Big Mac Attack

Hollywood meets Silicon Valley in the music industry's new modem operandi

In mock honor of my tenth anniversary as a professional music critic, I wonder if you might indulge my views of the future of music journalism: There is none. "Virtual reality" -- an oxymoronic piece of linguistic rubbish to begin with -- is now "virtuality." We've gone too far. We'll fall too fast.

What song's that from? She went too far/It wouldn't last/La la something something/She's come undone/doo dee doo. Hold on. I'll punch it up in my computer. Yeah, that's the easy way. What fun is there in conversing? In a little mental tomcatting, see who has the biggest rock-trivia balls, then crack on the Guess Who after we figure it out? The song, by the way, was called "Undun." But why bother when the info is a button-tap away?

Nostalgia is for has-beens and losers. Never get drunk with old journalists unless you want to hear endless stories about the days of "hot type," a primitive printing technique in which the words to be published actually went through a molten stage and curved plates were...but I do go on. Pass the Jim Beam while I change the ribbon in my Underwood. And never mention the Beatles to a gray-haired jazz musician.

The cold binary nature of computers always has seemed an anathema to the gutty, human endeavor of making music. (That goes for writing about music, too.) But let's be realistic: MIDI and other studio technology didn't ruin pop music; instead they've been integrated into it with only random casualties. We've gone, however, from harmless sequencing to a world in which Geffen Records is marketing a CD-ROM game, and American, Rick Rubin's label, is announcing proudly that it is the first "major company in the record business to have a fully developed site on the Internet." You -- meaning you personally -- can even see advance album art (for the Black Crowes's Amorica, not due out until November 1) via http://american.recordings.com or e-mail at americanoAMERICAN.RECORDINGS.COM. It's not clear whether you can shelve the Crowes project should you not like the album artwork. Doubt it.

Retail moguls and underground iconoclasts alike are revolutionizing the music industry with their mouses (mice?) and macintoshs. Previously, recorded music was distributed by real men and women, blue-collar joes and james who boxed up the vinal (later cassettes, and then CDs), put it in trucks, and drove it around to stores, where it was unloaded (as opposed to downloaded) by more janes and joes. Now you can get releases -- which haven't even been released anywhere - through your Mac.

Yes, kids, the computer world, once the damain of the nerd stereotype, is now cooler than sub pop. Two california undergrads have created internet underground music archive (IUMA), an independent distribution company. Except it's not really a company -- one of the founders told rolling stone that he wasn't interested in adding a credit-card download system because, "Then we start becoming a real business. And then it starts to get ugly."

Currently IUMA posts the names of more than 75 songs by unsigned/obscure bands. With internet and a "sound card," users can download the tunes and transfer them to traditional (old-fashioned, that is) audio equipment at no cost. The stone article suggests that this is the first step in a system that would allow the downloading of entire cds through fiber-optic lines -- the end of record distribution as we know it.

Which means Warner Bros. and Sony and the rest will be out of business presently. Except that the major record companies are already on-line themselves. And brother, in the case of the most freightening of these ventures, we're talking about a 320-by-240 pixel video aspect ratio! Earlier this month Geffen introduced a CD-ROM game called VID GRID. With about $35 worht of software, users get nine music videos by acts such as Aerosmith, Guns N' Roses, Jimi Hendrix. The videos appear on screen in scrambled form -- like a jigsaw puzzle or rubik's cube. The goal is to unscramble them as quickly as possible. This is the MTV of your unborn children.

VID GRID is, according to Billboard, the first such game that allows for the manipulation of "multiple segments of moving video pictures." Yes, but will it outsell time Warner's Woodstock 25TH Anniversary interactive CD-ROM ?

Geffen has been busy elsewhere in cyberspace. Through compuserve you can access album-release and tour information for the label's artists (Be your own critic!) and actual tunes by them. The first song to be offered is an unreleased Aerosmith ditty called "Head First". The band has waived it's royalties.

By the way, Geffen is a division of MCA, which is owned by Matsushita Electric Industrial. The VID GRID game uses video for Windows 1.1 software. That software comes from Microsoft Corp.

The cofounder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, purchased Tickedmaster about a year ago for some $275 million. What all this means is that some day soon, all concert tickets might be sold through services such ase America Online (or Prodigy or Compuserve). If you happen to be a cave dweller not in possession of a computer with a modem, well, tough luck, pal.

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