The internet has been pretty good for music fans over the last few years. Free downloads clog our head holes, a stream of recommendations dribble out our ears before we can give them any attention, and all the while we compile an exhaustive list of biographical details from wikipedia; it’s a good time to be a fanatic.
It has also become a great way to relive any gig you’ve gone to so long as you notice a waving camera phone at the time. It usually has the audio quality of a crisp packet and the figures on stage are rarely more than wobbling Tetris blocks seen through the eyes of a Parkinson’s sufferer, but if it fires up a bit of “lol i woz ther” nostalgia then it’s worth a cursory glance isn’t it?
Seeing Joanna Newsom showcase some new and unfinished songs at Somerset House this summer did make me consider the performer’s perspective a bit more though. Justifying her decision to play this material, she wryly remarked “It’s not like anyone has a way of… posting it in some metaphysical space where everyone else can hear it and comment and get angry if it ever gets changed. I’m so glad it’s not the future”.
Predictably enough, the song (along with the rant, just for irony) was on metaphysicalspace-tube within the week. It is certainly not unreasonable to feel insecure about every bum note potentially ending up the ring tone for a hundred mobile phones, but once it inevitably breaches the cosy confines of those-who-paid-25-quid-to-come, the anonymous commenters are not so forgiving.
Every drunken rambling pixelated, every embarrassing moment crystallised, lasting either forever or just long enough to be featured on Stereogum. This is the future Newsom seems anxious about. A future where those crippled by geography, expense or just plain apathy can get a taste of what those more favourably graced in these areas savour. It’s hardly Orwellian in its vision; someone may be always watching but it seem to be much more a fascinated little brother than any Big Brother.
So just how does this edge of the sword compare with the other? You can fast track to success through a few sage nods of the interweb elders and a few gushing testimonials of its underlings now. How much can you really complain if a bad day or two, or in the case of Amy Winehouse 347 (the current number of results for “Amy Winehouse Drunk” on Youtube) provoke a few unintelligible comments. It might feel a bit like having Heat magazine circle your musical cankles, but if it helps generate the interest that keeps you doing what you love then it is a small price to pay.