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The post in which the World Cup segues into advice for the music industry July 1, 2010

Posted by markgeil in Music, The words of others far more wise than I.

I have lots of words floating around my head these days and too little time to let them out by writing them down. There is new music I would like to write about. I’d like to tell the story of how I broke my index finger, and hopefully I will someday, but I’m typing so doggone slow because of said finger. I just finished an interesting book about which I would enjoy pontificating. And then there’s the remarkable undercurrent that will define this summer: the World Cup.

So, since I can’t really type much, I’m going to lean on the words of others. Bill Simmons from ESPN has just posted an outstanding column on the Cup. Near the end he talks about the nature of sports fandom these days, and he’s pot on. I could easily replace his list from the third paragraph below with one of my own. Here’s a good section:

When Donovan scored that Cup-saving goal against those spineless playing-for-a-tie-when-they-needed-to-win-by-two-goals Algerians, the moment resonated like no other goal in American soccer history. We didn’t have anyone telling us how we should feel, what the implications were, what the moment meant. We knew what it meant. We wanted more games. We wanted our boys to keep playing. Someone scored. We celebrated. We jumped up and down. We ran around the room. We were alive for another game. For once in a fragmented sports world, we all happened to be rooting for the same thing.

When does that happen anymore? In 2010, you can follow any athlete, whether he plays 13 miles away or 3,000. You can watch any game you want. You can read any and every opinion that exists. You can find out information as soon as it happens, instead of 12-18 hours later in a newspaper. You can interact with other fans who love your team; you can butt heads with the people who hate them. You can tweet your thoughts on a big play as the players are still celebrating it. You can root for your real guys and your fantasy guys. You are fanatically autonomous.

We didn’t have nearly as many choices when I was growing up. Either you rooted for local teams or you jumped on a successful bandwagon (such as the Steelers’ or Cowboys’) because they were always on national TV. The days of “I’m going to fall in love with Oklahoma City because I love watching Kevin Durant, even though I live in Maine” were still decades away. Eight-Year-Old Me rooted for the four Boston teams, Ali, Nicklaus, Connors and Leonard. I hated the Yankees, Raiders, Dolphins, Canadiens, Flyers, Sixers, Munson, Nettles, Stabler, Clarke and Kareem. I liked Earl Campbell and the Oilers’ uniforms. I liked David Thompson and George Gervin. I loved all Topps cards. I loved Gerry Cheevers’ mask. I loved Terry O’Reilly and Mike Haynes. I loved Freddie Lynn more than anything. And those were the only real sports opinions I had.

Fast-forward to 2010. What shapes Eight-Year-Old Me? How would EYOM settle on 10-12 things to love and hate? How would EYOM differentiate substance from nonsense? How could a moment stand out for EYOM when everything gets televised or covered? It’s total sports overload. Too many choices, too much noise, too many extremes, too many niches, too many forums, too many opinions, too many people trying to stand out. You become numb after a while. The only thing that never gets old? Winning in the most dramatic way possible, then basking in the glow of that dramatic victory with as many people as possible.

And here’s something I noticed. The same logic applies to one of my major domains of interest: music. Just like in sports, we are fanatically autonomous. You can follow and band or musician, anywhere you want. You can remember an obscure song from your youth and hear it within seconds while you watch the lyrics flash by in a crude MovieMaker video on YouTube. Someone can suggest some indie band and you can legally download everything the band’s ever recorded for free because indie bands are so desperate to be heard over the vuvuzela-like din. Again, quoting Simmons, “It’s total [music] overload. Too many choices, too much noise, too many extremes, too many niches, too many forums, too many opinions, too many people trying to stand out. You become numb after a while.”

I wish there was a World Cup for music, a galvanizing moment that unites a body of people in an unexpected, organic way. Sadly, the industry tries to very hard to manufacture such moments that I’m not sure they’ll ever again let one just happen. For what it’s worth, here’s how I cope:

1) I have a very short list of bands, and I seek out and buy every new album they make. I read about them and follow their careers like a 12-year-old girl reading Tiger Beat. The list varies in length as bands come and go. Right now it’s at a very happy three.

2) I have a longer list of bands I listen to when I can, sometimes buy, but do not follow too closely. Managing this list takes discipline because, as we said, there’s just too much information out there.

3) I generally ignore the rest. I used to download the Single of the Week from iTunes and the free song from some record label’s weekly email and I got all these cluttered little snippets of artists for whom I had no investment and no knowledge, and they were shouting at me, begging to get noticed. If you don’t mind the sports parallel a little bit more, these are the athletes I’ve never heard of, competing in a sport I don’t understand in, say, the Winter Olympics, and NBC is so desperate for me to care about them that they make me watch a long dramatic feature about their life. It’s force-fed fandom, and in music, I’ve decided not to play anymore.

I know that Item 3 leaves record labels and indie bands gnashing their teeth as they try to figure out how to get into my ear and my wallet, and I sympathize, I really do. At the same time, I encourage them all to recognize that adding little scraps of music to an overloaded pile is not the solution.



1. Greg Schick - August 9, 2010

Soccer and music, my two passions. You said it perfectly, I think. I wish I could have your discipline when it comes to music. There used to be a time when I was searching to find the newest and most obscure (80s/early 90s). Now I have more music than I can possibly listen to. Now that I have the quantity I seek, I don’t have the time I need. So I basically limp along, listen to about 250+ new albums a year (or just parts of some of them) and about 5-6 make it into my favorites rotation that I keep on my iPod and burned to CD in my car.

The major labels are still force feeding us like nothing has changed, which is why they are in such dire straits (a good band too).

Two words: Justin Beiber.

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