogue covers the entire independent music spectrum. You have the lesser known artists (I even found locals such as Mercy Arms), the heavyweights (Pixies, Belle & Sebastian, Yo La Tengo, etc.) and everything in between. While it certainly isn't perfect, it's quite impressive. The only real noticeable omissions are the bands on major labels (Arcade Fire, The Shins). I'm not sure if this is a deliberate attempt to stay indie or due to licensing restrictions, but either way, it's not that big a deal. Big guns like Matador and Polyvinyl bring plenty of credibility to the table. One other strange thing was that when visiting a particular artist, I was told it wasn't available in my country. I've only seen it once in about 100 artists and I'm sure there's a way around it, but still, it could be an issue.


Being subscription based, you are required to give a credit card, which is charged monthly. After signing in, you are shown how many downloads remain as you browse through the catalogue. The site has a number of different ways for finding music. You can browse by genre, decade, rating and more, as well as search and look at various lists like ‘Editor's Picks’. Each artist also has links to similar artists, their influences and even bands which they have influenced; it’s a great way to discover by jumping from one to another. When you want something, you can either download it manually or use the client. This client is nice and simple and makes downloading whole albums a breeze. As I mentioned earlier, these mp3s are all unprotected, so once you get the files, they're yours.


The eMusic system has two main flaws. Firstly, there is no flat fee for buying a complete album. This means an Apples In Stereo album (20 tracks) will cost 4 times as much as an Explosions in The Sky album (5 tracks). It's great news for EITS fans, but hardly an ideal system. It also means there is no incentive to buy a whole album instead of just individual tracks (in contrast to Insound). The other problem is the inflexibility of having a download quota, especially since unused downloads don't carry over. If you want three albums in a month, but they have a total of 31 tracks, too bad. You have to wait till the following month before you can get the last track. This is especially problematic because your monthly choices will rarely add up to a nice number. Instead, you'll always be getting single tracks to fill up the gap. Not good. Thankfully, eMusic has a 'booster pack' available, which serves as a reserve supply for when you go over the limit, helping to partly alleviate this problem.

Despite these few negatives, eMusic is very good. Quite possibly the best. Everything I mentioned about the range, value and ease makes it a very tempting option. They offer two week trial which gives you 25 free tracks, no strings attatched. It's a great way to test it and I'm happy to report that you can cancel quite easily without being charged (though they do their best to convince you out of it). As I revisited the eMusic website today, I discovered a number of albums which I wanted to get. I almost wrote them down so I could download them illegally before I realised how disgusting this was. eMusic has impressed me so much that I'm strongly considering signing back up and using it regularly. Sure it has its faults, but eMusic actually does justice to idea of buying music digitally and best of all, rewards the artists we all enjoy so much.

Next: Other options

Monday Mix #30

Down On The Ground - British Sea Power
I’m relatively new to British Sea Power, with their latest EP being my first (and only) experience, but this has been more than enough to convince me that they’re worth some attention. I can only imagine what their live shows are like, but judging from the atmosphere they generate in their recorded music, it would be pretty special.

DiagonalThe Motifs
In case you don’t know, The Motifs is mostly one girl, Alexis, from Melbourne, playing some unbelievably sweet pop music. I recently ordered her brand knew 6-track EP which comes lovingly hand-packaged, courtesy of WeePOP Records, and limited to just 120 copies. When it arrives, I think I might explode from an overload of cuteness.

The People - Young Lovers
Young Lovers are another Melbourne band, but of a vastly different sound. They make epic indie-rock music that’s laced with some pretty infectious dance beats. This sound of theirs is quite impressive and sure to be a hit across the country. I get the feeling we’ll be hearing a lot more of this band, very soon.

Animals (video) – Sparkadia
Sparkadia are one of many Sydney artists to be snapped up recently by indie label, Ivy League Records. I think they must be reading mind when it comes to band selections. It’s great to see them supporting all these excellent bands! Sparkadia haven't done too badly out of the deal either. They just got this shiny new video for their latest mega-hit, Animals, and will be putting their debut album out early next year.

DaysShe Is So Beautiful / She Is So Blonde
This bizarrely named solo project has given rise to some rather interesting music. I’m not totally convinced yet, but you never what the test of time holds.

