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Digital killed the radio star

Stephanie DePrez | Monday, February 23, 2009

There is a great mother load of music out there. Everything exists. And because of the Internet, we can find it all, listen to it all, download it all and love it all. Literally millions of songs are at our fingertips, if not billions.

From the highly ranked iTunes toppers to the crappy Garage Band upload on your cousin’s music MySpace, music is being heard, interpreted, reinvented and produced at a rate so rapid there is no guarantee any artist will survive more than a few weeks, or months if they are lucky.

And if you miss an artist, too bad, because they’re lost forever in the void of “Once Was Popular.”

With so many options, it’s daunting to go fishing for anything new. We cling to iTunes charts and the radio to tell us what’s good, because we haven’t got a snowball’s chance in Miami at finding it ourselves. At least, this is the thought of the music muggle.

This means that even though the indie artist is free to write, record and produce their own full album, if they haven’t got a way to market it to the masses, then their music is moot. It takes the music geek, the guru, to fish out new music, and then popularize it through blogs, file sharing, mixes and word of mouth. Then, radios begin to pick it up and the ears at Spin Magazine perk up minutes before it bursts onto the scene. They get one to three hits on iTunes, perhaps a full album of popularity, some placement in ads and on “Gossip Girl,” and then begin to be dubbed “Known Music.”

This is the kiss of death. No one really wants to listen to “Known Music.” It isn’t popular enough to be Taylor Swift-ing its way into the hands and iPods of the muggles, but it is no longer indie-chic, and therefore the music geeks and über nerds won’t touch it. And then, three years later, it gets dumped on Rolling Stone.

Every so often, a band fished from the obscurity of its MySpace page will strike a real chord – or at least one that sounds different – and it will gain a true following of diehards.

These are the bands that have staying power, the ones that, in the end, really matter.

The corporate system plucks unsuspecting youngsters from their festering musical obscurity, dresses them up, tells them they’re rock stars and spoon feeds them to the music muggles through movies, television and the radio. They play huge release concerts at Virgin and are begged to put their name on a fashion label. The muggles eat it up. The gurus scoff.

The point, though, is that there is way too much music out there for all of this to matter. Even for most of it to matter.

Music has one major flaw: it requires time. You need three minutes to listen to a song. You need 45 minutes to appreciate an album. And the only way to find music is to listen to it. We simply cannot love that much music. There is a limit to what can be popular, because we can’t listen to everything that “Should Be Popular.” Even if every radio station everywhere never repeated a song, we wouldn’t be able to get through it all.

No one would go for that anyway, because the beauty of music is falling in love with it, and a lot of times it isn’t love at first sight. We need to sit with music, to live with it, to associate memories with it in order to claim it. And in the end, that’s all we really want to do.

Muggle or guru, we want music that’s our own.