The Eccentronic Research Council – Black ChristMass

Here’s another strangely dark Christmas song, this time from the brilliant Sheffield group The Eccentronic Research Council, and entitled Black ChristMass:

White Town – December

I’m not sure if White Town likes Christmas very much – he’s done a couple of very dark festive songs, and December is no exception, although it does have a glorious melancholy to it. Assuming the Spotify link below works, why not see what you think…

Retro chart for stowaways – 16 December 2006

Here are the top 10 albums from eight years ago this week:

  1. Depeche Mode – The Best of Vol. 1
  2. Girls Aloud – The Sound of the Underground
  3. Sugababes – Overloaded
  4. Tiga – Sexor
  5. Bent – Intercept
  6. Moby – Go – The Very Best of
  7. Delerium – Nuages du Monde
  8. The Future Sound of London – Teachings from the Electronic Brain
  9. Faithless – To All New Arrivals
  10. Kings Have Long Arms – I Rock, Eye Pop

Beginner’s guide to The Shamen

You remember The Shamen! They did all those cheesy dance tracks with the none-too-subtle drug references! Well yes, and also they made a whole load of other more interesting music too – there’s a lot more too them than you ever realised in the early 1990s.

Key moments

Ebeneezer GoodeBoss Drum, Phorever PeopleLSI, and actually the entirety of the Boss Drum album (1992). And not forgetting Move Any Mountain (1991).

Where to start

Why not start by revisiting all the hits with The Shamen Collection (1996)? You’ll get a hint of some of their earlier and more obscure work, and a slightly pointless megamix disc too.

What to buy

Track down Axis Mutatis (1995), and also the weird narcotic world of Hempton Manor (1996). Then jump all the way back to Drop (1987) to hear how it all began.

Don’t bother with

Don’t actually bother with Boss Drum, as all the good tracks are on the compilation above. 1998’s UV is a bit iffy in places, as, surprisingly, is En-Tact (1991).

Hidden treasure

Move Any Mountain 96 is probably the best of the versions, if you can find it anywhere, and also Axis Mutatis‘s secret bonus disc Arbor Bona Arbor Mala is a quite exceptional album in its own right, but it may be hard to find these days.

For stowaways

The cost of listening

As far as I understand it, “inflation” refers to the general increase in prices that happens with time. Across most of the western world, everything becomes a little more expensive, year by year. Earnings climb steadily in accordance, and we all end up a happy bundle of capitalists.

So why, then, has the cost of music buying consistently fallen over the last few years? These are admittedly a little out of date, but here are the numbers for the UK from 2001 to 2010:

Year Average CD Retail Price Average Single CD Retail Price Average Double CD Retail Price Average Album Retail Price
2001 £ 10.84 £ 10.18 £ 13.32 £ 10.77
2002 £ 10.64 £ 9.85 £ 13.37 £ 10.60
2003 £ 10.21 £ 9.48 £ 12.89 £ 10.20
2004 £ 10.00 £ 9.25 £ 12.60 £ 10.02
2005 £ 9.75 £ 9.12 £ 12.20 £ 9.81
2006 £ 8.97 £ 8.34 £ 11.14 £ 8.91
2007 £ 8.65 £ 8.00 £ 10.66 £ 8.47
2008 £ 8.10 £ 7.53 £ 9.91 £ 7.97
2009 £ 7.88 £ 7.15 £ 9.86 £ 7.65
2010 £ 7.55 £ 7.03 £ 9.29 £ 7.32

(Source: BPI)

Well, that’s a nice trend, isn’t it? Not only do we earn a little more each year, but legally buying music also costs us a little less. At £7.32 per album, we’re getting a pretty good deal. Technically, the artists aren’t – apparently they only get £1 for each album we buy.

What’s particularly disappointing about the above table ending in 2010 is that it doesn’t really reflect what’s happened in the digital era. Whereas previously we were able to get the occasional extremely good deal (my first Amazon purchase was Kraftwerk‘s The Man-Machine, for £1.62 on CD), that is considerably rarer with downloads. The offers are only ever really available in the first couple of weeks of sale, and after that they keep their price point for good. After all, with no requirement to shift stock, why should they ever be discounted?

None of this is really anybody’s fault, as in this instance the music business is merely acting as any business would. What is interesting to me is that the perceived value of music seems to be falling. People still complain – just as they always have – that music is too expensive, and yet the table above shows nearly a third of the price being knocked off an album in a decade. (Incidentally, I’m not sure offhand whether the above table accounts for inflation or not, so let’s sidestep that aspect for now.)

Is this partly a result of illegal downloading, whereby, as I discussed just a couple of weeks ago, people have learnt to expect everything for free? Very probably, yes. In fact, it’s difficult to draw a conclusion about whether this is a good or bad thing – live concerts have ballooned in price as their popularity has exploded over the last couple of decades, so why shouldn’t studio recordings also become cheaper – and more competitive – for consumers?

If you listen to music via streaming services, such as iTunes Radio, Pandora, or Spotify, it becomes cheaper still – in many cases, free. But while I see the future of digital music to be in streaming rather than outdated concepts of ownership, there is an enormous downside to this trend. While artists may make relatively little from CD sales, they make absolutely nothing from most streaming services, earning mere fractions of pennies per listen.

Reading the article linked above, you have to conclude that you agree. Streaming is a great way to listen to music (assuming you’re not the sort of person who obsesses about FLAC files, anyway), but it only really seems to make any money for the companies who provide the services. Artists get nothing; even the poor labels get nothing. But, as that article suggests, they never got anything from home taping or CD swapping either.

So where does this leave us? What, in the end, is the cost of listening? Ultimately it’s impossible to quantify, but it would be nice to see the proceeds go direct to the artist rather than to middlemen.