Music is Archival

(From June 2015) Ann Powers wrote a very interesting article about the internet as a music archive, but it’s most important (and perfectly articulated) insight is buried in the middle:

When most people talk about streaming, they’re thinking about new work by current artists — how Katy Perry’s chart position is affected by Spotify or whether independents artists are getting paid enough for their latest releases. But the truth is, most music available on the Web is archival, whether that term refers to Justin Timberlake B-sides or the very first sound recordings. Have you made an ultimate soft rock playlist? Explored Eurodisco? Decided one day that you really need to learn about the Gershwins? You’re participating in the reimagining of the musical past.

This point should be more central in any discussion in the future of music and the evolution of digital services. Beyond the top hits and latest releases, music is archival. The better we can archive it, the more we will enjoy it.

To highlight one point: which is the right, or best, version of a particular song? There can be so many candidates. The original album release. The single release. The radio edit. The version used in the videoclip or as a movie soundtrack. Even the version on a videogame. The live version (either album released, radio broadcasted or fan recorded). An alternate mix released as bonus track/B-side. An alternate take. A remix that gained much more traction later on. A particular remaster. A particular rerelease. A particular rerecording by the original artist. Can our music services handle all this diversity?

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