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Tuesday, April 8

The Elephant In The Music Room * Consequence of Sound

The Elephant In The Music Room

from http://neurotica-.tumblr.com/post/15916100691

In 1991, I was working at Cargo Records, a nascent Chicago music distributor that we were running out of the un-airconditioned garage of an empty gas station at Clybourn and Greenview. (Like everything else, it's now condos.) Every day was an exciting, but exhausting, new scramble to stay on top of what was out there. We read every line of every zine we could get ahold of. We sent and received tons of US Mail inquiries every day. We sent and received reams of faxes. And we burned the hell of out our phone lines trying desperately to track down that kid that put out that one vegan hard core single that we needed 300 copies of to ship to Southern California (Hi Lou's! Hi Vinyl Solution!), Manhattan (Later Bleeker Bob's!), and London (Hi Rough Trade!). We could barely keep up with the flow of new music coming out, and sometimes we just couldn't.

I still remember the day that our order from the industrious indie pop punks (pop punk was not what it became) at Simple Machines turned up, and with it, an extra box of stuff we didn't order. In that box was

We all stopped work, passed them around, and started flipping through this little eight to ten page pamphlet. We knew we were sunk. Bruno Johnson, the head buyer, said in his gruff but lovable baritone, "Well. That's it. We're all fucked now! Any fucking idiot's gonna be able to put out a record. Six months from now, we'll be drowning." Recording, mastering, printing labels, pressing plants, packaging, pricing, distribution (with phone numbers and addresses). It was all in there. In their punk pursuit of bringing not just the music to the people, but also the means of production,  the DC punks had blown out any of the mystery, brain- and legwork that was acting as a barrier to entry. Bruno was right. Anybody with the cash could now not only record but release their music to the world. And Bruno was right about the flood, too. The gates opened, and we really could no longer keep up with tracking down and offering out everything that should have been offered to our customers. Before the Mechanic's Guide,  if you released an interesting piece of music, there was a good chance that somebody somewhere would write about it and an equal chance that somebody somewhere would distribute it to indie shops in the US and abroad. Within a year of the Mechanic's Guide, it became harder and harder to get your stuff noticed in print, in distributors, and in shops. As the indie infrastructure built itself out to an unprecedented degree to support independent music, the flood of music washed over and through they business.

I'm not saying any of this as a judgement. Clearly, the Simple Machines punk rock ethos was one of democratization. Get the information out to the people and let them figure out what to do with it. Any judgement we were making at the time was purely selfish: it all just meant more work for us. I don't recall anyone being upset that worthy, interesting musicians would now have an easier time getting their music out there. It was all quite exciting to be a part of it, actually. But the big problem Bruno quickly grasped eventually became apparent to all of us: with ever greater numbers of releases coming out every week, how was anyone to get noticed over the torrent? There were only so many pages for editorial copy in Magnet, Option, Forced Exposure, Select, NME, Melody Maker, Big Takeover, Motorbooty, and Butt Rag. Only so many slots on our weekly fax/mailer. Only so much bin space in shops.

Even though we in retail and distribution felt like we were drowning, that the Tsunami was sweeping us away, it was really just the preliminary amplification waves before the digital inundation. Even though the waves just kept coming, we can see that the early-mid-90's really was a golden era for indie music. A time to put out your record. Book your tour. And get in the fucking van.

We had no idea.

The musical democrats have won.

With The Internet and Garageband, the only limiting factor to releasing your music to the world is your time. The Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld is the Celestial Jukebox and it's free.

But there is an elephant in the room, and it's not the jukebox. It's the same damned elephant that's been sitting there stinkin' up the joint since that day in the old garage warehouse in 1991, only it's gotten into the bonbons and heavy cream, and no freaking forklift and gantry in the world is moving it outside.

(It's my metaphor and my blender, so shut the hell up.)
So… there’s all that music out there, just waiting for a set of ears to hear it, and yet all you ever read or hear about are maybe a few thousand releases?
Say hello to The Music Room Elephant.
Let’s call it “Lack of Discovery.”
If you've gotten this far–and hey thanks, by the way, then I encourage you to go and read this great new article on Consequence of Sound about said elephant and share your thoughts in comments.

I have no solutions for the elephant, only the same crappy peanuts I've been feeding it for two decades now and look where that's gotten us.

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