Borangutan Turns 1/2 Years Old – A letter from the Editor-in-Chief
If you’re reading this right now, then that probably means sometime in last six months someone you know harshed out a ridiculous sounding non-word. You probably double-took, said “huh,” and then asked them to repeat themselves… eight times. Then finally you figured out the pronunciation, but when you got home, you entered the name into your web browser and nothing came up. Five more tries later and you eventually got the spelling correct. It wasn’t your fault, it was mine. Against all reason perhaps, I created a name with no meaning and only one close morphological relative – our evolutionary cousin the orangutan.
But when you did hit this website, poked around a bit, and figured out what it was all about – bless your heart, you returned (unless, of course, this is your first visit).
Borangutan was never really meant to be a dedicated business venture. Rather, it was initially created as a way to fill a void in my life. As many of you know, I’m an anthropologist. It’s what I am – it’s what I always will be. But fewer of you know that I am also a dormant artist. At one time I had starry-eyed dreams of being a rock god, and I have a hoard of gear to prove it! Obviously, nothing ever came to fruition, and when I was 19 I abandoned music to become a full-time academic. And so I was for nearly a decade.
During that period I studied English Literature, Latin, social science, and eventually, archaeology. I was a teaching assistant, an adjunct instructor, a conference presenter, a guest speaker, an ethnographer, and many, many other things that had nothing to do with music. In four years from 2004 – 2008 I purchased a total of 10 or so albums and never downloaded a single mp3. For two years living in Mankato, MN I had a dial-up connection and couldn’t stream any media. So I just played old 8-bit video games on emulators.
Eventually I became a full-fledged archaeologist, and I like to think I became fairly well-respected in the Upper Midwest community. But then the recession hit. The cultural resource management industry all but completely shriveled up in these northern parts, and I found myself unemployed in October of 2008. Filling out countless job apps and receiving not a single interview I scrambled to find something to do. A friend of mine suggested I start a music blog. I thought “sure, why the hell not”?
While doing archaeology, I often felt I was doing little that was good, little that anyone cared for. This was a problem. One important trait of my personality (ah, here’s some intimate detail for you) is that I have a constant need to help people, and furthermore, it’s necessary for me to see the fruits of my labors through the reactions of others. This is due in part to the strict ethics I inherited during my anthropological training (the helping, not the needing), but it’s deeper than that. I’ve always been this way. When Borangutan began I saw an opportunity to do some things that could make a difference in people’s lives. Music, sweet music. That tiny bit of pleasure that can bring smiles to the grimmest day. What better way to help people than to connect them with things that make them smile?
Skelly – The Anti-Music Blogger
While this was a terrific idea in theory there was one enormous hurdle that I encountered once the website began. That was, I’m just about the biggest anti-music blogger that ever existed. In fact, I’m not nearly as passionate about music as most music bloggers are. Case in point, here is a little fact sheet about me that really doesn’t conform to the music blogger profile (whatever that is):
1. I don’t own an mp3 player, iPod, or any compact device that can transport music.
2. I’ve never purchased any music online.
3. I’ve never used Napster, Rhapsody, or a torrent to download any music.
4. My digital library on my computer consists of about 50 mp3’s. They’re all local, and they’ve all been downloaded from CD’s for use on Borangutan.
5. I still buy CD’s exclusively for the artwork (and of course, the music). I buy used CD’s because I’m too poor to buy new ones. (note: many other bloggers are poor too.)
6. I’ve never had a music magazine subscription.
7. iTunes is useful to me as a file-format converter – nothing else.
8. I hate Twitter but use it because everyone else does.
9. I hate that I use Twitter because everyone else does.
10. I am repulsed by most music journalism.
Yet am I not now a music journalist? Answer – no, at least not in any sense imaginable to me. Music journalists either get degrees in journalism that afford them their jobs or they pay their dues in the industry long enough to earn their positions. I have done neither of these, and I think it wrong for anyone to pass off someone like me as an equal stakeholder in the great library that is music journalism. I am one thing and one thing only: just some guy with a website that, in an ideal world, helps artists and listeners meet. Nothing more.
However, after some thought, there was a beauty I found in my anti-music blogger persona. Simply put, I could really care less about who the new buzz band is, what other people are writing about, or what bru-ha-ha festivals are going on in Wisconsin or Texas. The only two things I really care about are the band that is playing down the street at the Turf Club (for example); and the person who is lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling, listening to music in their bedroom. Festivals are fantasy lands, places where people go to escape real life, like a vacation. But all my favorite and memorable experiences with music occurred in bedrooms and parked cars, not even at live shows! These were every day, real-life happenings, and I’m willing to bet that most people’s fondest experiences with music occurred in similar fashions. Music is not about music, it’s about relationships. The arts bespeak the human condition, an animal governed by and through the relationships we form!
So this is my perspective, but exactly how does that translate into what Borangutan is all about? Well, in short, it’s about getting the local music into the bedroom (bow-wow-chica-bow-wow). “But,” you might say, “there are countless download and streaming sites out there that are already doing that! You can’t compete with them”! True. We can’t, and how could I even begin to emulate Napster when I don’t even know precisely how the darned thing works? Thankfully, Borangutan doesn’t need to play the national or international game, because we can just go with what we know: our local scene.
