Drake just dropped the best album of his career. If I’m being fair, it’s a bunch of songs that have been around for years, but that’s sort of the point. They’re C-sides he’s decided to call “Care Package”, that are either flippant Soundcloud uploads from days gone or unfinished loosies that made the rounds across various blogspots and Peer-to-Peer servers since 2009. Many of his fans have always known this but it wasn’t up on streaming platforms so many people couldn’t listen to them. When I heard this it brought questions up in me. How much music isn’t being listened to only because it’s not up on Spotify and the like?
It’s healthy to identify how frameworks can intrinsically alter how you consume media. Think about all the songs/movies/books not on streaming platforms and if you would ever come into contact with these works since they aren’t available online. Then think about all the works you have come in contact with and how you wouldn’t have a connection with your favorite works if Netflix didn’t put it up in front of you. I’m sure you could take a not so cynical approach to this situation but it gives me some pause to think about if all my favorite pieces of art were brought to me through The Algorithm. In my opinion, even if you’re choosing the media on these websites, this is already a compromised position of a lack of freedom due to them kind of already being chosen for you. This not to say that accessibility is a crime and should condemned but it’s mindful to take heed of why and (more importantly) how you consume. What words have you never said because predictive text or spell-check didn’t provide it for you in a list? Are you watching something because it’s good or because it’s available?
One could make the case that a record store or movie shop is just a brick and mortar Netflix, but this cannot be farther from the truth. I would make Netflix more analogous to a Walmart $3 movie bin next to the wifi routers as you step into the electronics department. Record stores are more a curatorial business. There’s the obvious notion that what’s in the room isn’t all the music in the world, but those boundaries sometimes go unanalyzed when having Hulu/Netflix/Amazon as your dominant forms of media consumption. A likely outcome can result in your taste changing due to what’s in front you as opposed to hitting up stores and gaining context for what you choose instead of things lightly being chosen for you via invisible digital hands. Imagine only eating at a cafeteria your whole life. Yes, you’re choosing what you decide to eat and there may be minimal distance in amount of quality but you’re still in a cafeteria. The end-all-be-all of Netflix, Hulu, Walmart and the like is the bottom line in a financial sense. Many of the products they’ve pick up have been analyzed to be on the positive side of engagement for their audiences. Therefore, the decision to license is based on dollars rather than quality. Netflix is the piccadilly of streaming services.
And when you get into the Netflix-made works, it’s even more concerning. Netflix authorities will tell the filmmakers which camera to use, which agencies to seek out actors and even have their own in-house color graders and editors. If you’ve ever wonder why all Netflix movies look the same it’s because they’re being made from the same warehouse regardless of who’s name is at the helm.
I don’t say any of this to suggest that you should disregard these platforms. The internet has obviously brought about The Great Equalization when it comes to media, but this opening of the floodgate is only has good as the channel the water is riding upon. As much music is on Youtube, Bandcamp, and Spotify, your ears are only venturing out to what has been uploaded and there is so much music that is ongoing erasure due to copyright law or terms and conditions or some 45 year old deciding to not upload your new favorite 1970’s Japanese disco track. THINK ABOUT AALIYAH ! WHERE IS SHE!?!?
All roads lead back to Drake. His not new release Care Package is the epitome of sad capitalization via digital cataracts with respect to platforms. If it’s not in the audience’s immediate view, it might as well have never existed. These songs have been floating around the internet for over 10 years in some cases and yet due to them not being on digital streaming platforms (DSPs), this release has made it to #1 on Apple/Spotify/Tidal because we have chosen to silo our own ears to these apps. So many genres that could never pass muster of the terms of these DSP’s are increasingly being lost to history. Many of Chicago’s Dance Mania label releases, a whole plethora of sample heavy tracks that were given cease and desists back in the 1990s can’t reach the internet any in large way. Underground labels that are making a stand and choosing not to succumb to the walled cafeteria of Spotify or long-defunct labels that don’t even have anyone behind the scene to push the button and get these classics uploaded. And good luck finding any bounce track from New Orleans that isn’t from 1997 or a jazz remix not on Soundcloud.
As a record collector, it’s scary how many times I’ve stumbled across a vinyl release and come to the realization that this record in my hand is not up on any streaming platform or is on Youtube in a cruddy quality uploaded by a 14 year old who had no right being into 60’s Turkish Psych Rock, but could only upload in 144p on his NetZero connection and boy does it show. This problematizes the whole situation: on one hand, thank god my Wisconsin suburban king who was onto Selda back in ’07 decided to share it with the world, but is the only history for an entire band a window movie maker file? And what’s to happen to all of these songs if YouTube ever gets shut down? Not saying I do wake in a cold sweat about these sort of things but it does haunt me to think of how much history will be lost if these server farms go up in smoke. These files aren’t in the cloud, they’re in Wyoming in the middle of nowhere and very physical. Physical things break and history can be lost when you least expect it.
Case in point was in June 2008. A fire broke out in Universal Studios in Los Angeles over 10 years ago and reports finally came out 10 years later from what was lost. At Universal Studios, you would initially believe that much of what was lost were films (and many were), but the predominant loss was music. Over 500,000 Master recordings were burned up that day and the artists behind these master records are monumental. Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Janet Jackson, John Coltrane, Tupac Shakur, and the first appearances of Aretha Franklin on record were lost. Pages of black history were ripped away and put in the shredder in one moment. To my knowledge, you can’t really “upload” masters recordings. Digitizing always leads to some form of artifacting that can’t be 1 to 1 with whatever the physical product it was originally created on. Of course something is better than nothing, but it’s scary to think that within a moment, we’ve lost so much. If we’re not careful that can surely happen again.
And it did. This happened at a different but still large level with Myspace losing most uploads from 2008 to 2013 during a server change. Do we even know what we lost at this point? So much internet history. Jerking tracks I’m sure, Lil B’s stomp-grounds awkwardly forming much of the sound of rap today, Emo-rap’s humbling beginnings. Lost Soulja Boy imposters. Some would say thank god it’s forgotten, but even what we choose to forget shouldn’t be lost. Black kids first contact with the new era of crafting the internet (and culture) to their own ears. The same initial feeling that brought up Glo Gang, A$AP MOB, and so many others that democratized music for the masses through Fruity Loops and Limewire (also gone). Archival is so important, but who has rights to the books that we’ve written ourselves? If you start naming corporations and server farms, we have to change our viewpoints as we’re so far gone that if you’re reading this it’s probably too late.