Monday, January 16, 2006

MP3 blog gripes

I've stated on this blog before about how much I enjoy MP3 blogs. They're the real deal; the people writing about bands/records want to write about them and share them with others. I still enjoy reading these sites, but I have some reservations with what I often see.

Here's some background info: I was involved with my college radio station for about four years. Lots of incredible, great, OK, bad and terrible records passed through the station the whole time I was there. I was introduced to a number of bands that I still think highly of today (ie, Idlewild, Hot Water Music, Ryan Adams, Weakerthans, Hey Mercedes, Doves and others) and a ton of terrible bands/records that I have forgotten about. It was a true hunt for the good stuff and I was often rewarded. The problem with that hunt was trying to stay on top of things. Once some record was en vogue with a certain crowd, there was a desire to find something else to praise.

So much time was spent listening to records that it was hard to give a lot of records special attention. Every week I had a stack of records that I picked out and gave them a few spins. When I was modern rock director for a semester, I was always searching for songs that had a certain formula (ie, decent to smooth production with good hooks, especially in the chorus) and if I wasn't immediately taken with it, I moved on. This kind of thinking led me to pass up on great records like Idlewild's 100 Broken Windows, Jets to Brazil's Four Cornered Night and Red House Painters' Retrospective. Luckily, certain records somehow find a way of getting back into your life.

Away from the college radio life, I choose to listen to the stuff that I want to at my own pace. Currently, I'm really digging The Life Pursuit by Belle & Sebastian, Used Songs by Tom Waits and Silent Alarm by Bloc Party, among others. I'm not looking for hits or songs to play for my friends; I'm just enjoying what I hear at the pace that I choose.

Reading multiple MP3 blogs everyday, I quickly lose track of what is worth checking out. There is almost always a new artist/band/record featured everyday on the blogs that I read, but I have a hard time deciding which ones I should give some time out for. Since writing about music is a lot like writing about food (one can talk about the ingredients and the feeling one gets from the whole thing, but ultimately it's a feeling that is hard to explain in words), certain recommendations can sometimes mean way different things to different people.

A big stink I have with MP3s in general is the varying degree of sound quality. If the bitrate is anything below 192, I usually stop listening to it. I can't stand the sound of fluttering and distorting that come with bitrates like 128 or 160. It's almost just like hearing a poorly dubbed song on a worn-out cassette. Certain parts get washed out and they can leave a wrong impression with people. I don't fault bloggers who post MP3s that are below 192 (there are probably bandwidth issues as to why), but I get very distracted with hearing something that is less than CD-quality sound.

Then there is the course of recommendation. I love how bloggers like Eric, Jeff and Frank explain in depth why they like a certain track, record or band. This is like having a knowledgeable friend give you exact reasons why you may or may not like something. This is always very helpful. With some people I know and some MP3 blogs I've seen, the buck stops at "You need to listen to this song" with no explanation other than the person likes it. Sorry, unless I was interested before the recommendation, that's not enough for me to take the time out to listen. That's my hard-headed nature at work; I don't want to waste time on stuff I don't like.

Maybe this is all because of my fear of wasting time and hard drive space. Maybe I should relax. Nobody is putting a gun to my head and saying, "Listen to this!" However, if it's listening to something that is of poor sound quality and has very little in the "reasons why I should listen" department, I pass up the opportunity.

I should stress that I'm not trying to piss all over people's passion over exposing new music. Seeing new artists/records be praised everyday is more proof to me that there is never a time when there is a dearth of good music out there. However, the means of getting from one person's ears to another has some kinks that should be ironed out.


gone said...

This is a great treatise on MP3 blogs as a whole. I agree that the whole, "you have to listen to this song," argument is, at best, weak in the knees. However, there are a few MP3 blogs out there of lesser quality that I use simply as a resource tool. The blogs that post entire albums that I'm looking to sample, but not necessarily buy, are a great resource. But, as for good writing and decent opinions, they are scant in the sphere. But, I think this is an indictment on blogs in general, not just on MP3 blogs in particular. There is just too much trash out there. And, as fellow bloggers, I'm sure we fall prey to this generalization sometimes, too. But, what that does is make each gem you find that much better, and that much closer to your heart.

Great post, Eric.

josh Mueller said...

I agree with many of your points. I would also add that too often many MP3 blogs focus only on "the next big thing", problematic as there isn't much to be said yet on some of these artists (especially if you've only heard one song). I think our (Jay and I) disappointment over our own attempt to continuously write something meaningful about some of these rookies is what led to the overhaul of our format early this year. It's so much easier to write when your focus is on the bands and songs we've known and loved years.

In my opinon, mixing up the past present and future is the most ideal situation for any music lover/writer. Props to Aquarium Drunkard whom I think does that best.

That said, I also enjoy it when someone latches on to a unique concept such "all cover songs" (Copy, Right). That's actually what led to my ongoing experiment with a blog dedicated to making mix tapes (Loud Monkey Music). Ok, I'll stop babbling.

Tim Young said...

Yup. I've only just got into MP3 blogging but I'm rapidly discoving that the only way to really find out what a track is like is to LISTEN to it! I guess we all find the bloggers we are most in tune with and read them regularly.

I'm going to be crass now and mention my own music. sorry. I've put a track on my own blog here
that I'd love some people to listen to and comment on ....

jefito said...

Thanks for the kind words. I love your blog, by the way, if I've never said it.

PAgirly said...

amen, brother! you said it best...great post. i think you hit the nail on the head too. there is so much music out there that i need better descriptive words before i'm willing to give it a listen. i've become jaded in my old age. i used to listen to ANYTHING...several times...i pass things up right and left these days.

Eric said...

Grubbs -

As Jeff said, thanks for the kind words. And as you pointed out there are way too many MP3 blogs that just seem haphazardly put together where people just throw up as many new artists as they can regardless of quality. I agree that most people will find the blogs that resonate with them and just stick with them. It seems that most of em don't take the time to get to know the artist and immerse themselves in the music and say something meaningful about it. I choose to basically only post stuff I've listened to over and over and really enjoy. I don't care if it's not the hottest or newest thing. If I post it, I know its good. Oh yeah, your site features some of the best music related writing out there today. you really should write a book!!!