I Heart Hiroshima

When I was asked to name a lesser-known Brisbane band, my first thought was I Heart Hiroshima. This was despite having never seen them live and not really knowing what they sounded like (I’d heard them, but mustn't have paid attention). Clearly they were doing something right on the promotion side of things. Well now I have given them a proper listen and there's certainly no way they’ll be escaping my consciousness any time soon. I recently invested in their debut album, Tuff Teef, and it was one of the most satisfying purchases I’ve made in a long time. At first I was a little put off by the rough edges and raw sound, but this was quickly outweighed by how immersed I became in the energy they create. Their lack of a bass player is often cited as central to their sound, but to be honest, I can barely notice it. For me, the overwhelming factor that defines them is the vocals. To give a rather crude explanation, it’s pretty much two guys and a girl taking turns at yelling at you. In writing, it sounds rather unappealing, but when you hear them and really get to know their music, you’ll understand why I consider it to be a positive. They've found the perfect level of 'in your face' that makes you sit up and pay attention without it getting on your nerves. I must admit that after a good 15 listens in two weeks, it is beginning to wear away at me, but in moderation, this is music to hold dear. I’m really surprised that more wasn’t made of this album, because it’s probably one of the best to come out of Australia this year. I can’t wait to see them live.

Punks – The first three songs on this album are especially strong and of them all, this would have to take the cake. The drums give it a real sense of direction, focusing all their energy into one place. Powerful stuff.
Lungs – As an opening track, this song does the job perfectly. It introduces the softer side of their sound, gradually building the tension before breaking out into a full blown onslaught. All in all, a nice little sampling of I Heart Hiroshima.

Digital Music. Insound

(click to visit)


Insound are an online Vinyl / CD store that has recently branched out into selling digital downloads. What makes them special, however, is that only full albums are available. This is great to see at a time when downloads are driving the popularity of individual tracks. While getting single songs can have some benefits, it also degrades the value of the album. If fans are just buying tracks and shuffling them, albums cease to become relevant. This is bad. That’s why I have plenty of respect for Insound. They’ve even setup a ‘Save The Album’ website, which features videos from popular indie artists, championing this cause. Check it out!


As an indie music store, they have a range that caters to my tastes pretty perfectly. This is the kind of shop that puts Grizzly Bear and Battles on the front page, while requiring you to search if you want Kylie. They have an excellent selection of music, however, there’s a catch. Most of it isn’t available for download. Even a search for The Shins will come up blank. By all means, check if you’re favourite release is available, but unfortunately Insound’s digital catalogue is far too small to be a viable option. Hopefully in time it will expand.


The download method at Insound is quite simple really. You add the album to your cart, just like a real CD. The prices are reasonable, less than physical purchases, of course. Once you’ve got what you want, you go to checkout and pay for it just like anything else. It does require a credit card, but that’s not a problem for most. Afterwards, you’re given a link to a zip file with all the mp3s inside. Done! You can download the file up to three times in case you delete it.


These mp3s are unprotected and 192kbps, which is great, but also strikingly similar to what you’d find on a peer2peer network. And that’s a problem. Other than legality, this purchase offers nothing over downloading the files illegally. When you buy a CD, you at least get SOMETHING. It’s colourful, it’s physical and it’s yours to treasure. But when you buy digital, the experience is rather hollow. You merely get a few files, files which are quickly lost amongst your thousands of other files. It’s not a critique of Insound directly, but digital downloads in general. I think they either need to be made cheaper (so you feel like you gained something, rather than lost money) or perhaps you should get something more. Some scans of the liner notes wouldn’t have gone astray. Is that too much to ask?

Next: eMuisc

Digital Music. Part 2 - Stores: International

If you’re looking for new ways to buy digital music, look no further than America. Or Europe. In fact, look anywhere other Australia. Not only will you find plenty of places offering the format, but also a surprising amount of variety in the method. Some are available internationally, some aren’t, but either way, they’re a refreshing change to the limited and monotonous industry here at home. I took a look at some of the options that caught my eye:


Bridezilla just keep getting better and better. Every time I see them, they impress me on a whole new level. It would be wrong to say that they were ever shy, but whatever they were, they’ve improved. Daisy (violin) and Millie (saxophone) strut around the stage in complete comfort and confidence, as if in their own bedroom, belting out powerfully emotive sounds that do justice to both their classical background and modern stylings. While those two are the heart of their music, Holiday is the soul. With the spot light shared more evenly, she is left to deliver her haunting vocals in peace. She does so with such conviction that you can so easily get caught up in the moment. And to their credit, Josh (drums) and Pia (guitar) manage to keep all this mayhem grounded and guide the ship towards a very solid sound.

