Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Unintended Consequences of Instant Content Gratification

I was talking to an old friend about the party mixes that his post-iPod gen kids are putting together and how that compares to our LP-fueled tape mixes when our own identities were intertwined with our musical heroes. Having played the dad in our elementary school production of Bye Bye Birdie it was just a little prophetic when I thought I heard the phrase "kids these days" creep into his critique of just how clueless today's music samplers are about the uptake of their downloads.

Whether he was quoting Paul Lynde or just riffing on what it means to raise one's musical game to a state of intergenerational fusion-bliss, he focused on the thrill of the hunt -- rifling threw racks of records and CDs to nail the rarities, take in exotic song titles, and sample the overlooked gems of the cut-out bins.

Some of my favorite content-inspired chase scenes are filmed in my head at a SoHo NYC institution, music retailer, and over-the-counter subculture of Rocks in Your Head. The proprietor was a curmudgeon who pontificated (groused) one day on the thrill of content victory. He defined this in degrees of musical ownership:

* If you had a rock in your head that existed on a comp tape you didn't even make the rental list.
* If you bought some reissue on CD you were just along for the ride.
* By his ownership standards you practically had to hold the master tapes or the bootlegging device between your legs to lay claim to the capture of musical possession.

Compare this to the carefree ease of peer-to-peer computing or even legitimate downloading. You barely even know what you've got, let alone what you can live with, or will nurture you in ways you cannot yet imagine. From...

I am a deejay / I am what I play


I am an iPod / I'm somewhat aware of what I download?

I don't think so.

As a periodic compiler of mixes I will throw away a dozen works-in-progress until the ideal blend can be sculpted from the scraps of media clips and backs of new acts I only know by way of idle curiosity and 30 seconds of tonal color. Would I unleash my lack of familiarity on a mailing list of my contemporaries? Would I simply randomize a sampling and attach a ZIP folder of MP3s to some group email? As a recipient I would be more likely to respond to Ed McMahon's home equity meltdown on Larry King. The sequencing, the packaging, the seques ... The overall chemistry of a mix is more important than its most important song. This is a team effort. Every great mix has a great lead-off song and a clean-up hitter that can clear the musical bases (assuming you haven't fast forwarded to the stuff you've heard before).

I think another downside of easy downloads is that it increases one's susceptibility to catchy songs. Sure, they go to work pronto. Like a sugar rush. Like a tequila shot. But the cumulative effect is addictive and deadening. Each infectious song bloats the spongy mind like a Twizzler stirring the bottom of a hypoglycemic punch bowl. Instead of a goose bump swelling on your arm you get a diabetic imagination, crimped from the ravages of A.D.D.

I'm no purist and I do my share of downloading in a disengaged state. I don't cling to the sanctity of analog recordings. But here's the thing as Paul Lynde would say: You need to live with these songs. They need to stew in your juices for a bit. Only then will you know if/when they wear out their welcome or plow down from surface noise to the sonic depths worth sharing with your mixing buddies.

So what is the true definition of content ownership from an experiential perspective? Is it the pursuit? Is it the rumination? Is it an art to mixing media samples or a personal fetish? Given today's media landscape these theories are either true or dead. In the case of Rocks in Your Head they may well be both. The store closed its doors in April 2006.

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attentionSpin is a consulting practice formed in 1990 to create, automate and apply a universal scoring system (“The Biggest Picture”) to brands, celebrities, events and policy issues in the public eye. In the Biggest Picture, attentionSpin applies the principles of market research to the process of media analytics to score the volume and nature of media coverage. The explanatory power of this research model: 1. Allows practitioners to understand the requirements for managing the quality of attention they receive 2. Shows influencers the level of authority they hold in forums where companies, office-seekers, celebrities and experts sell their visions, opinions and skills 3. Creates meaningful standards for measuring the success and failure of campaigns and their connection to marketable assets.