Emerge vs. Release

21 April 2005

I recently found something remarkable in the March 24, 2005 issue of Rolling Stone. Yes, that's the issue dominated by the fantastic Hunter S. Thompson tribute. But remarkable as that was, it's not what I'm referring to here.

What I found remarkable was the short article in the "Random Notes" section that reports on a recent (and increasingly rare) performance by Fiona Apple. After describing Fiona's appearance at the Roots' pre-Grammy jam session, the article goes on to mention that her shelved album Extraordinary Machine -- or most of it, anyway -- has "emerged" online.

If the article were to stop there, it would be mostly unremarkable. I would've just set it aside and picked up my computer -- to go find those tracks. (So let's just hypothetically assume I hadn't already heard them a few weeks earlier.)

But of course the article doesn't stop there. It goes on to recommend that you "don't get your hopes up", because Sony has no plans to "release" the album.

I don't know about you, but for me the distinction between an album's emergence on the internet and its official, recording-industry-sanctioned commercial release has been mostly meaningless for years now. Many of the new albums from the past few years that I really looked forward to were on my hard drive months before they could be bought anywhere. And of course I'm far from being alone on this. I've been to many, many shows where the entire audience sang along to songs that were, as I've said, literally months away from being traded for money.

So, once again I have to ask: does this make us criminals? I mean, come on: all this music is now literally floating around in the air around us. What are we supposed to do -- not breathe?

That's right. The only thing a major commercial release really does is to make the ridiculous proclamation that you must henceforth pay to breathe. That's the choice they give you. Either suffocate, or pay more than you should -- mostly just to enrich a few executives who don't add any real value to the equation anymore.

Is that what you think I might be "getting my hopes up for", Rolling Stone?

Posted by Greg at 09:19 PM.

On 23 April 2005 at 06:18 AM, Carl Fooks commented:

One of the things I've noticed about the whole file sharing/pigopolist litigation thing is how the music industry seems to be shooting itself in the foot.

The joy of music is not in the purchase experience (whereas some things are, otherwise why would we have "retail therapy"), but in the sharing of it. It's why concerts are so compelling.

In "less developed" countries, music is a community experience, where people gather to listen or play and enjoy themselves.

It just doesn't happen like that anymore, at least not here in the UK. Music is a managed, elite and costly affair. Where's the joy in that?

As this exploitative commercial control of what we enjoy increases, all I feel is more and more resentment towards the record industry, and then they go and sue pensioners and young children because the billions that they make and distribute among the lucky few isn't enough.

They're in for a hard time soon, and they have nobody else to blame but themselves.

On 26 April 2005 at 03:54 PM, John Class commented:

I hate record companies. If they wanted $3.99 for a new CD with all the artwork and packaging, I would gladly give it to them. What I won't do is pay $18 for a product when the $1 or so the artist gets is enough to make said artist a millionare.

On 27 April 2005 at 02:04 PM, kingbenny commented:

Assuming you *do* at some point actually buy the album, then, no I don't think its overly criminal. Too many people find these 'unreleased' songs online and never pay a dime when the material is actually released.

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