I know they’re probably sick of people mentioning their age, but I just want to make one comment. Rather than trying to capitalise on the novelty of their youth, they're taking things slowly and letting their sound develop. For this they have my upmost respect. Bridezilla aren’t good because they’re young, they’re good because they’re good. They recently put out an EP which captures their live sound surprisingly well. They may not make the most accessible music, but this release proves they have a bright commercial future ahead of them. For a while I thought that ‘St Francine’ might be all they had, but they’ve come out and equalled (perhaps even surpassed) it with the brilliant ‘Brown Paper Bag’. Even the instrumental, ‘Mister Young’, which I didn’t use to like, has become a favourite. Shame on me for ever having doubts.

Mp3: Brown Paper Bag

Bridezilla: Label | Website | Myspace

Digital Music. Intro

Over the last few weeks I've been trying out various services, downloading music legally and generally just getting a feel for the state of digital music. Why? Well why not? I wanted to know what's wrong with it and what should be done to fix it. It's been quite an 'eye opening' experience and so I'd like to share it with you. If you're someone who's been sitting on the digital download fence, take notice. In fact, the issues I'll be discussing are one's that concern pretty much all music lovers. That means YOU.

I'll be posting it in parts, one every few days. It will probably be rather text-heavy, seeing as I have a tendency to indulge myself with copious amounts of paragraph, so I'll try to break it up with the occasional mp3. Anyway, enough of this introducing, the first post is awaiting you below. And guess what? It's more introducing! Don't say I didn't warn you.....


Digital Music. Part 1 - Preface: The Issues

The future of digital music is an area that interests me VERY much. Seeing as how my life is so steeped in music, how it unfolds will quite literally have a significant impact on me. How we pay for music, how we find it and how we interactive with it are all issues that are being played out before our very eyes. The potential for innovation is huge. But do we really need change? CDs and vinyls do the job incredibly well. They give you great sound quality, something physical to treasure and of course, the ability to rip your music to a computer and beyond. Do we really need to buy music digitally?

Yes! The rise of "ipod culture" is proof of the power and popularity of having music in a digital format. It makes plenty of sense, for both buyers and sellers, to make music available in this format directly. That doesn't mean CDs and vinyls should be replaced. Instead, digital downloads should become a third tier. Vinyls for superior sound quality, digital music for ultimate flexibility and CDs for a bit of both. Yet the problem with this model is that as it stands, digital downloads are anything but flexible. Bogged down by DRM and propriety formats, they have become an option for only the most conscientious (and brave) consumers. In their place, peer2peer sharing has flourished and, like it or not, is here to stay.

From an ethical viewpoint, the issue of illegal downloads seems simple: get rid of them. But it's far more complex. It's a fact that illegal downloads offer many benefits. I for one would have severely undernourished music tastes if I had to pay for everything I wanted to listen to. By not paying for music, listeners are given far more freedom to experiment and discover new material. While this gains artists exposure and the potential to earn money from shows and future releases, it remains a dubious system.

To be honest, I don't think there is a solution. Someone will always miss out. Listeners need to be able sample music and artists need to make money. Finding the balance between the two is the tricky part. If you restrict access to your music, listeners may overlook it. Yet if you make it freely available, you may never see a cent from some of your biggest fans. This is an area that I’m especially interested in, because I haven’t got a clue what to do about it. You can come up with solutions like paying for music retrospectively, depending on how much you listen to it, but would it ever work? It’s a bit a like communism, great in theory, but...

Perhaps most important thing that needs to take place before we’ll make any progress is digital download services need to be improved. You know something’s wrong when those who try to do the right thing are punished, not rewarded, for their effort. Hassles and limitations mean that legal downloads are an inferior option, even before you consider costs. Thankfully, these restrictions are gradually being removed, but it will still only bring legal downloads up to a level equal with illegal ones. At this point, not everyone will make the switch because illegal downloads will still be free. Legal downloads need to offer something more than their illegal alternatives. They need to become a superior product before any major shift will be seen. The big question is how to do this.

As you can see, there’s plenty here to think about. There's nothing I love more than dreaming up ways to solve these problems, but with so many different factors to coming in to play, my ideas change daily. Even after countless hours of consideration, I’m still unsure what the best way forward is. But before I go on about how the future should look, I think it’s important to look at the present. You see, for all the whinging I’d done about downloading music legally, the truth was that I'd never actually tried it. Not once. So I’ve put my money where my mouth is and tried out a few different services. It’s certainly not comprehensive, but at least I’ve got something to back my claims up with. In the next post I’ll begin delivering my verdict. Until then…