Thursday, 15 May 2008

Downloads are all well and good but...

An album is not just a random list of songs. It is lovingly and painstakingly arranged, with great attention paid to creating a listening experience that goes above and beyond the songs themselves. If it’s done well, the track listing creates a kind of sparkly magic glue, that binds the album together, and the whole becomes more than a sum of the parts.

So now we have iTunes and that’s all very well. I can see the advantages – especially for the environment – but something has been lost. In one sense the digital age has brought artists much closer to their audience, and vice versa. You can be their Myspace chum and read in their blog what they had for breakfast this morning. But in another important way, it has created a further obstacle to true connection.

McLuhen said, ‘The medium is the message’. I wouldn’t quite go that far, but downloading this track and that track then putting your iPod on ‘shuffle’ deletes an important part of the message for sure.

Although as a team putting this album [i.e. 'Here' - released 2nd June 2008] together we weren’t really verbalising this perspective, I think it’s the reason we made the album the way we did – ie as an album. We used analogue tape for much of the recording (at least to the extent our budget allowed) in order to build the warmth into the sound that comes from recording the music itself – not a bunch of ones and noughts that represent the music. We used analogue synths and acoustic instruments as much as possible, again to create immediacy and intimacy, and hopefully, dare I say it, to ‘keep it real’.

Even the way I write and play music – in essence it’s just me and an acoustic guitar – is a conscious choice I made to set fairly narrow boundaries around the creative process, in what has become in this age of Protools and plug ins, a world of almost infinite possibility.

The album is arranged into ‘side one’ and ‘side two’. Even if technically such a model is redundant these days, aesthetically I think it still has value. We’ve tried to create something of the experience of listening to a record, the way I enjoyed when I was younger. This is so much a part of the way I think about music, it really is the only way I can present these songs properly. We could have gone the whole hog and released it on gramophone record I suppose, but even I haven’t got a turntable anymore, and I would like people to actually hear the music.

I hope the sleeve too, contributes to our approach. I think it’s really beautiful. And because Just Music use environmentally friendly packaging, you don’t have the ‘plastic window effect’ to contend with. So even if you don’t like the music, I think you can still enjoy the packaging!

For all these reasons, I’d like people a) to buy the album, and b) to buy it in CD format if at all possible. Sure you can import it to iTunes and stick it on your iPod – that’s fine. But I’d really like people to own and enjoy the artefact. There are poems, thank yous and images in there that you can't get from downloading the MP3s.

I am not a Luddite (though he had a point), nor am I some kind of analogue fundamentalist. After all it’s no use denying the many benefits of the present – and anyway nostalgia is particularly unsatisfying when used as an attempt at refuge. But for this particular set of songs it feels right. It’s the record I’ve dreamed of making since I was first buying records of my own. It makes me happy to think that some people will get what I’m trying to do.

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