In the sixties, when the Beatles conquered the United States, the vehicle of their conquest was AM radio, as it was with Elvis before them, and the Rolling Stones, even the Doors, and Procul Harem, and the Moody Blues. Then FM became the preferred mode - longer tracks, fewer (or no) commercials, less hard sell and craziness - whole album sides were played, live concerts on the radio, bands live in studio. Sound quality was the thing - big speakers, 400 watt power amps, professional quality sound equipment - the height of cool - Macintosh stuff, with its beautiful blue-green dials and dark shiny face. You moved into a new apartment, you didn't mind eating Chinese food from the container, sitting on boxes with paint rollers leaning up against the wall, as long as you had music, and I'm not talking about the radio, unless it was FM coming out of a big fat sound system. The music came first. You bought vinyl, you took it home and listened to it, if it had so much as a crackle, you took it back to the store and made them give you another one.
Lots of water under the bridge since then. T-Bone Burnett remarks in an interview at Sundance during the promotion for Inside Llewyn Davis sadly that there is lots of good music being made, but no way to listen to it that doesn't sound like shit, something like that.
But think of the sheer convenience of it! These days, you can listen to your music, the way you want it. People buy songs now, they don't buy albums anymore, what a quaint concept. We are surrounded by delivery systems, you sync your music library to your phone , you have it in your car, you download it from the cloud on the go, and now you don't even bother with that. We live in a world of choice, we have Spotify, Pandora, Beats Music, Jimmy Iovine curates your listening choices for you based on your mood. And it's like FREE! Sort of. Especially if you're one of the ones who steal it.
Last week, at dinner with friends, everybody starts thinking of songs, and someone types them into the little box on the Pandora site, and there they are. Imagine the size of the database, how many songs there actually are, everyone coming up with random songs from memory, one after the other, and every single one of them is there.
A few days later, different situation, my stepdaughter wants to play her music in the kitchen while she cooks dinner with her mother. No reason to bother with Sonos, or any other sound system for that matter. Turns to her computer, fires up Pandora, and so on, it's easy to picture it. Presto. Akon.
Doesn't it seem like a wonderful world? It's progress - everything has changed.
But something about it seems strange. There's a snake in the garden. I think back to listening to the Beatles on a "transistor radio", AM radio. the tinny sound, holding it up to your ear on the subway, there's something almost romantic about it, and suddenly I realize that nothing has changed. Now the tinny sound is coming from shitty computer speakers instead of the radio, or worse yet the speakers on a cell phone, and here's the Apple everyone already took a bite out of - monetization. None of these services (supposedly "free" services) can support their inflated valuations without showing that their model can be monetized - so we are listening to commercials on the radio, Pandora, with commercials, and it's not just Pandora, it's everywhere - in the second decade of the 21st Century, the information age, the age of the internet. Wake up! Somebody sold you a Cadillac with a Pontiac engine under the hood.
This isn't complicated. Are you kidding me? Dude, it's AM Radio.