Inclined – Might Not Know It Now (2010)

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Nearly 20 years ago, I dug furiously through a crate, one of what must have been hundreds under a tent set up in a parking lot, with a small, but growing pile of CDs by my side. All were a dollar or two dollars, the remnants of what wouldn’t sell the previous year at the store, shuffled out here for a weekend “Screaming Dog Sale,” whatever that meant.

Mostly it was junk — dozens and dozens of promo copies of the same bland r&b artist that no one wanted to hear on the radio, now here spread out over countless boxes for you to first snicker at and then frustratedly flip out of your way to get to other more interesting titles. There were gems hidden in there, though, and you’d see the same look pop up on faces as they encountered them — wide-eyed excitement at scoring something surprising for a ridiculous price. But the real gems were the ones you picked up for simple, stupid curiosity, the titles you’d passed a million times in the store and thought, “What the hell is this, anyway,” but never felt like actually paying decent money for. Now was your time. I had a stack of those.

In that stack by my side was something that would become one of my favorite little gems, one of those albums I will always question “why was this there?” and “why didn’t more people catch onto this?” For whatever reason, Inclined’s sole album of southern-fried funk rock, Bright New Day, got passed up by nearly everyone, and nearly me, too, were it not for that sale. But I got it, and for ages afterward I used seeing copies of this album as kind of a gauge to see how well music, in general, was selling.

I don’t really know why or how it meant anything to me, but if I saw this album, I thought people were still moving music through the buying/trading channels. Every trip to the store, without fail, I’d find copies of that album, the price dropping little by little over the years, fewer and fewer copies to be found, but it seemed like it would never go away. Until a couple years ago when I stopped seeing them. Apparently they were finally soaked up by the last few lucky suckers at a low enough price that they’re not coming back into the system — or the stores have a “do not buy” warning on them when scanned. How many of them are out there, I can’t imagine. But if that had happened today, I think things would have been very, very different for Inclined.

Everything has changed since that album came out and I grabbed it up in that sale. In nearly two decades, the idea of needing a sale like that to get rid of excess used music has disappeared: Who has excess used music? That train sailed years ago, my muchacho, and those who buy used music do so with the kind of fervor that prevents any need for blowouts like that — not to mention these stores all put that stuff on Amazon and Ebay at bargain prices that blow away what they’d make locally.

A lot of music fans will continue to live with the hard copy, and that’s understandable because it’s something real. But some of us are starting to see the futility of it, at least in our lives. Giant collections taking up too much space in the homes we’ve gotten stuck in due to the housing market crashing; it all adds up to questions about the validity of a music collection that spans most of the length of a wall and basically gathers dust while the actual music resides on your iPod, probably safely backed up by Apple’s iTunes In The Cloud.

It’s a hard thing to give up, however, because the package is a big part of it for us music junkies. We love our liner notes; we love artwork and packaging. But some of these newer releases are making things easier — simple, thin folded-over cardboard with a slot for the CD inside, and a tiny amount of notes inside indicating where it was recorded and by whom. It’s grown more and more rare to find extensive liner notes packed with most CDs these days, and disappearing with that is my allegiance to the all mighty hard copy. Going all-digital isn’t such a harrowing idea when I pull the shrink wrap off and find nothing inside but a shiny disc. It seems that the days of hard copy music are all but over.

The thing is, though, our digital future will almost certainly fail us. And it’s a sure thing, because they already do: out-of-print music. And here’s where I start to sound hypocritical. See, these services only work for music that has current licenses. Once those licenses expire, that music stops being available. Think of all the music right now that could, at any time, stop being sold on iTunes, stop being served up by Pandora or Spotify. It’s just gone, unless you were smart enough to buy a copy — but even then, if you bought a copy from iTunes and never downloaded it to keep a copy of the files, living only off your iPhone and listening to music stream over your computer from Apple’s servers, that music could be gone for good. There’s just no telling right now. It hasn’t happened yet, since iTunes In The Cloud just started last fall, and, as far as I know, nothing available on iTunes has gone out of print in that time. It’s all fine and good for those massive, timeless albums — Dark Side Of The Moon will never, ever go out of print, not in our lifetimes, at least — but let’s face it, if you’re a band on an indie label, your music probably has a short leash on life.

It seems ridiculous to think about this. We’re digital now. Why do we need to worry? It can’t be about space – if more space is needed, add it. It’s not. It’s all about rights. When the label gives iTunes (and I will continue to use iTunes to represent any of these digital entities that serve up music) the music, they simply loan it to them to sell for them, most likely for a given amount of time, and at the end of that time, like with any contract, they’ll need to review the contract and extend it. Or not. That’s the problem.

Perhaps they’ll simply decide not to sell this band or that album anymore because it didn’t make enough money, and they don’t feel like dealing with the upkeep on the books for it. Gone. Period. When we bought CDs (or cassettes, vinyl, 8 tracks, what have you) we didn’t face any consequence when this happened. It’s out of print, so what? You still had the CD in your collection and would until you decided otherwise, or until some other force came long and decided for you (Mother Nature, burglary, you name it). Entire record labels could come and go and you might never know. Now, however, there’s no telling that we’ll ever see deleted titles again. The music business has always been fickle, but it could just become a whole lot more fickle and vicious than ever before. If you don’t make it big, really, really big, your music is going to completely, utterly disappear someday.

Imagine an Inclined of the near future, without hard copies, their album struggling, being ignored in the market, and eventually deleted. Where would a future, young “me” go to stumble on it? There would be no digital “Screaming Dog Sale” for me to find it and fall in love. It would just be gone. Deleted to save some administrative costs. Impact to the public at large is minimal. Impact would, really, be nothing, because no one would know what they were missing. And that, I suppose, is the big issue: without a way to get what is no longer available, you simply will never know what you missed out on.

But there’s a silver lining for Inclined, at least. Band leader Miles Om Tackett (more well known from his next band Breakestra) has wrestled the music from Columbia and set it free on Soundcloud. That’s right — free. Not only the entire album Bright New Day but outtakes from those sessions and outtakes from the harder to find Sifter EP (yep, I also found that at a Screaming Dog Sale!) Not only that, but I was shocked, completely shocked, to find that the band actually released a brand new album in October2010. How did I miss this?

Perhaps, in a way, I have made my case about the pitfalls of digital music. As much as I enjoy and support its immediacy, if you don’t know about it — if you don’t have a store there to run across it, and if someone like me isn’t pointing it out — how might you ever know it exists?

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Johnson
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