Growing up in the early '90s, mainstream FM radio was reliably decent. You had your Smashing Pumpkins, your Nirvanas, your Jane's Addictions. The Nu Metal devolution was a half decade away and there were more than a dozen years before the dial would be largely dominated by American Idol runner ups, actor-fronted emo-core bands, and that song where the guy just sings "I'm so fly" fifty-eight times and you suddenly lose all faith in humanity. Oh yeah, and back then: Boyz II Men. Between those years when my attention was divided between Tool, that newfangled "Alternative" movement, and a strange adoration of that Lisa Loeb song and now, Congress passed something called the Telecommunications Act. At its crudest (and admittedly most biased) level, this law allowed single corporations to own thousands of radio stations, which, of course they ended up owning, which led to a couple faceless guys somewhere programming literally hundreds of stations at once. In simpler terms, you heard Creed blowing it professionally in every market because of the shady machinations of that aforementioned faceless guy. Scott Stapp was ecstatic; the rest of us pondered deafening ourselves with meat thermometers.
Now, of course, there were a few stations around the country who remained independent, or who at least were programmed independently, who didn't torture their audience, who took chances, who played music that was, you know, good. But if you weren't lucky enough to live within the requisite zip code, you were saddled with the Thong Song six times an hour. As Mom always said: life isn't fair; enjoy your Sisqo.
At around the same time, this pesky thing called the Internet was starting to speed up. Where once it took longer to load your email that send a cross-Atlantic postcard, suddenly music was downloadable, streamable. Metallica whined famously that Napster was removing the plug in their treasure bath but there was really no stopping it. Not only was music more accessible than it ever had been before, but it was now damn near free. You didn't have to wait for the radio or that snooty prick at the record store to gift you new music; everyone's collection was tradable, broadcastable, available.
Logically, Internet radio soon followed. Now that snooty guy at the record store could play his entire collection of obscure Iroquois Jazzcore B-sides and anyone, anywhere could hear it. You could search out new bands, new styles, new genres cheap if not free, could find stations you loved, get turned on to your local scene, all commercial-free, usually by a guy or gal sharing their music for the love of turning people on to something new. Of course, anything that utopian couldn't last for long.
And it didn't.
The US Copyright Royalty Board, in its infinite ignorance, passed a law that will essentially end free Internet radio. Basically, they've proposed that every Internet station pays fees which add up to something near 100% of their revenue. And since most of the folks we've met who have internet stations run them commercial-free, well, let's just get ready for the next wave of Sisqos and Creeds, this time, hopefully, combining to form a goulash of God-fearing, underwear-pontificating rap-rock. In other words: Uh oh.*
If this sounds as excremental to you as it does to me, well, take a second and sign this here petition, or, if you’d rather, send a strongly worded letter to your Congressman. Then come back and read the remainder of this here yammering. Go ahead. I've got some cocoa & a good book.
Welcome back, welcome back. Since we last spoke we've spent our days and nights surrounded by enough music to drive even the most dedicated music fan at least partially batty. Yes folks, Birdmonster was one of over a thousand bands to descend on Austin for South By Southwest, a five day festival of music and film (but not that much film, honestly) that mutates Austin into a cacophonous collection of hung over hipsters, record label types, and bemused locals. It's prime people watching territory, let me tell you. Big earrings, tight pants, and carefully tousled hair abounded. I saw Matt Pinfield, some actor I couldn't quite place, umpteen tourmates and bands I'd paid to see in my younger days, and a grizzly dude in a thong and a leather jacket that said "Born to be ridden."
We ended up playing three shows, one in the evening, two during the day, over the space of four days total, before fleeing this afternoon, sweaty, exhausted, and mostly deaf. We also did plenty of schmoozing, some of which was rather beneficial, some of which wasn't, and some of which involved getting free pants. In fact, last year I got free pants too. And if there's something wrong with free pants, I demand you tell me what that is. Sure, maybe your old pants get jealous, but they also get a breather now and again, and for a guy with about two pairs of pants who sees about one laundry machine a month, well, use your imagination.
In the end, though, it's a fairly hectic long long weekend. You're constantly loading in, loading out, borrowing gear, line checking, scurrying from one show to another, scamming free booze, having free schwag thrust at you by attractive college girls in half-shirts, waiting for decent food or settling for sub par burritos, and it's all to the tune of roughly thirty bands playing simultaneously, next door to each other, so that when you're out on the street, surrounded by all manner of humanity, there's a constant din of electric guitars, bass drums, and toneless yelping, all blending into a singular mash of sonic oddness. Imagine walking down the Vegas strip holding twelve boomboxes, all playing different songs of different genres, while slightly drunk and certainly hungry. It's a lot like that. But it's goddamn fun.
It's also incredibly exhausting. In fact, as I write this, we're barely three hours removed from Austin, two hours removed from a surprisingly delicious virginal trip to Chic-Fil-A, and one hour from Dallas, where we'll be sleeping this evening before heading out to Oklahoma City for the first time ever. In other words, tour begins anew after oh so long in all parts of urban Texas. In other words, life will return to normal. Or whatever it is I'm calling normal these days.
* In the interest of full disclosure, the aforementioned law also mandates that FM play 30% independent music to offset what will surely mean the end of free, computer-flavored radio. Color me skeptical. And while I'd gladly embrace the FM dial becoming more diverse, I'm not sure why this has to happen at the expense of others.