Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Spirit of Sharing Music

I have always been missionary spirited about music. It seemed the sole function of cassette recorders was so I could make mix tapes to share. And share I did, recording and duplicating programmes from pirate radio stations, white labels from friends working at the coal face of the music industry, plus my own selections, including everything from Afrika Bambata to The Grateful Dead. It never occurred to me that I was doing anything wrong by giving. Music is for me an expression of friendship and shared emotion. Why would I not want to share it.

Such a sharing attitude might be seen as be contributing to the decline of the music industry by promoting music for free. In reality though I, like many music fans, don't stop buying music just because some of it is available for free. So I tend to pay less for the more popular stuff, but the money I do spend tends to get redirected towards the more obscure producers who, to my mind, need it more than the famous acts. 

Also, as a devoted advocate of non-compressed music files, I often have to pay a supplement just to get my music in uncompressed WAV format. I think the music business does pretty well out of me. I know, I've heard all the arguments that there is very little difference between MP3's and WAV's but I'm not convinced. MP3's only carry about a tenth of the musical information of a non-compressed version so something is being lost somewhere. Maybe if you are playing banging stuff the difference won't be noticed over the beat, but in general if you want to keep the subtleties of a piece of music I would advice people to go for the none compressed versions.  I can usually tell when a DJ is playing MP3's as the music seems to lack punch. 

But I digress. I was talking about sharing music....

When I first arrived in Ibiza I mentioned to one DJ friend that I had been heartened by how supportive other DJ's had been towards me. I had half expected a cut throat competitive relationship between many of the DJ's, but what I found in most cases was unity based on shared experience — maybe they connected with that shared spirit of missionary zeal, of spending hours in record shops or on-line emporiums hunting for that elusive track that will be recognised for its greatness when played in public. 

However, one DJ told me that in his early days he had been a Hip Hop DJ and that things had seemed much more competitive then. Most of the records he played were hard to source imports and the scene was so competitive that he used to soak his new vinyl in the bath prior to a gig so he could remove the central label to prevent anyone stealing a glance over his shoulder and spotting a single clue to his unique appeal as a DJ. "Consequently," he moaned, "I now have tons of vinyl that, even to this day, I am not sure who the artist is!"

I suppose what prompted my comments about the supportive nature of other DJ's was an incident last season on the island. I had been doing a bit of Mac maintenance work for a DJ when he casually said, "Take what you want", meaning the music on his computer. I thought for a moment and then told him that as I was only staying somewhere temporary I didn't have a good internet link and had not been able to download any new tunes for the past couple of months. 

"Here," he said, "Take that folder. It has everything I've downloaded over the last two months." 

I happily copied around 300 WAV files onto my hard drive. Now this is a DJ I greatly respect. I enjoy his sets and admire his ability to hunt out new and obscure mixes. So I was looking forward to sifting through them. 

Later that evening though I was reminded of the special nature of our individual taste. Because no matter how much we appreciate another's taste, there is no doubt if we have spent time cultivating our own taste, then our taste will diverge from another person's in many ways. So out of 300 tracks there were only around 20 that took my fancy and probably no more than 10 which I might have bought myself had I the opportunity. And I realised that this would no doubt been the same had I passed on 300 of my tracks to him. 

Sharing music, no matter how rare and treasured, does not compromise or undermine our unique taste as a DJ. It's not just about having a particular tune to play, it's also how we frame that tune, what we mix it from and with. Based on this realisation I started to think the protective attitude which some have towards their collections might be a bit misguided.

I am always pleased when good things happen to friends of mine, when good fortune shines on them and life seems to give them a step up and a wave on their way. Strangely though not everyone shares my viewpoint. It's as though some people think that good fortune is a finite resource so when something good happens to someone else there is less possibility for it to happen to them and resentment and jealousy rear their ugly heads. 

My view is that our lives are all unique and what comes to one person is drawn by the action and energy of their lives so it is pointless to resent goodness that has been bestowed on another. I would rather focus on improving my own good fortune through my own efforts. 

In the same way I don't believe that sharing my own tunes with others will undermine my uniqueness as a DJ. To me it feels as though this spirit to share is an essential element that makes up the spirit of a DJ. The spirit to discover, appreciate, promote, share, that hopefully expresses itself in the unique sets we play.

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