Hello Stranger from Issue #65
A couple of you dropped us a line to protest last issue’s announcement in this space that we were dropping the ND Top 40 retail sales chart. Ivan Sohrakoff of Woodland, California, suggested we replace it with a “recommended listening” list, though he also acknowledged why we might consider such an animal to be redundant: “I realize that your whole magazine is like a recommended listening list.” (I’d amend that some things we specifically recommend against, but Ivan gets the basic point.)
Still, it’s nice to know the chart was appreciated, and if it weren’t for a couple of significant mitigating factors, we might reconsider. After all, the reason we started it in the first place was that we were curious about the sales numbers of records under the ND umbrella in the record stores that carried our magazine.
As we’ve opened up that umbrella in our editorial coverage, though, there was less “consensus” as to what records belonged in our chart. Magnifying the diminishing-returns situation has been the notable decrease in indie music stores — the kinds of stores that were most likely to report to ND. As the numbers decreased, the chart became a less accurate barometer of the marketplace.
That said, it’s not as if people aren’t buying and listening to music anymore. It’s no secret that the decline in brick-and-mortar stores has been caused primarily by the rise of the online marketplace. Not only are there plentiful outlets to order CDs on the internet (one of which, Miles Of Music, was a faithful reporter to our chart), but it’s increasingly common to purchase downloads rather than discs.
The download phenomenon tosses a wrench into the process somewhat, in that it stands to shift the nature of purchases away from albums and toward songs. Grant and I have discussed how we might address that situation in the future, as the market continues to mutate. Might a singles chart make sense, with reports from services such as iTunes and eMusic? Perhaps, although consensus stands to be spread even thinner when the unit of sale is essentially multiplied more than ten times on account of people purchasing individual tracks as opposed to albums.
A more interesting matter, to me, is how downloading may affect the actual artistic process itself. If in fact the sales emphasis shifts from albums to songs, with less customers interested in forking over cash for two good tracks and a heap of album-filler, perhaps it will spur an improvement in songwriting. That’s my hope, anyhow.
Some will argue to the death for the sanctity of the physical product over the digital byte. Those who appreciate album art fear the disappearance of that form, while documentarians note legitimate concerns about accreditation. Digital music has the ability to incorporate both of those aspects into its future, but there’s no guarantee it’ll happen. Still, from where I stand, the appeal of the digital-music realm can be summed up in one word: storage.
An old friend, Jeff Copetas, who was around when this magazine launched back in ’95 (he wrote the Bottle Rockets piece in ND #1), recently e-mailed me with some reflections on this topic. Jeff transferred everything in his collection to digital two years ago, and for the most part has been glad to have made the transition. For traveling, for the workplace, for parties, a digital library makes things a lot easier; “it really does open things up nicely and provides seriously cool versatility,” Jeff noted.
“At the same time,” he continued, “there was a strange sadness that overcame me as I was throwing out all the jewel boxes and putting all the artwork in large ziplocs for storage.” It felt, he said, “like an era of my life was ending.”
I suppose that time is coming for me as well, sooner or later — and perhaps for all of us. Still, I’m not sure what I’m gonna do with that big bookcase full of vinyl…
OK, on to a few housekeeping matters. First, in the feature on Dr. John in the May-June issue, we misidentified the woman who appeared in a couple of the photos as his wife, Cat Yellen; rather, it was his assistant, Bellavia….Next, in the July-August issue, the photo that ran on page 16 with the Ponderosa Stomp review was of Clarence “Frogman” Henry, not William Bell….And finally, regarding last issue’s obituaries, it was not the late Billy Walker who had a hit with “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down”, but rather Charlie Walker. Our apologies to all concerned.