May 6, 2007

For all that we’ve gained, what have we lost?

Some of you may have seen this linked over on Stereogum, but it is definitely worth a read for the true music lover. It’s a post from last year by Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff that really made me think about the way I consume and appreciate music.

READ: On File-Sharing, by Will Sheff
Originally posted on

Here are the paragraphs that made my brain whir and click:

The internet – with its glut not only of information but of misinformation, and of information that is only slightly correct, or only slightly incorrect – fills me with this same weird mixture of happiness and depression. I sometimes feel drowned in information, deadened by it. How many hundreds of bored hours have you spent mechanically poring through web pages not knowing what you’re looking for, or knowing what you’re looking for but not feeling satisfied when you find it? You hunger but you’re not filled. Everything is freely available on the internet, and is accordingly made inestimably valuable and utterly value-less.

When I was a kid, I’d listen to the same records over and over and over again, as if I was under a spell. The record would end and I’d flip it over again, doing absolutely nothing, letting the music wash over me. My favorite record albums become like a totem for me, their big fat beautiful gatefolds worked as a shield against the loud, crashing, crushing world. I would have laid down my life and died in defense of a record like Tonight’s the Night or Astral Weeks. I felt that those records had, in some ways, saved my life. These days, with all the choice in the world, it’s hard for me find the attention span for a single album. I put my iPod on shuffle and skip impatiently to the next song before each one’s over. I don’t even know what I’m looking for.

Do read the rest of the reflection, and listen to over a dozen mp3s (not . . . full albums) of Okkervil River’s music on their website.

I wouldn’t trade the freedom to find and discover new music that the internet offers us now, but I definitely feel crushed by the miscellany and the weight of it all sometimes, with hardly a free moment to just sit and enjoy without the feeling the compulsion to shuffle and import and rip and rearrange.

I found myself near a foreign record player recently, surrounded by stacks of fantastically well-loved vinyl that fairly screamed of time well spent. Because of the slick and facile siren song of my iPod, where the only evidence of attention given is in the playcount on iTunes that ticks steadily upward as I add a song onto a new playlist with a press of a round white button, to some degree I feel that I lack that concentrated focus & discovery of deep beauty in my life right now.


  • Well said. Both of you.

    I would just say that people should not forget they have free will and need not participate in the chaotic frontier that is the file-sharing community if they find it too suffocating and/or disorienting. (Of course, I would suspect pretty much everyone who has found their way to your (awesome) blog has probably cast their lot with the file-sharers).

    I know you’re a huge Pearl Jam fan – but I swear it’s not pandering when I say that I often think of the line from “Not For You”:

    “If you hate something, don’t you do it to”

    I think it’s good advice.

    daniel — May 6, 2007 @ 3:23 pm

  • 57 channels and nothing on…… music on mp3 like the satellite television explosion years back giving us so much of what we want that we can no longer discern its heart anymore? Or is that heart the grace beat of youth – a place where absorption and the focused beauty of concentration is a given – and you can lose yourself in the hope and glory of music?

    Or are we all fated nowadays to be perplexed with an information overload that provides no direction home?

    I grew up loving both music and people writing about music- the NME in particular but sometimes today feel saturated by music magazines that recycle lists and artists with an an agenda setting sameness that just isn’t exciting or fresh.

    Like a lot of people,I suspect,I enjoy your blog because I trust your voice and trusting voices is what makes music so life affirming.

    This is a really honest and thought provoking post.

    Your response to my bank holiday treatise really made me laugh.

    russell — May 6, 2007 @ 3:38 pm

  • It’s a really interesting point, but for all the turgid “Wow, this really sounds like a million other bands” kind of tracks you come across, you find the odd one or two mp3s that just blow you away and you hunt them down.

    I still get the urge to listen and re-listen to albums I buy from emusic, until I can’t bear to hear them again – at least for a couple of weeks!

    The immediacy of ‘net life with regards to music is one of the most exciting bits about it. I skim through a dozen music-blogs, often listening just because of the band name and I really have found bands that I have come to love completely by accident and almost certainly if it wasn’t for the occasional single mp3 that crops up, I wouldn’t have tracked them down and bought their music.

    absentbabinski — May 6, 2007 @ 4:19 pm

  • I agree. I fly through albums. Great records i’m sure that have gone unheard. Every Dylan bootleg at my fingertips is great though. PJ too.

    Anonymous — May 6, 2007 @ 6:08 pm

  • “I feel like a musical album should have a kind of purity
    and a kind of wholeness, that every aspect of an album – from the
    sequencing to the artwork even down to the typesetting – should feels
    labored over and loved, and that the finished product should feel like
    a gift.”

    I agree with this. If I find an MP3 of a new artist I’m interested in, I will download their EP minimally get familiar with how the song fits in before I take it out for “quality time” on a burned mixed cd.

    I won’t use my ipod. I think that for any pleasure time needs to be made to enjoy it. It can be a quick stolen moment, but it needs to be anticipated. Like reading a book with a flashlight under the covers at night, or dimming the lights for the right meal…making the time is part of the experience. Quick “plug-ins” become boring.

    It’s not the file sharing as much as the love of “the file” sharing that adds to the musical experience.

    Thank you heather for helping to frame the art.

    debs — May 7, 2007 @ 5:53 am

  • Most of these other comments summarize how I feel about file sharing. I don’t think it’s ethically wrong, obviously, but I certainly agree with the point that I search and search and am never filled. I’ve got probably hundreds of songs I’ve downloaded, listened to once, then moved on. Eventually I’ll put them on my iPod or burn them to a CD, but I’ll continue to feed my habit, as it were!

    There are occassions, though, when I’ll hear something, be blown away by it, and immediately go over to emusic or iTunes and buy the entire album. At least in my case, I think file sharing can be an excellent way to expose a band to a wider audience.

    aikin — May 7, 2007 @ 8:37 pm

  • That essay from Will was quite amazing, and very important to me when I first read it several months ago…it says so well things that I’ve long felt (and by “long”, I mean, ever since I started my site) and it says them so much more articulately. I feel buried in music some days, and I notice myself feeling like I have to get through all of it, digest all of it, and – if it moves me enough – write about it. That leaves me far less time to do what I used to do, which was simply sit with a record for weeks (or even months if need be), soaking it in and letting it become a part of my life.

    At times, I miss that like crazy.

    Chad — May 7, 2007 @ 11:48 pm

Comments RSS

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Subscribe to this tasty feed.
I tweet things. It's amazing.

Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

View all Interviews → View all Shows I've Seen →