ooal

I have a feature article in the arts section of Monday’s Irish Examiner. You can read it online here. The article focuses on streaming and what’s in it for artists and bands. I was chatting with Ciarán Ryan, one of the two people behind Out On A Limb, recently when he revealed that he wasn’t a huge fan of streaming music. I asked him a few follow-up question, some of the answers to which are contained in the newspaper feature. Ciarán gave me permission to put up the answers for this post. I think it’s really interesting how relaxed he comes across over people not following up on streaming tracks with actual purchases. It’s worth reading the interview for the final answer alone. The interview’s all after the jump.

Do you prefer listening to records/CDs over listening to a stream? If so, why?
Yes, totally. I think there are a number of reasons why I prefer physical formats over streaming. Firstly, I grew up with physical music – I was a little too late for vinyl first time round so I collected cassettes when I was younger, then moved to CDs, and then back to vinyl. I suppose nostalgia plays an important part in that – remembering when I saved enough to buy my first tapes, getting my first stereo, etc. You attach those physical items – many of which I still have – to significant points of your life.

More importantly, for me anyway, I think the physical format keeps your attention more. The online world is all clicking from one thing to another, and I just find my attention wanes easier. Whereas with a record, you invest your time and concentration in it. You have to turn the record to get to the second side and all that, and to me, that gives me more of an attachment to it, and a sense that I’m digesting the album as a whole; not in some kind of piecemeal way that perhaps the online world fosters.

I’m not some kind of audiophile that will always notice the minutiae and variances between the various formats, but I do feel that vinyl in particular has that warm feel to it. Even the imperfections, a scratch or a skip, give it a sense of uniqueness which an mp3 file will never have. I tend not to listen to a lot of music online. I’ll check out streams that bands may send us as demo submissions, and will occasionally listen to a few bits and pieces, but I like to take risks with my purchases too. A friend or shop clerk’s recommendation will always intrigue me, more so than a recommendation from iTunes or Amazon or Spotify. It’s the human contact in that respect – as a rule-of-thumb, I really dislike any form of shopping with the exception of record shopping. Every record or CD I have I can probably tell where I got it from – whether that was a store in Dublin, a dollar bin in Toronto, or wherever, I have that personal connection to it. I love record stores – they’re real social spaces. If you like collecting, then it’s the place to go and gorge. I’d much rather be able to see all my music on shelves than have it on a cloud or whatever. It’s the whole package really – physical art and music….

Do you think physical releases will ever die out or will there always be that niche?
I’d hope they’d never die but it’s difficult to predict really. Obviously, vinyl sales have had a little resurgence in the last few years, but it’s a miniscule increase especially when you consider the decline of the CD. I’d love to think that you could still buy records in 10-15 years time but – and without sounding like a bit of an old-timer – I wouldn’t be expecting kids who are just in their teens now to become serious collectors of physical music. They haven’t grown up with it, so they may not have that attachment to it that someone my age has. Music formats have always evolved and I’m sure other ways of listening to music will pop up in the next decade. There’ll probably be a few anoraks like myself still hanging round in record stores – if they still exist – when we’re old men.

Do you think having the music world at your fingertips diminishes the power of music?
Ah no. I think music is an immensely powerful thing that you can associate with major moments in your life, and I think those associations will always be there, regardless of whether physical or even recorded music disappears.

All of your label’s releases can be streamed in full on Soundcloud/Bandcamp. Why not just give people a taster? Is it a case of really having to push people to part with their money?
At the end of the day if someone doesn’t want to part with their money for one of our releases or for any other release for that matter, I’m sure they can just google it and find a free download link out there. We decided a while back that people do like to “try and buy”; now you mightn’t go buy a steak and then decide after fully consuming it in a restaurant that you don’t want it and not buy it but I just think arguments regards downloading and piracy are somewhat pointless at this stage. It happened, and happens, and it’s time to move on from that whole debate.

There are so much releases out now – I think the term DIY has been appropriated and become quite fashionable now so tonnes of folks are recording cheaply and self-releasing. That means there’s more of a clamour to actually get your release heard so you have to go that extra mile and let people taste the album before they decide whether they want to part with their hard-earned cash or not. And some people will really like, but for one reason or another, may not buy it – they may have bills to pay or no turntable or whatever. But some of those people will go to the gigs etc. and invest their time and finances in the act that way. I also feel that the embedding tools these services offer can mean that people can read and listen to music at the same time. I still like to find out actual information about releases so it’s useful when websites and blogs write about the music and have the stream sitting with that.

Does streaming make label life easier or more difficult compared with when OOAL started ten years ago?
I’m not sure. Like, it opens up new ‘markets’ or areas – for instance, some of the Owensie tracks had an insane amount of streams from Italy. Yet, we didn’t see that transfer to online sales of the physical record or in iTunes sales from Italy. It’s a nice way of getting the word out, and allowing for fans of the label to interact with the label and feel that they are part of an online community by sharing the sounds with their friends or followers. I certainly think that the likes of streaming and social networking have opened us up to developing more interactivity with a wider audience. You wonder how strong that interactivity is compared to the face-to-face links we’ve developed over the last decade… I think I’m going off point here… those people you met face-to-face every time you went to Cork or Galway would go to all the shows and pick up the releases – I’m not totally convinced that that may happen with folks that really support the label through the internet.

Is live concert streaming the next big thing?
Is it? I haven’t the foggiest. I couldn’t think of anything more boring. I mean – I like concert films and DVDs etc. and will watch footage from gigs on YouTube but I think the fact that something more overtly trying to replicate the live experience is kind of strange. What next? Everyone at home on their laptops or on the toilet with their iPhone watching a gig attended by nobody? Yikes….