To me, free music on demand has always been one of the very best things about the Internet.
In fact, I would have to admit that downloadable and freely listenable music was a definite turning point in my relationship to the Internet. For one reason, in one word: Napster. (I’ll get back to Napster, later.) The music industry and its relationship to the Internet has been old news for ten years now, but we still hear too much about the RIAA, if you ask me.
A while ago, recording artist Mathew Good began a campaign to maximize the sales of his next album, Vancouver, to be released in a month. Aside from blogging about the process and tweeting about things going on during production, he began streaming the album a month before its official release. I’ll get into musical reasons that make this an album everyone should buy in my review of Vancouver below.
I want to point out what Good does that the RIAA does not seem to understand. His process goes like this: make a really good CD of music that you think people will like. Give it to them in a way that they can’t steal. Use this whole scenario to build and strengthen your fanbase so they will be on your side when the album is released and they will go out and buy the album, already certain they will like it. This is the same strategy he used last time to sell Hospital Music. As he boasts in the link, he understands “the reality of what can be accomplished through unconventional means utilizing new technologies without having to endure the resistance of those that haven’t the foresight to realize their importance.” Well, that’s pretty much everything I want to say in this blog post: “those that haven’t the foresight to realize their importance” being the RIAA, etc.
I suspect that we will see once again that Good is right about how to get a musical message to the masses. I am sick and tired of the Metallicas and the Offsprings of this world worried about a few albums being downloaded. Try showing some loyalty to your fans and they might have some loyalty to you. Radiohead has it right. Even Coldplay has some things right. As of today, Pearl Jam has it right (as we might expect). Lots of artists have it right, and Matt Good is definitely one of them. I am preordering or certainly picking up Vancouver the day it comes out. Because I’m a loyal fan who feels that his loyalty is repaid in kind.
To go back to Napster, for a second, I want to say that I am one of many people who think that Napster was critical to the success of the PC and Internet revolution in the late 1990’s. Until Napster, I was content to have a three year old machine and the slowest Internet connection I could get; never since then. And I know I’m not alone in that. I knew so many people who upgraded or bought more disc space or bought several computers, so they could download and hold more music. That doesn’t help the music industry to know that, but if everything was fair, they would have gotten some royalties for all the computer equipment sold during that time.
But alas, the RIAA and its minions are picking the wrong battle, one they will fight to the death. (Which they almost certainly are facing.)
I know that many people will also point out that this (allowing free music) is easy for an established artist to do and new artists may not have the resources or the buzz-building ability to let people listen for free then try to sell albums later. But everyone is going to have to adapt to the new reality. Fighting it is definitely the wrong thing to do but that is still the RIAA’s one-note strategy, one they presumably pass on to young, recently signed bands.
CD Review of Matthew Good Vancouver
Now, after a few listens to the album online, let me offer a review of Matthew Good’s new album, Vancouver. I’m not going to confess to being a fanboy – but that’s because I think that’s irrelevant. I’m a fan because I like good music, and Matthew Good has made a lot of really good music.
Matthew Good’s latest album is one in a series of his sonic-pleasure old-fashioned “music albums”… you know, a disc of music whose existence is not predicated on one song that “kids’ll go for.” Personally, I think his best album is the last one he put out, Hospital Music, one of my favourite albums of the decade, certainly. Among his other great albums, Good has produced Avalanche in his solo career and mammoth ’90’s rock albums Underdogs and Beautiful Midnight.
There are highlights on this album certainly, but on the whole there is no bad track here, nothing I would have thought about erasing. Good’s tendency to sample is kept to a minimum here and used very judiciously on the unsettling rock track “Fought to Fight It.” After a couple of listens, I wonder if this song is up there with some of the best rock tracks he’s ever done. As with Avalanche, Good employs strings and orchestral arrangements throughout the tracks here and often this is really pleasant stuff, especially on the closer “Empty’s Theme Park.”
Other highlights? “Great Whales of the Sea” really grabs, a paean to Vancouver’s national animal. “The Vancouver National Anthem” is a seven minute epic that fans of later Good have come to expect. It’s full of timing changes as any song this length must be. The “we all live downtown…step over ourselves” chorus, backed by a violin and Good’s friend Pete Yorn, is definitely haunting. Then they extend this for a good two minutes. The song winds around here and there, too, a kind of microcosm for the sound of the entire CD.
“Us Remains Impossible” has a great loping guitar riff that pulls you into every verse (and that you will find hard to get out of your head) even if the chorus is a bit too low key for me. “Nights Like Tonight” rises early in the first verse then goes into some odd directions before dropping back to a listenable acoustic riff. Like all great bands, Good is very good at playing with song structures and listener expectations just enough to intrigue on all his original material.
Throughout this album, you have to marvel at Good’s ability to know what sounds are worth drawing on, to make a song truly worth playing and listening to. That he has so many weapons in his arsenal – a great voice, great song subjects and some true talent on the guitar – only makes this so much easier to do.
There are aspects of Matthew Good’s music to detract. Occasionally he does seem to have been influenced a little by fellow Vancouverite Bryan Adams – just ever so much, in very small corners. The only time I hear bit of that on his new material is on the song “Bad Pennies” which is left off the final track list; it’s a tiny bit Bryan Adams and a whole lotta Good.
Still, some might dismiss Matt Good’s music as “ordinary.” I am certain that not one of these people has ever listened to one of Matthew Good’s five best albums from start to finish, though. Vancouver is certainly one of those five.