A friend of mine pointed me to an interesting article today. Steven Ansell, drummer of Blood Red Shoes, wrote an essay on the current state of music, posing the question: is music becoming a passive experience? Before I dive into this, take a quick read for yourself here.
Quite a thought-provoking question, isn’t it? I certainly think it’s cool that a musician like Ansell is speaking his mind, but in the end, it’s just another unnecessary think-piece about how music – more specifically, how we listen to it – used to be better.
Listen, I understand where Ansell is coming from – he’s pissed that his fans are pissed Blood Red Shoes can’t come to their city or country, out of some false sense of entitlement I suppose. We’ve all been there, but bands are human too (unless you’re Daft Punk) and they can only be in so many places at once. I also understand Ansell’s frustration about concert-goers these days, who seem more worried about taking pictures for their Instagram accounts rather than enjoying the concert experience and living in the moment.
What I don’t understand nor agree with is Ansell’s unprecedented cane-wagging from his porch about these darned the kids and their music these days. Every fucking think piece about the state of music always reverts back to the argument of “back in my day, things were much better!” This argument only makes the writer come across as an ignorant old geezer.
Guess what? Before the internet, things weren’t much different! Sure, music is much more easily available thanks to Spotify, Soundcloud, YouTube, etc., but 30 years ago, music was relatively as easy to obtain. Magazines and newspapers of yore are no different than your music blogs today. And radio? Oh, boy, radio was king, where music was played for free right to the comfort of your living room or car, and you didn’t have to pay one fucking cent for it. Speaking of cars, you could drive right down to the ol’ local record store, where you could browse and listen to music for hours.. for FREE, lest you actually had to, you know, buy an album. Didn’t have a record store nearby? Surely your town had a library, right? No? Well, at least you could steal albums from your older brother. Didn’t have an older brother? What about parents? Friends? Relatives? Dogs? You get the picture.
If you really want to find good music outside of the typical Top 40 bullshit, you still have to dig for it by browsing blogs or music mags, even in 2014. I mean, how else would you even be able to discover a band like Blood Red Shoes? I found them back in 2010 while listening through some CDs at my college radio station. As music director, I had to listen to just about everything that was sent to our station in order to find something good for our DJs to put on air. “Light It Up” happened to catch my attention. Fast-forward a few years, and I used the internet to discover The Joy Formidable, who eventually recruited BRS to open for them on their last US tour; they didn’t just fall on my lap. The Joy Formidable and Mr. Ansell’s music didn’t just passively come to me; I had to search for it. Does that make the music any sweeter to me? No, but I can see why for some people it does. I just simply like their music and the way it resonates to me, and I can say the same about hundreds of other bands. Ansell DOES realize that if it weren’t for the internet and our “new age” of listening to music, he wouldn’t be lucky enough to travel to 25 countries every year, with fans begging him to visit their hometown, right? If it weren’t for the way we listen to music now, Blood Red Shoes would be stuck in the UK playing to a bunch of regulars at an English pub.
Obviously, I think Steven Ansell is smart enough to realize that we simply can’t go back to the way it was in 1984, but I agree with the fact that perhaps music needs to be better appreciated. For many people, music brings pure enjoyment and happiness. It can change lives and open minds. It can provoke political change, start movements, evoke emotions, or simply make you dance. People can lose sight of that. For such a powerful and essential tool to the human experience, music is often taken for granted, and I think that needs to change. The main problem I have with Ansell’s ranting and tut-tutting is that he never offers a solution to this problem! Nobody ever does, not even frequent complainers like Thom Yorke, Nigel Godrich, and David Byrne.
So, Mr. Ansell, my question to you is: if you think the industry is so screwed up, how do you fix it? Where do we go from here? We all know the band isn’t opposed to thinking outside of the box. I would be curious to hear Ansell’s answer to all of this, and I would love to sit down over a pint and chat with him about it. Maybe someday, if they ever fucking come to New York City again!