Monday, January 14, 2019

Such A Simple Thing | Lefsetz Letter

Such A Simple Thing

But it’s not.

Used to be buying skis was easy. You chose the racing model from a handful of well-established brands. Now, Volkl, K2 and Rossignol remain, but the shops are inundated with indie brands, some expensive and custom, like Wagner, others off the shelf and in much wider use, i.e. Liberty. How did this happen?

The means of sales and production ended up in the hands of the proletariat. Just like in music.

I have to remind you that in the Napster era, the oldsters cried out that no one would make music anymore, just the opposite proved true, seemingly everybody’s making music, and unless you were a superstar of yesteryear or a hitmaker today, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle.

There was a limited number of acts. You were exposed to them in print, on radio and in your friends’ bedrooms. Today you don’t know where to start.

But yesterday I did. I decided to go past the Spotify Top 50, and what I found is a plethora of product, most of it good, very little of it great. Wading through the dross is difficult, but sometimes worth it. But didn’t somebody else used to do this for us? We keep speaking of curation… Terrestrial radio only plays the hits, and online, its an endless stream of playlists.

You’ve got to go deep. I clicked on “Genres & Moods” in Spotify.

Funny, rock is in the fourth row, that’s how far it’s fallen. But none of those playlists appealed to me, and when I eventually checked out “Rock This,” I knew why. No total excellence. No one who could sing, play and write. Furthermore, does rock even sound good on headphones? It ends up a wash.

So I went to “Folk & Acoustic.” And clicked on “Infinite Acoustic.” That’s where I found the Sound Stage Studios version of Ray LaMontagne’s “Such A Simple Thing.” But what followed was an endless parade of names I frequently hadn’t heard of playing songs that were not memorable. Oh, if it was the seventies, and I’d purchased their album, maybe I would have played it enough to become entranced. But that’s not how we do it these days.

But after becoming bored, I clicked over to “Roots Rising.” And I heard “People Change” by Mipso. Do you know Mipso? I certainly didn’t.

Nor did I know the following act, Mt. Joy. Or the Dead Tongues. These are the indie skis of music, not on a major. What are the reference points?

And if you pull up “People Change,” you’ll probably turn it off. It starts slow and it never really revs up. If you were in a coffee house and the band was on stage you’d probably get it, the mood would be set. But there’s nothing special about the track, nothing that sticks out about the song, except for these lines:

“The thing about people is they change
When they walk away”

Whew! Hearing that resonated. You dream about old loves, and then you run into them and they’re not the same, you don’t click, they’ve been frozen in your mind but the world moved on, as did they.

And I yearned for more of this, this is what I look to music for, the insight.

Although “People Change” has 26,245,043 streams. Which means some people have found it. Were they the grazers, the hometown fans or people deep into this scene? Can you go deep into multiple scenes these days? Rock, country and EDM? Never mind Americana. Maybe you can be an expert in one, but that’s almost a full-time job.

But “Such A Simple Thing,” it hooked me when I wasn’t listening. Oh, you know what I mean. I wasn’t paying attention, it was in the background, but it jumped out.

Now Ray LaMontagne is on a major, RCA, but he began in a completely different era, 2004, when there was so much less music, we hadn’t anointed hip-hop as the only sound and MTV and VH1 were in their last throes. Would Ray LaMontagne get signed to a major today? Doubtful.

Not that he’ll be on a major for long, his last album, from which “Such A Simple Thing” emanates, is a stiff on Spotify. Only three tracks are in seven digits. Some are in low sixes. But “Such A Simple Thing” has 31,990,734, which I thought was a lot until I looked up Mipso’s number.

But this probably means that AAA/non-comm stations featured it, and it was eaten up by grazers, who like it but probably won’t go to the gig.

Confounding reality once again.

And the reality is…

There is good music out there, even great, but it’s hard to find it. If you don’t make hip-hop music, you’re hard to find on Spotify. Fans have to reach down deep into your genre to discover you, many clicks down, and don’t forget that Amazon patented “1-Click.” So it’s easy to be a professional, but easy to be broke. Getting attention is a Sisyphean job. There’s a disconnection between production and consumption. And the truth is this job is not being tackled, probably because the solution is not lucrative, except for the beneficiaries, the acts raised up.

And the Sound Stage Studios iteration of “Such A Simple Thing,” on the “Infinite Acoustic” playlist, supersedes the take on the 2018 album “Part Of The Light,” Ray emotes, you can get the message without knowing the lyrics, the repressed anger, the depression, the glimmer of hope. She’s left before. Will she clue him in before she does so again?

And I’m wondering how many playlists Spotify’s curators curate. If they just feature new music willy-nilly. I mean sometimes there’s great stuff, and sometimes there’s not, but there’s still endless playlists every week with new stuff. And like the rest of tech, there’s no help, no one telling you what’s truly worth your time.

But this Sound Stage Studios take of Ray LaMontagne’s “Such A Simple Thing” is.

“People Change”

“Such A Simple Thing” album version


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