Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Things we said today

Now that I'm returning to post-tour sanity, I'm actually starting to read the blogs again. That's right, baby: blogs! They're the wave of the future.

I suppose it's a little lazy of me to simply share what I've been commenting in my travels, and act like that's a bona fide post. (Is it? Sometimes I feel like I've lost all sense of decorum.)

Anyway, I chimed in at Eric Benson's fantastic post on Pandora and iTunes's Genius service. The original post is well worth your time, so go read. And here is what I said about it:

This is a very interesting piece. I'd be curious to know about the constituency of music listeners that Pandora is attempting to serve (I haven't had a chance to listen to the interview, so I don't know if this was covered there). But I think they are assuming that most people are pretty happy hearing "more of the same." Why else would they tout their service as "stations that play only music you like"? You can't really be adventurous in your listening without the risk of failure, and if they're counting on you liking everything they come up with, well, where's the risk?

That in fact is why I have always been suspicious of services like Pandora, Genius, the Amazon recommendations system, etc. I do use them from time to time, but I kind of resent the way they seem designed to make the process of discovering music easier. That seems like a pitfall to me, because personally I have always enjoyed the hard work involved in the process of discovering new music through my own active research: methodically triangulating numerous sources (friends, libraries, reviews, DJs, etc.) and coming across some real gems in the process. While it's true that that approach is more time-consuming, involves a greater degree of risk, and a can occasionally yield a dud, it still feels like when I am actively participating in the my own music search, instead of having possibilities handed to me by an algorithm, the end result is a feeling of greater connection with the music I end up loving.

Of course, on the other hand, I understand the motivation behind services like Pandora, which I think would not be springing up if there was not exponentially more music in the world these days. It's a response to what Alvin Toffler called "overchoice" -- the dizzying array of new releases in any given week, month, year. So I get it, but I still avoid it.

Earlier, I waxed ponderous at Peter Hum's terrific post on semantics and music criticism. Again, well worth your time. Again, go read. Again, here's what I said:

Thanks for this great discussion, Peter.

Personally, though I try to choose my words carefully (and at times obsessively), I confess I'm less concerned with finding the perfect word to describe music x, or automatically avoiding certain words for the same reason. Language has always been a much more fluid phenomenon than most of us realize when we're caught up in it at any given moment. But the truth is that fifty or a hundred years from now, what seems like perfect or imperfect terminology today may have changed its meaning in ways we can't foresee.

What is far more important, and what your article reminds us of, I think, is that writers need to *define their terms up front*, either explicitly, or by placing a given word in a context that is impossible to miss. And failure to do that is really where the problem comes in.

The other thing you've reminded me of is the Orwellian idea that the words a writer chooses (though if he or she is being lazy, "choice" may not be the best description of what is happening) can influence the thoughts he or she is having. As Orwell says in Politics and the English Language, sloppy writing produces sloppy thinking. And whatever else is going on with the music biz these days, we could sure do with a lot less sloppy thinking.


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Incidentally, a very good friend of mine is diving into the blogosphere. His stuff is here. Take it for a spin if you like.

[Photo credit: Mike Licht]

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