Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – iCame, iSaw, iPod
I don’t remember exactly the first time I heard a compact disc but I imagine it was in the offices of Quality Records on Birchmount Road. I have vague recollections of a boardroom meeting where we saw and heard what the compact disc was all about. I was easily impressed. We were told the sound was pristine, they would last forever and they would never skip. Ultimately none of this was true but it still felt like a giant leap in to the future.
I needed a player and I think the first one I purchased was a rather expensive Phillips model. Working for a major at the time I started to receive promo copies of our new releases but the real game was finding those staples of the collection that you desperately needed to hear and have on disc. Some were released immediately, some took years, and, sadly, some were never released. A few CD’s were released early and due to various reasons pulled from the market and have become huge collectors items.
There was a beauty to CD’s as they were easy to store, easy to fast forward and eventually worked great in the car (although the early units really didn’t like the bumps). The bad news about CD ‘s were the artwork (5” X 5” didn’t hold a candle to 12” X 12”). the miniscule liner notes and the ridiculous “long box” packaging. Hats off to Spinal Tap for releasing their CD in an extra-long box thereby utilizing more recycled material.
Making mix tapes was much easier with CD’s and the ever present danger of a skip was all but eliminated. Albums and pre-recorded cassettes slowly faded into the sunset and things stayed stable for a while. Eventually there was a decent DiscMan and loaded with 30 CD’s in a small carrying case and your DiscMan and a couple of decent portable speakers you could have great sounding music on the road. A few other formats tried to gain support during this era but they all seemed to fall by the wayside. I did love my DATMan as I could record 8 hour mixes on it but the DAT never really crossed over to the public and remained a studio format. At one point I did own a DCC machine (Digital Compact Cassette) as it was, according to the label I was working with, (which was owned by a hardware company at the time) going to be the format that would revolutionize the industry. Um, no. It was a digital cassette that you could fast forward almost as fast as a CD. Made no sense.
MP 3`s were next and it wasn’t until the creation of iTunes that I really paid attention. At that point both iTunes and the iPod were MAC only and I was strictly a PC user. Around the same time I was on Friendster as to be on Facebook you needed to be a student. Seems like a long time ago.
My first iPod was a 20 gig. I had seen the Shuffle and didn’t like the fact that you could not program a playlist and you could not see what song was playing. The capacity was somewhere between 500 and 1000 songs and that would barely contain my Bowie collection. There was a 40 gig available but I figured I would cut my teeth on the 20. Once you installed iTunes it was all pretty simple. Grab a CD, load it in the computer, import to iTunes, transfer to iPod. Wow, they loaded fast. Many a night was spent scouring a CD collection that was well over 10,000 pieces and loading in onto the iPod. Next step was playlists. This took the mix tape to another level. You could make a 80 minute compilation in about 20 minutes. With a $2.00 patch cord from Active Surplus (or $20.00 at Future Shop or Radio Shack) you could plug your iPod into your main stereo. With 5,000 songs in your pocket we had finally hit portable heaven. Soon there were iPod friendly ghetto blasters and all sorts of portable decks that would both charge and play. For years I had a great portable unit the iFusion which had decent sound, rechargeable and very portable. That baby hit a lot of beaches and hotel rooms.
It soon became apparent that 20 gigs was not going to be enough. I got to the point where I needed to delete music before I could add new songs. I went for the 80 gig monster. Now I had room for about 18,000 songs and also could DJ with two separate units. As the iPod took off they started to mess with the formula. They adapted them to show videos, movies and TV shows (no thanks) and moved towards the iPod Touch which was basically an iPhone without phone capabilities. They have apps, cameras, video and hold a lot less music for a higher price. Call me stubborn but I want my iPod to hold music and nothing else. If I want to “check in” at a bar I’ll walk in and hopefully they will know my name and drink preference, don’t need for my music device to do that for me.
With iPods it is all about the playlists. I want control. I don’t want to have to go to a “cloud” to hear my music. I know what songs go with what songs and that’s the way I want to hear them. I don’t want to stream and frankly if you have a play list I might listen once and then compare it to one of mine. I have a playlist for everything, The one that I use (and update) daily is “The Current 50”. These are new releases from artists that I like or need to keep up to date on. For these I go to iTunes and check the new releases, go to Spinner for their MP3 of The Day, check out Stereogum, NoiseTrade, grab a Starbucks “Song Of The Week” card, check links that Frank posts or receive the MP3’s via press releases. Most songs get 5 or 6 plays at the top of the pile and then slowly get moved down the list as new songs arise. When they are no longer on the current 50 list they are either moved to another playlist or, in rare circumstances deleted.
The next most important list is “Demos”. This is where new tracks from our artists, and artists looking for representation, live. This is the work file. This is the one that hopefully helps pay the rent.
The rest of the playlists are for my enjoyment. Some artists have their own individual lists as sometimes you are just in a certain mood and need to hear a wack of Beatles. Stones, Faces, Bowie or Sparks There are genre specific playlists from punk to alt country, decades are represented and if you need an instant party mix chances are I will have something ready to go.
The one thing I don’t use on my iPod is shuffle. There are far too many different genres of music and I like a certain flow. Here is what happens when the shuffle is on (this is an honest test and these are the ten songs that came up):
1. “Big Bands” – Sparks – An obscure song from their debut album.
2.”All I Want Is You” – U2 – A decent song from “Rattle And Hum” but, outside of “I Will Follow” the only reason I have U2 included is for DJ purposes.
3. “Isn’t She Lovely” – Me First & The Gimme Gimmes – Great punk rock cover of the Stevie Wonder classic
4. “Troy” – Sinead O’Connor – The first song I ever heard by Sinead.
5. “Good Thing” – Fine Young Cannibals – No issues with this one. Good fit with Sinead as they were both from the same era and I was at the company that distributed both.
6. “Tremoloa Debut” – Broken Social Scene – An album cut I really don’t know.
7. “Space Age Love Song” – A Flock Of Seagulls – One of their better tracks.
8. “Was The Last Time I Saw You” – Frank Sinatra. I love the completeness of box sets and this one comes from “The ‘V’ Discs”.
9. “Back In The Saddle Again” – Gene Autry – Hey, it’s a classic. Need to have a little of everything.
10. “The Charging Sky” – Jenny Lewis – Another album cut. If I have the album, and still have the space I will load the whole thing.
And that is why I don’t use shuffle.
I know that the iPod will be obsolete in a couple of years but while we have it I can’t think of a better portable device. It’s like having a party in your pocket. You can complain about the sound (try better headphones – I’m a Sennheiser guy) and the occasional freeze but walking around with 30 playlists and 30,000 songs makes it all worthwhile. I have also been converted to the “Jambox” by Jawbone which is a portable speaker with incredible sound. It is about the size of a thick TV converter and the sound is incredible. It also doubles as a hands free device for my Blackberry with a wireless Bluetooth connection. The unit is so compact that I carry it with me all the time. When someone wants me to hear a song on their iPod or phone I can just plug their device into my speaker and I don’t have to deal with filthy earbuds. Also great for playing my artists music in a meeting and it has also been very handy on video shoots as a playback unit. A tad pricey but well worth the investment. Thanks to Wendi-Jane for mine!
Cam’s column appears every Thursday.
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Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener, The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, NXNE, The Daily XY and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.