Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love YouTube as a Music Service

I was at a party in Deland recently.  That's right.  I said party, in Deland, Florida.  Ugh.  It was late, and I was not intoxicated in the least (because I was driving and I am responsible!).  So once we got done playing Rock Band, as is the norm with this particular group of people (and they always ask me to play drums...ugh.  Drum sticks + engagement ring = ow), there was dancing, and I sat down to the host's laptop where I played DJ.  Then one really drunk girl begged me to play some Lady GaGa.  As I searched through the host's iTunes collection, rife with Swedish synth pop, I found no Lady GaGa.  She pleaded with me to go to YouTube to find them some.  I obliged, and was thanked profusely later.

And yes, GaGa more than anyone else, has benefited from the increase of YouTube.  With the most viewed video of all time, she sells so many more records, or downloads rather, and overpriced concert tickets this way.  But she is a serious case of right place, right time: YouTube wasn't always king.

As a Napster Kid, for a long time it really bothered me that YouTube had taken over as the internet's leading source of hearing music.  Maybe I'm relieved that it's taken over from MySpace - and very glad that I never have to put up with flashing banner ads that essentially shout at me thing like, "WHICH ONE WILL NEW YORK CHOOSE - TANGO OR CHANCE!?  VOTE FOR A FREE IPOD SHUFFLE!!" if I don't want to anymore.  And those damn MySpace players are really unreliable, too.

But when someone bought concert tickets for me and a friend, and he said, "check them out on YouTube," I got really cranky.  I refused to do it.  Then during my day job, I heard a kid actually say, "Why would you ever go see a live concert when you have YouTube?"  I almost cried. 

Don't get me wrong.  I grew up loving loving loving music videos.  Before I was a Napster Kid, I was the Poster Child of the MTV Generation.  As with many children of divorce, I would drown out my parents fighting with hours upon hours of MTV.  Even when my family didn't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of, my mother ensured we had cable, I think mostly for this reason.  Aside from basking in the glow of Nickelodeon in its golden years, I watched enough MTV to develop a lifetime obsession with popular music.  I didn't listen to the radio as a kid.  My parents liked music - one important musical memory came from the summer of 1989, when my family bought an LP single of George Harrison's "I Got My Mind Set on You" and kept putting the needle back over and over again, overjoying at 6-year-old me and the kids of their visiting friends dancing to it like we were Fraggles or something.

But MTV was what ignited my passion.  I grew to worship and try to emulate Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson.  Much of what I saw terrified me, especially the wave of grunge that overtook in 1991.  I had nightmares about Kurt Cobain and Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" video.  (I was nine.  Give me a break.)  But I loved it, and watched deep into the 90s, as the videos faded from importance and the network pioneered the practice of making reality show cast members into stars.

In the late 90s, the internet took over, primarily as a place where I could find people who shared my musical obsessions rather than thought I was weird for having them.  My first evening ever on the internet was spent reading through a fansite called The Temple of Billy Corgan.  (I was sixteen.  Give me a break.)  But then there was a beautiful practice of filesharing, and I got all in on the Napster thing.  I never thought anything about it was bad - downloading MP3s for free seemed to be the American Way.  Of course, that had to do a lot with the artists I listened to.  Lifelong favorites of mine like Corgan and Ben Folds were all over giving stuff away for free online, so much that Corgan himself gave away Machina II - which some people consider to be the musical savior of the Pumpkins: 1st Edition - for free.  In the year 2000.  Thus, since my heroes didn't mind that I did it, I did it too, and laughed at Metallica.  Music as a strictly aural art took hold in my mind at that point, and didn't let go.

In college I majored in music, and tried to get my grubby little hands on every bit of it I could, classical or otherwise, trying to judge everything I came across for what it was, not what sort of standard I held it up to.  (Even a band like The Fiery Furnaces.)  But music videos had long been struck from my mind.  In the early Aughts, I worked an overnight job and listened to lots and lots and lots of Launchcast.  If you watched videos on Launch, then you had a very, very slim selection.  And you always had to wait for them to buffer.  By just listening to music, sans images, you could get so much more.

Over the years, sites like last.fm and Pandora have taken over; unfortunately, I've never worked any other jobs that provided me so much damn downtime.  Blip.fm is a fun thing to play with on the twitters, but it's not really a viable listening service.

So why does YouTube get more cred for being a music service than sites that set out for that purpose like Pandora?

Maybe it's the fault of people like Lady GaGa, who set out to revive the music video.  And that damn band with all the treadmills.  And it began to bother me.  Call my an Apple loyalist, but when I want to give someone a sample of a song, whether I'm teaching or otherwise, I search the iTunes store and just play the free snippet of the song they'll provide.  When you're trying to demonstrate something, that's all you need, right?

The only problem is that not everything is on iTunes.  But everything, and I mean everything, is on YouTube.  Everything.  Even for stuff that doesn't have a music video, which is weird, considering that the sound quality on most YouTube videos is crap.

But wait!  Holy It's Not 2006 Anymore, Batman! 


When I was 6, my parents had not indoctrinated me with Beatles to the point where I had a historical frame for how awesome this song/video really is/was, but looking back, wow.  I love it.

I'm not really great at playing the Look How Much Obscure Music I Know game, but everything, everything is on there.

And so on.  And so forth.

So really?  It is perfect for people who want their music in a single serving package.  One song, one good to go.  It's like a buying a single and not having to listen to the B-side.

Whereas myself and my fellow devourers of music (my fiance is a bookworm - when I am chastised because I am not so much, he defends me by saying, "She's a music worm") prefer a long stream of music.  I need it continually in my blood - hence the appeal of MTV when I was younger, and the few good radio stations we had when I was a teenager.  To the dismay of all of my college music professors, I also do things to music rather than sit and authentically listen.  I'm sorry, but the laundry and the dishes need doing, and they are done much better to rhythm and melody.  YouTube takes me away from multitasking, and forces me to gawk at a screen.  Bleh.

But like I said.  They.  Have.  Everything.

Hence, until we come up with something better, this is it.  Which means that the music video is back to being king again.  Oh boy.

And to make musical examples, just like conductors of ensembles do these days, I will continue to post videos to both a) add color to my blog entries, rather than prolonged use of unlicensed images, and b) provide musical examples.

If talking about music is like dancing about architecture, and a picture is worth a thousand words, then the sky seems to be the limit with music videos.

Like the beloved comic book writer Harvey Pekar, who passed away this week, once said, "You can do anything with words and pictures."  Of course, he was talking about comic books, but who's to say that music videos can't do the same thing?  Or that YouTube will own us all in a few years?

Unless, of course, this sort of stuff is what we do with the power we have...

1 comment:

  1. You don't have to sit at the screen endlessly while using YouTube. It has a playlist feature and it can even just auto shuffle through related videos.