As the 366TAS project comes to a close today, I’ve saved (one of) the best for last. Stereolab is one of my very favorite bands. A framed copy of one of their albums hangs on my wall, one of their song titles serves as my nom de plume and only Belle and Sebastian (109) and Pink Floyd (108) place more songs in my iTunes library than Stereolab’s 98. When the band played DC supporting the 2008 release of their album, Chemical Chords, I went to the show and came home with one of the best bits of merch booth I’ve ever seen at a show: the Stereolab laundry bag!
By the time I got around to listening to Stereolab in the early 2000’s, they had been a going concern for about a decade. However, their lack of commercial success meant they got no airplay on the radio. As a result, I hadn’t heard of them for most of their career and when I finally did, I had no idea if they were the kind of thing I would have liked. I was also a poor college student at the time, so I couldn’t just go out and take a flyer on all the bands that I heard some good buzz about. Being a reasonably tech-savvy 21st century youth, I did what most music fans of the era would do: I turned to file sharing services to find out.
Sure enough, I downloaded a few tracks and really liked what I heard out of Stereolab. Their rich sonic blend of pop, lounge and krautrock, heavy on vintage keyboards and breezy guitars was a refreshing break from the countless interchangeable bands that dominated alternative rock radio and the singer/songwriter types with whom WYEP was so enamored.
Shortly after graduation, I moved down to Gaithersburg, MD, just outside of Washington, DC. Within a few months, I had started working 12 hour days doing document review. The work was miserable and the commute – an hour each way – may have been worse. The good news was that I finally had some spare cash to start buying albums again and my first purchase, one that came to define what I listened to during the six months I spent in Gaithersburg, was the Warren Zevon anthology and a pair of Stereolab albums. My daily trips from home to the Metro were often soundtracked by Stereolab’s Margerine Eclipse (the album now on my wall) and before I got my first iPod toward the end of that project, these few minutes in my car were often the highlight of my day.
Since then, my Stereolab collection has grown substantially and they’ve spent several years in my regular rotation as an essential influence. Although I was oblivious to Stereolab’s work for far too much of their career, I was fortunate to get on the bandwagon when I did, because shortly after I saw them live in 2009, they went on indefinite hiatus. Hopefully, they’ll reunite sometime in the future, but if not, they’ve left us with a great treasure trove of music filled with odd sounds and odder song titles.
For me, none of this experience would have been possible without file sharing. Now I understand full well that there are those who abuse the system, sucking up the music like a leech. However, the discovery function that they provided for me was invaluable. After all, nobody loves a band they’ve never heard of.
Nowadays, the availability of streaming services places a ton of great music out there for anyone to discover their own personal Stereolab, and that’s great for fans. As we’ve found this year, however, it’s not such a great arrangement for the artists. As more and more people shift their listening patterns to streaming-only, the economic question becomes all the more pressing for artists. Much more well-informed people than I have pondered the issue of fair compensation for artists all year and, as far as I’m aware, they’ve come up empty so far.
I continue to use Spotify regularly to listen to new music, but I can’t quite imagine it taking the place of actual album purchases. Right now, I have a budget of about $20 a month that I’ll spend to buy new music. More often than not, that’s mp3 albums, but I do still buy a few favorites on CD. I’m a little old-fashioned like that. To some folks, this music-purchasing regime may sound extravagant, but it’s less than a Starbucks habit of two trips a week, and I’m pretty sure I enjoy a lot of the music I’m buying a lot more than you like your cup of coffee. For a truly great album, I’m sure that it’s “worth” all of the misses that come with the territory of finding those few hits. So go out and buy a few albums. It’ll make you happy in the long run.
I’ve found a way to make this work for me. How can it work for you? How can you hear about bands you’ve never heard of? Well I like to think that I’ve hopefully introduced you to a few new names throughout this past year with the 366TAS project. Beyond that, there’s loads of music blogs to read, year-end lists of recommendations and even something as simple as browsing Wikipedia entries can help lead you to new bands and musicians. With so much information and music at your fingertips, “I haven’t heard of them” is no longer a valid reason to “not like” a band.
Otherwise, stay tuned to Corsairs Affairs. Even as the 366TAS project has come to a conclusion, I’ll be carrying on with playlists, polls and other music recommendations going forward. Oh, and here’s Stereolab to take us home…
Metronomic Underground – Stereolab