September 1999

Faceless, nameless music... Welcome to MP3.

    Sometimes I get in moods just like everyone else... Anyway, a friend of mine sent me an email mentioning that he has put together a CD of electronic music that he thinks I would really like (all MP3 format), and wanted to know if I would like to have a copy. Now, skipping the whole issue of copyright and the rest of the business/political side of MP3, this really got me thinking about my perception of music, and how I think it will change in the future. It used to be when I would find a band I liked, I would buy practically everything they did, and usually like it; whether it was Oingo Boingo, Devo, Frontline Assembly, Howard Jones, or Depeche Mode. While I never really considered myself a 'fan' per say, I did try to keep an eye out for the latest CD or single; but lately this has become less and less true... I've noticed that many of the bands I like these days are increasingly one-hit wonders (or one-album wonders) and that any subsequent CD always seems to be a real loser; or that bands I've liked for a while just seem to fade away. Now, this has always happened, and always will, but the part that I find interesting is that up until just recently, it really wasn't possible to exchange on a simple medium a large number of songs (such as on a CD/MP3); and this is moving more and more towards what I basically term faceless, nameless music.
    I think that this problem is particularly bad with Electronica, which is almost always pretty faceless and nameless to begin with - it's hard to find a more fickle market than club music, but MP3's allow distribution to happen on such a large scale that the noise factor becomes incredibly high (and when I say noise, I mean the sheer number of songs, not the downsides of the particular codec used). For instance; I can go to a site like, and peruse through a large amount of musicians there - a couple real winners, a fair number of good bands, and a TON of garbage. Of course, this is really subjective, since any band could be listed in all three of those categories by three different people, but they add to the noise factor once more. How many of the tracks on this CD are from artists? I'm sure there must be at least a few, maybe even more than a few, and this just adds to the whole 'drone' mentality that I think will probably be the ultimate outcome of MP3 audio.
    There, I said it, my deep dark vision of the future for MP3 and the music industry... Not the rosy, sugar coated free market that some musicians feel is right around the corner; what I see is the further dilution of an already diluted market. Give Billy his choice, and he will pick the best bands; and whether you're on a big money label, or some garage DJ won't make a bit of difference. But there's an inherent mistake in this kind of logic - the problem is that those 1000 Billy's now have an enormous selection, so they can choose EXACTLY the band they like; sounds great, right? Wrong, now you've diverted those 1000 Billy's from helping to push through the next Orbital, and given 1000 random bands (like mine) 1 more listener. Of course, I'm really just adding to the noise myself...

The end of human evolution...

    I think it's pretty safe to say that over the last 1000 or so years, humans have become much more adept and skillful; especially in the realms of science and technology. Now, if you prescribe to the notion of natural selection, or that evolution basically means that people with more desirable traits for the time will have better chances of success than someone who is lacking the same traits. Of course, this is ever changing, but a good example might be Bill Gates; imagine if he had been born about 1000 years ago, it's unlikely that he would have enjoyed the same level of success he has now... So why would this cause evolution to stop? One could almost argue that this would cause evolution to increase, since it would allow for a greater amount of specialized traits, and thereby bring about even more variation. Unfortunately, I think that the upside of allowing for this kind of specialization is outweighed by the downside of, how should I say this, less desirable traits.
    Case in point, I was watching CNN, and they had a story about some people down in Florida who were attacked by an alligator; I'm sure it's a fairly uncommon occurrence, but not so uncommon that it would warrant national news coverage, but there's a reason why this did... The people were swimming in a small pond where they KNEW there was an alligator! The reason they thought it was safe? Why, because the alligator was 'normally friendly'! Listen, this isn't Flipper, this is a predator, and as such is not normally described as friendly; perhaps tolerant of humans, but rarely friendly. So how does this have any baring on evolution? Simple, these people are still alive; back in the good 'ol days, a bright idea like this would have swiftly put an end to your family tree, but these days all it means is that they go and kill some alligator for -gasp- being an alligator. I think that to some extent society even rewards lame behavior like this; by even talking about it on TV. Also, people tend to think "Wow, you're lucky to have survived getting attacked like that!" instead of "Wow, you're quite possibly the most foolish person I've ever met!", but even CNN portrayed it more as a luck story than a complete ignorance story. I think they actually said something along the lines of "...Two people are thankful to be alive after a close call with an alligator...". Thankful for what, that their own stupidity didn't kill them this time?
    I guess it all boils down to the old quote "Society breeds mediocrity"... Society allows both amazing specialization at the same time as it allows staggering ignorance, which will probably blend together at some point to make, you guessed it, average. It's interesting to note that for the most part this is mirrored in people as well; most people who excel in one area almost always seem to do so at the cost of some other facet of their lives. Want to work more? You'll have to cut back on your free/social time... Want to hang out on the beach more? You'll have to cut back on study time... Of course you could STUDY at the BEACH, and then you're getting the best of both worlds, right? For anyone who's had one of these 'breakthrough' thoughts, I'm sure you quickly discovered that you ended up once again with a mediocre experience; not as much fun as you might have had if you weren't studying, and not as much learned if you weren't at the beach.