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An Open Letter to Musicians: Lemme Hear It!

By Published: March 20, 2012
Don't give me partial song samples. I don't care if it's 30 seconds, 60 seconds, or, as some artists have done, provide song samples that are exactly half the song duration. The theory of samples, I suppose, is to intrigue me sufficiently to take a chance on buying the album. Well, the problem with that is that I'm done taking chances on music based on song samples. I'm tired of looking on my shelf (and my iTunes library) at all the albums I "took a chance on" in the spirit of music discovery, and now they just sit there gathering dust. There's no reason to gamble like that. There is so much great jazz being recorded in the present day that I don't need to waste money on albums that don't connect with me. If I waste cash on an artist's album, it's very rare that I'll ever give that artist the time of day again. I just won't risk it. That decision is unequal parts pragmatism and spite, and I really don't care what the ratio on that bitter soup is... that's where we're at.

Another thing to keep in mind with song samples is the negative reaction the ear has to a song that is suddenly cut off. I hit the play button on a song. It has a nice opening, gets me interested from go. The song builds off the head and really starts to cook or simmer or cool. Now I'm starting to get hooked. A few more notes, and then nothing. Song sample is over. Like the music just up and disappeared. Me, I'm sitting there feeling cheated. Just when I started making a connection with the music, it's yanked away from me and that ain't a nice feeling. What would have been the harm in letting me hear the entire song? I'm left feeling suspicious that the album ain't up to the level of the samples, because why else hide the music from me? Or maybe there's some other cryptic reason for samples which I'm not aware of... but again, why risk my cash in a situation that presents all these questions? Where I'm going with all of this isn't to address any imagined or valid reasons for using samples, but to address the importance of establishing a connection with the listener, and how tearing the music away from their ears mid-stream absolutely severs that connection. It's a bad thing. Stop doing it.

I'm gonna return to the topic of establishing the connection, as well as reasons why allowing full streaming of music is a good thing, both in terms of directly how it benefits the musician that I, specifically, can hear it, but also how it helps in a general sense of the artist-fan relationship. I'm gonna talk for a little bit about how I typically look for new music on the internet, then tie it all in to what I've said up to this point.

Here's been my typical music exploration process the last few years. It involves five steps:

I use the eMusic jazz new arrivals listing as my primary search population. For my purposes, it is easily the best list of jazz new arrivals and most useful tool for exploring it. It's not the only way I go about discovering new releases, but using eMusic's listing is the most common one. What I like about it: I can search chronologically by release date, it provides the albums in a simple list with an album cover, artist name, label, album title, sub-genre, and it has a button to listen to samples on that summary page. That's a huge thing for me. It means I can listen to samples of each and every album that looks even remotely like a jazz album recorded in the present day. I also like how the eMusic new jazz arrivals list has everything on an equal footing... no one album cover is displayed more predominately than the other. When I look at that jazz new arrivals list, the new Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
, Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
, and Joe Locke
Joe Locke
Joe Locke
b.1959
vibraphone
albums appear no differently than the new Markus Pesonen
Markus Pesonen
Markus Pesonen
b.1984
guitar
, Kekko Fornarelli
Kekko Fornarelli
Kekko Fornarelli
b.1978
piano
, and Sunna Gunnlaugs
Sunna Gunnlaugs
Sunna Gunnlaugs
b.1970
piano
albums. I don't like that I can only hear thirty second samples on eMusic, but that's a problem bigger than just them, and I make it work for my purposes well enough. It's up to the artist (and, in theory, the labels) to overcome the retailers limitations on song samples. However, what to take away from this first point is that all new jazz releases are on an equal footing with me.

I skip over (most) compilations, (most) re-issues, and definitely anything that looks like some sketchy "new label" copyright violator. But no matter how ridiculous your name is, no matter how cheesy your album cover, no matter that your sub-genre is easy listening (or something equally not to my taste), I will give you a couple song samples to catch my interest. Because, ultimately, it's all about the music for me. I take the luxury of listening to everything, even if just for a little while.


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