Sender: The Internet TourBus - A virtual tour of cyberspace
TOURBUS Volume 6, Number 79 -- 10 May 2001
\___/ \___/ T h e I n t e r n e t T o u r B u s \___/
TODAY'S TOURBUS TOPIC: Whatever Happened To...?
Welcome to our little bus of happiness from beautiful Decatur Alabama:
"See Decatur and die." Patrick is vacationing in exotic Pittsburgh,
and he's asked me, his dad (Bob Crispen) and official Net Geezer, to
fill in for him today. (To further confuse things, Bob Rankin is
mailing out today's issue.)
Whatever Happened To...?
Back in *my* day, when the Web was new, people were so thrilled with
this new technology they'd put up *anything* on a web site, just so
they could tell their friends they were on the Web. Anybody remember
all the pages that listed people's CD collections? What were these
It wasn't long before good old competition changed things for the
better. To get anybody outside your own family to visit your web
site, you have to have something to say. But what does the average
person really have to say? Well, it turns out that lots of early web
geeks were stone fans of their favorite musical artists, and they had
plenty to say about the objects of their adoration: by the hundreds
they'd put up tribute sites to their favorite bands.
There were some terrific fan sites out there, but most of them just
had a few links, a little content, and, if you were lucky, a picture
or two scanned from an album cover. If you typed in the name of a
favorite artist in a search engine, you had to put up with a lot of
chaff to get a little wheat.
Around the time this was going on, in Hollywood and the boardrooms of
investment banks, major record labels were merging. And no sooner did
the ink dry on the merger papers than layoff notices went out to some
of the mid-list artists -- the artists who were steady earners, but
who couldn't be relied on to generate the spectacular piles of money
that Madonna and the latest manufactured favorite of 12-year-olds
could pile up in the vaults of the record companies.
These artists who got dropped -- among them very likely some of your
favorites -- quickly took to the Web as a way to stay in touch with
their fans. Some of them, having been denied a way to get their music
out to the public by the major labels, set up a private label and
built up online mail order businesses.
The labels heard about these artist sites, decided their artists
needed web sites too, and hired some expensive web developers to build
sites for them. Of course, every penny the labels paid (plus a
markup) got charged back to the artists.
The result is that the terrible signal to noise ratio is back; this
time the noise isn't from the fan sites -- they've mostly either gone
off the air or gotten pretty good -- it's from the corporate sites.
So, where can you find the good ones?
Need you ask? Your intrepid Tourbus driver has searched through the
vast haystack of the Web (hey, Bob, can we have some *more*
metaphors?) and come back with some golden needles.
This is a highly personal list. Since I was the one doing it, I
looked for *my* favorite artists. And you should be warned that when
Patrick comes home and I'm listening to the stereo, he invariably
shouts, "Would you turn down that awful noise!" So, in no particular
order, here's what I've found.
King Crimson Fansite (Elephant Talk)
Back in 1991, Toby Howard started an email list called Discipline,
later Elephant Talk, after two songs made famous by Robert Fripp and
what some of us think is the best King Crimson band ever. The
Elephant Talk site has not only the complete list archives, but more
articles and links than you can shake a stick at. If you're a closet
Crafty or even a *little* bit of a Crim-head or a fan of the band's
alumni, you can't hardly go wrong here.
If you're not, then the King Crimson Official Site probably won't be
your cup of larks tongue in aspic either. But if you want to get some
of King Crimson's and alumni and friends' music, this is the place.
Yup, that Pete Townshend. Him of the shredded fingers and bleeding
eardrums and the Who. He's got what appears to be a complete
collections of his solo work, from live albums to White City and The
Iron Man and Psychoderelict and many more. CD's you meant to pick up
at the time but never got around to. That's the beauty of some of
these sites: artists can sometimes get the rights to their back
catalog when the label won't keep them in print, and they'll publish
them through their web sites.
One reason to smash your guitar is to emulate Pete Townshend. Here's
the other one. Called by Eddie Van Halen and many others the best
guitar player in the world, Holdsworth has a haunting compositional
style in the jazz fusion idiom and playing that's both immaculate and
spectacular. I have a tape of a radio broadcast where he says "We'd
always open with this one because it's really easy" and then goes on
to destroy the ego of every guitar player listening in.
While too many guitarists are shredders, all flash, no substance,
Holdsworth is a musician, and the richness of his music was poison
with the major labels. You can pick up his work at Gnarly Geezer
Records, his private label (linked from the site).
It's not the Dave Stewart you're thinking of (as in Eurythmics). This
Dave Stewart has been a keyboardist in some of the UK's most
influential progressive rock bands. His latest band, with singer
Barbara Gaskin, had a contract on Ryko for a while, but he's now
making and selling his records on the Web on his own label. Pop music
made by someone whose roots are in progressive rock. Very tasty.
Roger McGuinn, founder of the Byrds, is into the net more than anyone
I've ever seen. He sells MP3 files and has a great collection of free
sample MP3's, so you know what you'll be getting. And he promotes his
recordings, which are on labels that you probably won't find in your
local record store. He wrote the Byrds FAQ, was a frequent
participant in the Byrds USENET newsgroup till he was overwhelmed by
the weirdos on USENET, and even answers his own email.
Now I probably didn't mention some of your favorites. Even some of my
own faves (Pavement, Bob Mould, Debbie Gibson) don't have very good
sites. And some that did have some language or links that aren't
suitable for mentioning in a family newsletter like Tourbus. Here's a
guide for finding the good stuff for *your* favorite artists:
(1) Just because the artist isn't on the radio any more doesn't mean
he or she isn't still making great music. Chances are, most of the
radio stations in your town are owned by corporations that never play
a song if it isn't on a major label.
(2) If your favorite artist has a contract with a major label, lucky
them, but probably poor you. The best sites are about and by artists
who aren't gazillion sellers. Corporate sites may not even mention
works by that artist that aren't on sale now. Fan sites for these
artists are usually better.
(3) Slick layout and Flash are generally *not* good signs. You'll
often find the web site is a hollow shell. The information for the
site is provided by some employee of the label who not only isn't a
fan, but has only been on the job a few months.
(4) Private label recordings are usually as cheap and often cheaper
than their major label equivalents. The quality of the recordings is
often better. And the artists will actually get some of the money
from the sale -- something that doesn't happen very often for artists
on major labels.
(5) Of all the online record stores, CDNow has the best listing I've
found of private label CD's. They usually list them under "Imports",
a euphemism for bootlegs. CDNow's prices for private label recordings
are sometimes pretty high. Look on the artist's own web site to see
if he or she has a better deal.
(6) Artist Direct originally was set up for artists to sell their
private label CD's, but they've grown now to include some major label
CD's. Still, their search engine is a great place to start.
(7) Since the major labels have weeded out everybody who isn't a huge
cash cow, since radio stations only play major label stuff, and since
corporate record stores are staffed with clueless high school kids,
you *need* a locally owned record store. Find one in your town, let
the owner know what you like, and he or she will become your best
resource for finding your music.
That ought to be enough to keep you away from the corporate sites that
are looking to sell, sell, sell to stupid people and get you to the
places that are looking to inform smart people. Happy hunting.
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The Internet Tourbus - U.S. Library of Congress ISSN #1094-2238
Copyright 1995-2001, Rankin & Crispen - All rights reserved
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