Monday, May 07, 2012

Music Sledgehammered

I have bought musical recordings, in one format or another, since my early teens. Since then, particularly during hard-up student years, I must have blown a suitcase-load in pursuit of vinyl and CDs. One trip to a record shop, in June 1986, I can still recall. Knocked out by the video for Peter Gabriel’s Stax-style single Sledgehammer (Figure 42.1), I called at HMV on Edinburgh’s Princes Street and bought the album from which it was taken, thereby increasing my overdraft by £6.99. (The price tag is still on the sleeve.)

Figure 42.1: As of last year, Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer was the most played music video in MTV history. The animation was provided by Britain’s Nick Park, of Wallace and Gromit fame, and with whom, incidentally, my younger brother worked in his most recent films.

Copyright © 1986 Geffen Records Inc.

26 years later, a remastered version of that album is available on iTunes for exactly the same price. Under normal inflationary conditions, it should now, by my calculations, cost £16.64. Alternatively, it can be bought from the website for a mere 67 pence. So much for inflation, and so much for iTunes, which is fast becoming an online honesty box. More outrageous still, with the aid of one of the many file-sharing services, such as, it is completely free.

Of course, Internet piracy is, also, completely unlawful. According to Peter Gabriel himself, co-founder of the now-defunct digital music distribution site OD2:

‘Internet piracy, if it continues, will eventually hurt those who love to make music. Some of the young and minority musicians we work with derive most of their income from record sales. If this is all taken away, most of them are going to have to look for other work.’

He is absolutely right; but tell that to my kids, all merrily aboard the Jolly Roger, having amassed as much music as I have, despite my having had thirty years’ start. Illegal downloading has become so well entrenched under our roof, I might as well climb up there and hoist the skull and crossbones (Figure 42.2). Their shamelessness is, well, shameful. Some of today’s throwaway remarks I find quite disconcerting. ‘You can get anything for free on the Internet, if you know what you’re doing.’ Such is life in 2012.

Figure 42.2: Artists and record companies must now accept the seismic shift caused by the digital revolution in popular music. In accordance with the law of unintended consequences, yet another of Pandora’s cyberboxes has been opened.

Copyright © 2012 Paul Spradbery

I suppose the recording of vinyl onto cassette tapes – I did no end of that as a teenager – was its predecessor, but things were different then. In the good/bad old days of analogue, a tape-to-tape recording of a tape-recorded LP sounded as if the vocalist was singing down the phone long distance while munching a mouthful of crisps. By contrast, today’s digital copies are virtually identical, so sound quality does not fade with each transfer. In other words, online technology has irreversibly sucked the genie from the bottle. Free downloading is impossible to prevent, less still legislate against. Any attempt to enforce the unenforceable becomes an expensive exercise in futility. Conscionable artists such as Peter Gabriel can only appeal to the public’s sense of fair play. He is a principled man, trying to repel a tidal sound wave.

If there is a way to obtain recordings which are high-quality, free of charge, without need for dangerous file-sharing software, and is, most importantly, legal, then all will have changed forever. Perhaps there already is. A vast quantity of music is accessible on All new releases are accompanied by promotional videos. If uploaded from digital format, sound quality is generally excellent. Play it to check. Copy the relevant URL and access Paste the URL into the box provided and click ‘Convert Video’ (to MP3 format). When complete, click ‘Download’ then ‘Save’. The process of obtaining, say, a four-minute pop song takes just a few seconds at standard broadband speed. It really is that simple.

If this constitutes breaking the law, please tell me – before la policía do.

Copyright © 2012 Paul Spradbery

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