Sunday, January 07, 2007

XM Radio -- thoughts, two weeks in

I've been enjoying the heck out of my XM radio. I listen to it when I drive, and I also listen a lot when I'm at home. I like the huge selection of music available, defined by genre or decade or mood. I also enjoy the comedy stations; they have two stand-up stations, the National Lampoon channel, and a sketch-comedy station that plays things in the style of old Smothers Brothers or Jonathan Winters routines.

I've noticed that my musical selection changes depending on whether or not I'm in the car. When I'm home I listen to Hear Music (The Sound Of Starbucks: very eclectic, with some classic R&B, some new progressive, some acoustic), Fred (new wave oldies: The Cure, The Clash, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, etc.), The Village (folk), or occasionally The Loft (acoustic rock: Norah Jones, Ryan Adams), Lucy (90s alternative: Matchbox 20, Lit), or Squizz (new hard rock: Korn, Disturbed, Finger Eleven). When I'm in my car I flip through XMLM (XM Liquid Metal: Cradle of Filth, Sepultura, Metallica) and the electronica and disco stations, plus the decades stations. I wouldn't listen to most of these stations at home; a lot of the music is either pretty bad (like a lot of metal and electronica) or actively annoying (like about half of what's on the '70s and '80s stations), and I'd either have to listen to the bad or get up and change the station. If I'm in the car the buttons are right there; changing the station doesn't require that I get off my fanny and stop writing or knitting or reading or whatever I'm doing while listening to the radio. At home I tend to pick a station with consistently good music and keep with it.

I think I've bought three CDs in the past two years. It's rare that I'll hear something on the radio and decide to rush out and buy the CD. I'm too familiar with the way these things work; for anything in the pop family, I'm fully confident that an album will consist of one hit single, one or two decent songs, and eight or nine tracks of filler, and it's not worth the $18. XM is filling the role for me that Napster used to fill; when I was napstering a lot, I was buying a CD a week. It had the convenient feature of letting you view a specific user's shared songs. I'd search for an obscure song I liked, and I'd look in the owner's directory when I found it. Occasionally I'd see a lot of other music I liked, combined with a lot of music I had never heard. So I'd download the stuff I'd never heard, and quite often I'd buy the albums. Napster might have technically been based on theft, but in my case the benefit to the music industry was enormous. For a year or so, almost every CD I bought was from a band or album I had discovered on Napster. And a lot of other people I know had hte same experience. When Napster went away, I stopped buying music; I didn't buy the pop on the radio, and I had lost my channel for discovering new music. One of the biggest holes in the RIAA's argument is that while they were claiming billions of dollars in losses from online file sharing, their profits and album sales kept incongruously increasing during Napster's heavy years (both of them). The drop in album sales didn't hit until after most of the online file sharing sites were fading into relative obscurity. The RIAA's persecution of file sharing was necessary; if they didn't prosecute a bit, it would look like they were condoning file sharing, which would eventually cause major damage to album sales. But by killing Napster instead of trying to work with it, they were acting in the best interest of their business model, not the music business as a whole.

Done ranting now.

So, XM is filling the hole in my new-music experience that appeared when Napster (and subsequent iterations, like AudioGalaxy) shut down. And, because it's always there and always updating, I don't feel the need to buy albums anymore. If I find a station full of songs I consistently like, why buy lots of albums? I'm never listening to them, just to the XM. And for the rare moments when I actually listen to a CD, it's generally already something in my "comfy songs" collection; currently in my 5-disc changer are an old Tannahill Weavers disc, the Steam soundtrack, Radio Sunnydale, the Blue Man Group CD Audio, and Vegas from the Crystal Method. And our budget is strained enough that it's easy to rationalize not buying new music.

An oddity: I just pulled up the online XM channel lineup and found that my brief descriptions above were often identical to theirs. It's either coincidence or subconscious; I wasn't looking when I was typing. The biggest difference was Fred. I said, new wave oldies; they said classic alternative. It is New Wave Oldies, of course, but people who want to listen to the Misfits don't want to think of them as oldies.


Jennifer B., Round Rock, TX said...

don't have XM, but I have my iPod Nano, and I take it everywhere these days. Jay got me this great adapter that plays it over my FM tuner, but - um - there isn't a clear channel to be found in Austin proper (only 60% lucky in Round Rock), so I use my headphones quite a bit.

As for new albums ... I would venture that you like Loreena McKennitt (knowing other stuff in your collection). She has a new album out called "An Ancient Muse". I purchased it for a friend for Christmas, and am currently waiting for my copy to arrive from another friend who got it for me for Christmas.

Another new album I got that might interest you is Sting's "Songs From the Labyrinth". He learned to play some lute music, and it's NOT pop, not contemporary at all. It makes me think of what a strolling minstrel would be like.

Oh, and for the humor factor, I got Weird Al's new album for Christmas "Straight Outta Lynnwood". To me, Weird Al is an absolute genius in his ability to write about current events in a humorous fashion. You can easily YouTube his first single "White and Nerdy" if you haven't heard it already.

The other new album I received for Christmas was Evanescence's "The Open Door", which is okay, but it is still growing on me. I don't know all the words yet, so I have to be in the mood for the sound, rather than the actual song so far.

My father gave me a recording of the Rachmaninoff Vespers as done by the Robert Shaw Festival Singers. Completely a classical work, it appeals to the singer in me, as you can imagine.

*hugs* Love reading your posts :)

Jeff Mountjoy said...

I hate to admit it, but my most recent albums are both mostly hard rock: Lacuna Coil and Hurt. The Lacuna Coil wasn't bad, but Hurt's Volume 1 is a very good album. They're not marketed that way, and they're not obvious about it, but I think they're a Christian band -- in the same sense that early U2 was a Christian band. And it's still hard rock. Nice. I'm getting the new Loreena McKennitt with my Xmas Best Buy gift card, too....