There was a time when people would wait in line for new music. I know this sounds weird to all you kids out there. You are accustomed to having immediate access to every new song the moment it is released into the world. Honestly, I never really waited in line for new music. When I was a kid, I was never into current releases. I always assumed I was born a couple of decades late for my tastes.
Until very recently, the process for new music was always the same. A band would work tirelessly on a new album for around six months and the hype would build. Then the magical day would come. Boom, the new masterpiece was in the world. But waiting in line wasn’t the end. You had to purchase the album and then, in the back of the car on your way home, you would study the liner notes and album cover photo. Then you had to dig into all the lyrics. When you got home, you had to get your sister’s Debbie Gibson off the turntable and drop your new treasure into place. Drop that needle and the brand new sounds, never heard by your tender ears, wash over every tingling cell in your body. It’s not far from a total religious experience.
The first time I heard Paul Simon’s Graceland album was with headphones on and the cassette spinning in my Walkman. It was a life changer. I can remember the first time I heard the Cowboy Junkies’ “Misguided Angel.” I was in my car. Yes, children, we had music in our cars by this point. I was in my mid twenties when I dropped the needle on the second Iron and Wine album, the one with the green cover. I’ll never forget that moment. I can remember William Elliot Whitmore’s song, “Pine Box.” I had just purchased the digital album and was playing it on our computer that was pumping the sound through our living room stereo. My oldest kid was a baby on my knee. It probably didn’t change her life but it did mine.
With a lot of music, it isn’t necessarily about the first time you hear something but who you are with when you are listening. The summer before college, I was laying on my friend’s floor with all our other friends listening to R.E.M.’s “Night Swimming.” We listened to a lot of music in the dark on his floor. I am still living under the influence of those sounds.
Maybe these kinds of song experiences still happen for young people. I am not an old curmudgeon that thinks the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Although I did just use the phrases “young people” and “curmudgeon.” I am just really worried that as a society we have relegated all music to background noise. Music is completely accessible at all times. This is a really great thing. But the trade-off is that it no longer feels as valuable. It’s always there. There is no scarcity. I try, in my daily life, to not use music as background noise. If I listen to music, it is with intention.
I recently got distribution for my catalog of music. Twenty years ago that meant that some guy was putting your amazing album cover onto the shelves at record stores. Distribution used to be only for the best of the best because shelf space was limited. With digital distribution, shelf space is no longer an issue. Distribution now means that the bits and bytes that make up my art are beamed all over the world for anybody to hear while they are chopping carrots, studying American literature, shopping for sweatpants, jogging, driving, watching television, whatever. The list of available streaming services is rather extensive. There were sixteen different options available for distribution. I went with the big four. If you listen on these popular services, try to find me. I should be there.
It feels a little bit like selling out. I feel so strongly that music should not be background noise. Music should be valued and treasured. But, if this is where people are listening to music, I need to be there too. Instead of fighting the system, I need to encourage you to experience music. I guess I should be trying to convince you to lay down on your living room floor, find some decent speakers, turn off the lights, and let the sound do what it does. Who knows, you may never be the same.
Don’t forgot to join our mailing list for all Brother Jack news.
Also, if you love what we are doing, here is a virtual tip jar.