Simon Reynolds is an English music critic who has contributed to publications like Melody Maker, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, The Wire and Mojo to name but a few, and is often credited with coining the term ‘post rock’. Simon told M3 about his vision for the future of music distribution…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Simon – I’m a music journalist and author of books about pop culture. Born in London in 1963, started writing for Melody Maker in 1986, moved to America in 1992, lived in New York for eighteen years and then moved to Los Angeles. Retromania, my most recent book, was my seventh book.
What inspired you to focus on music? What is your own musical background?
Love of music and coming of age at a great time for musical innovation (the late 70s, punk and postpunk, but also disco, funk and hip hop) and for music writing (the golden age of the UK music press).
Many people have claimed that there is no longer any money in record sales, and that touring is the most efficient way to earn an income as a band. How much truth do you think there is in this sentiment?
That seems to be the case from what I’ve read and what I’ve learned anecdotally from people I know in the business, which is mostly people who run small independent labels or who self-release their own music. Putting out a record is now like a calling card, whether you’re a band or a DJ. If you put out records, you can charge more for live performances or for DJ gigs. And that is where the money comes from, unless you are in that super stratosphere of rock band and pop artists who sell a million records.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
Vinyl or cassette for the warmer sound, CD for the sharpness and digital. MP3s are pretty poor sonically but make up for it with convenience and portability and instant-ness of access. But when I’ve fallen in love with a new record through a download MP3 version of the LP, and then finally get the finished CD, I’m shocked always by how much richer and bigger and clearer and more spacious the proper version is. It really is worth getting the proper CD version.
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
No, but it is a specialist taste, a way of listening that has to be consciously worked at and protected. There is an insidious erosion of attention spans that is caused by digital culture and the everyday use of computers, smart phones etc. you are always flitting to the next thing restlessly, never immersing yourself fully.
Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
They do seem to be dying. The ones that are surviving are either the real specialist genre ones for new releases, or the second-hand vinyl stores, especially the ones that are “curated” and have a very well chosen selection. Those stores even seem to be thriving a bit.
What is your take on the current SOPA/ACTA controversy?
I haven’t thought about it too much, it strikes me that people will find a way around its provisions and continue to share files illegally. Once you have a generation that is used to not paying for their cultural goods, then it’s going to be hard to persuade them to go back.
In a few decades time, what genre or sound do you think will come to define the 2000’s?
It’s hard to say, because so much of the music of the 2000’s was revivalist, so how can a sound define its epoch when it references an earlier epoch? Grime and dubstep were the sounds that excited me in the 2000’s but neither of them really made big enough waves in the popular mainstream to have defined anything. I think it will be a lot of the AutoTuned pop R&B and club music that seems to capture the vibe of our time – it has that ultra-vivid, digitally crisp, “posthuman” sound that seems to connect to the culture of smartphones, games, high-definition flat-screen TVs, and 3D movies.
What do you personally believe the future of music distribution will look like?
I think that solid-form music will continue to get more bound up with packaging and extra elements designed to make the release tactile and collectable, a commodity to fetishise. So even more limited edition formats. Other kinds of music will become more and more immaterial, you won’t even own the MP3s you’ll just “rent” them, listen to them via the Cloud.
Finally, what does the future hold for Simon Reynolds?
Visit Simon Reynolds’ official blog to read more of his work.