The reasons for going almost entirely local with Borangutan are two-fold. One: I’m a civic and community minded person, and I’m more interested in helping out a local artist than a non-local one. And Two: Malthusian theory will be hitting the online social media market very, very soon, and when it does, mountainous music media outlets will crumble. Reason one isn’t worth spilling anymore cyberink over. Reason two needs explanation.
Malthusian Theory and the Music Industry
Thomas Robert Malthus was a mid-nineteenth century English economist with a focus on population dynamics. To paraphrase, Malthusian theory simply states that a population of organisms will always grow or shrink relative to its food supply. If food is plenty, a population will grow more or less unchecked, but as soon as food becomes scarce, attrition ensues.
Here’s the analogy. Right now what the music industry is dealing with is an overabundance of music and outlets for music. The sheer amount of consumable product has out-grown the available food supply, which is in this case, interested listeners. For decades the big industry controlled the amount of consumable product, spoon feeding artists and music to the general public in amounts fit for regular feeding. People were happy, they were receiving prescribed doses. If you didn’t like the food, there were a few underground outlets to find the stuff you might like. But now that infrastructure has been removed, and a tsunami of music and media have been unleashed. There’s simply too much of it, and the food supply (interested listeners) are too few.
The examples of this are innumerable. Myspace is oversaturated, no longer a place for artists to get reliably discovered by anyone. Rhapsody, Last.fm, and others are chalk full of music, with systems too unwieldy to experience music in the efficient way consumers demand. Although self-proclaimed experts trump around the positive side-effects of the music revolution that has occurred on the internet, they fail to address the cultural side-effect it has on both listeners and artists. True, the internet has made it so any artist can potentially get their music out to an international audience, and this is good. But it has also overwhelmed that same audience, leaving them bewildered, and in the worst cases, altogether dejected. The “indie” movement is the physical manifestation of this, a catch-all, anything goes genre where the “taste-makers” assume that, like themselves, everyone is a music connoisseur who likes rock, hip-hop, pop, alt-folk, alt-county, and anything else you want to throw in there.
Newsflash to taste-makers: people are largely conservative in their behaviors, creatures of habit, and this directly pertains to who, what, when, where, why, and how they interact with music. Their tastes are set long before they hit their first indie-blog at age 19, and there’s a reason why almost everyone listens to Top 40 radio at age 8. It’s called ontogeny. Parents typically play a modest role in passing on musical taste. Peers in primary and secondary school play a far greater role. Advertising and media play perhaps the greatest role today, especially via the television set.
Have you ever noticed that when an episode of C.S.I. features a cameo by rapper X, that all the music tends to be hip-hop? I can’t recall the last time I caught a sit-com or drama that synched 5 different genres of music in 30 or 60 minutes.
Even our local radio station that I staunchly support, 89.3 The Current, is not free of this drawback. The other day I wore my Current t-shirt over to my sister’s house and ran into my 17 year-old nephew. He commented how much he liked the shirt. He then returned to his computer room to play Everquest and listen to Disturbed and Led Zeppelin. He doesn’t like at least half of what he hears on The Current. It’s not consistent enough for him.
So in general, many people want consistency. Like most things in life, they want music delivered to them in a familiar way, pre-packaged to look, sound, and feel like the duck they want. The big industry knew this for years. Few want to do the deciphering themselves – few want to separate the wheat from the chaff. For those who like doing this, stations like The Current and most indie blogs will continue to serve them well. But most artists will never gain access, and most listeners will never care.
The final nail in the coffin for the current maelstrom of music online will be Spotify. It’s coming, and the online death toll of music streaming sites will be high. Spotify – coming to a cellular phone near you very, very soon. We’ll see if iTunes survives. In the aftermath I predict the greatest online survivors will be those sites and artists that cultivate deep, devoted local followings. Precious few will really be permitted to play the national or international markets.
In many ways then, we’re back to the 1950’s and 60’s, and I view Borangutan as a modern equivalent to a local radio station from that era. A place where someone in Minnesota can find out what is going on in the scene surrounding them, and how they can interact with it. In this sense, we bloggers are something akin to DJ’s, but this isn’t my unique idea. Folks have been drawing this analogy for at least a couple years now. Artists need to cultivate strong local followings because for most, the national followings just aren’t happening in a way that’s sustainable for their careers. Starving artists? Indeed! That food supply has worn thin.
What I’ve written here could be expounded upon in countless articles dealing with the esoteric world of music blogging, the ever-changing infrastructure of the online music industry, and the demographics of digital music consumption and why senior citizens just don’t give a damn. The good news – I’m probably going to do some of this to varying degrees of effect, and hopefully someone somewhere will enjoy it. The bad news – Borangutan will never be the same (which could be good news as well). For all of 2009 I have devoted countless hours to Borangutan, but now the gig is up and Skelly needs a revenue stream. If I’m talking in the third person, rest assured it’s severe. I’m returning to anthropology and to the work force, and for the remainder of August we’ll be restructuring Borangutan, adjusting how it operates and charting a path to the future. During that time I’ll me conducting some proxemic studies in local retail and finding out more about what makes local consumers tick. Whether I’ll be able to transfer some of this knowledge over to the consumption patterns of blogs is uncertain. I’ll be fairly incommunicado for three weeks.
As a final note: pick up a copy of the new Mark Mallman album Invincible Criminal, due out next month. It kills.
posted August 12th, 2009 at 3:04 pm Uncategorized