Watermarked CDs came up during a recent conversation with a music critic I greatly admire. I have yet to review a watermarked CD -- so I have yet to experience this --, but he had plenty of times. I can see why labels take to this method in hopes of curbing online MP3 leaks, yet I wonder how much they realize this a bad thing.
A recent mention on Idolator led me to this post by a music writer receiving a watermarked copy of Eisley's forthcoming record, Combinations. Not only did it not play in his computer, DVD player or car stereo, it wouldn't even play in his "archaic portable CD player." Which led him to ask Reprise/Warner Bros., "Where am I supposed to listen to this CD that you want me to review?" It's a great question. I think the bigger tragedy lies in not reviewing these records in a variety of places, especially the car.
I spend way more time listening to music while I'm in the car. I'm not so sure I would have clung to records like Clarity and Whatever and Ever Amen had it not been for my car stereo. Since I seem to concentrate on music a little better in the car than when I'm at home, the car ride listen is like a litmus test.
When I'm at home, music is more of a background thing. When I'm in the car, it's not. As a matter of fact, a number of records I reviewed for Punk Planet got the car ride test. Reviews of records like Happy Hollow and All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone were greatly informed by this. Had I not felt the experience of "The Birth and Death of the Day" cranking out of my car stereo, I'm not so sure I would have felt so connected to it. I had to feel my spine move during that searing guitar line found halfway into it to understand.
Think about how the sound merely travels in a car. It's like you're in a booth and you don't have to worry about volume. The sound is travelling all around you and there's no real escape. That's a pretty cool feeling -- and it's a feeling you can't get with an iPod, a boombox or even a den stereo. So what do labels want us to say about their limited listening-setting advance copies? Don't listen to this in a variety of places and base everything off of one or two settings? Right . . .