Classification of online music resources
After four months of keeping my bookmarks on Furl, I thought it was time to reflect on some of what I've collected — particularly in the music resources topic.
I created the music resources topic for items — web pages, databases, print, radio, TV, film/DVD, or anything — that are about music. That includes anything in the tradition of liner notes, reviews, artist interviews and 'paramusical' elements of recorded music like sleeve design.
My set of music resources links runs to 91 items at the time of writing. I've now reviewed and classified all these items (before anyone says anything, yes, I know that using a system that allows easy browsing using tags, like del.icio.us would have made this easier than it is with Furl). This is a work-in-progress research exercise at the moment, like my taxonomy of 'making of' features.
The biggest surprise for me was how many classifications I needed to cover all the bases. I was expecting maybe eight or nine, but ended up with nearly twice that number.
The two largest classifications are fairly predictable.
- Lists — I don't furl all the lists that I come across because there are just too many, and they are often repetitive or unimaginative, but I've made exceptions for celebrity lists (Julian Cope's Krautrock list), lists with hubris (Rolling Stone's 500 greatest songs), and combinations of the two (Elvis Costello's 500 Albums you need). There are lists of lists: the lists of bests and a compilation of 'best of 2004' lists. Then there are the curios and niche lists: the best album sleeves of the year, reissues of the year, music books of the year, cover versions, soundtracks, and rock'n'roll myths.
- Reports and commentary on music resources — This collection reflects my general interest in how music resources are developing, growing and changing in the digital age. So there are reports about John Peel's record collection, forthcoming radio documentaries, Martin Scorsese's film on Dylan, and the introduction of Britpop into the GCSE curriculum. Then there are more critical reviews: Stuart Maconie's review of the UK music press, predictions of the decline of album liner notes and art (see below for more on this), and Dan Hill's valuable insights into music metadata and visualisation.
Those are the big ones. But the interest for me is in the range of other resources that don't fit into either of these classifications.
- Web support for music resources in other formats — Every project and programme has a web site these days, and I've furled sites for music films, TV, a book, a CD-ROM, an exhibition, a TV archive and an educational radio feature. My favourite remains the Sold on Song radio support, which I reviewed earlier.
- Reviews and criticism — Including the extensive library at Rock's Backpages and the works of individual writers who have the rights to publish their work online (Robert Christgau, Colin Buttimer) or at least link to it (Michaelangelo Matos, Douglas Wolk). I'm interested in in-depth accounts of a single song or album, such as Brian Appleyard's comments on Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. BBC Radio 4 has some great documentary features of this kind, but, though you can listen to latest one online, they leave no more permanent 'trace' on the web.
- Directories of resources — These are basically indexes or databases of (or links to) other online music resources, beyond traditional criticism. Examples include band weblogs, so-called MP3 blogs and doctoral dissertations in musicology (sadly the dissertations themselves are not online).
- Other databases — This classification is slightly different from directories, since the main data items are not music resources, but could be band names, recent Peel sessions listings, cover versions of songs or more specifically Bob Dylan cover albums. I was going to put the bizarre Dead Rock Stars club in a different classification called 'taxonomies' but, though it's not strictly a database, it didn't seem to warrant its own category.
- Music sources and collections — Again related to directories, this classification relates to places sites that help you get music, whether that's rare albums, sheet music, Roger McGuinn's heritage of folk recordings (licensed under Creative Commons), songs from Smithsonian Folkways, legal live recordings, outsider music or 'kiddie records'.
- Interviews and talks — Examples include Paul Morley interviewing John Peel in 1979 and Brian Eno talking about generative music in 1996.
- Web tributes with novel perspectives — As a rule I don't collect fan sites or promotional sites: as with music lists, there are too many of them for this to be feasible, and they mostly follow the same format (photos, gig listings, a download or two, song database and guitar tabs). I make exceptions for examples like this month-by-month calendar of David Bowie's 'Golden Years', this geographic and lexicographical reference for Van Morrison, and this magnificently comprehensive, database-driven site of all tracks and gigs by Galaxie 500 and their 'descendent' bands, which also includes many 'community' features (this site is a ten-year labour of love by the wonderful Andy Aldridge, who has a day job at the BBC archive). Valuable for different reasons, in promoting a specific sub-genre of music, is the Polish Jazz Network site.
- Cover art — Bearing in mind the predictions of the decline of album cover art, it's interesting to see the sites that have emerged to fill this gap. There's one that promises album art for iTunes tracks and another that provides a simple search interface to find CD covers (front cover only).
- New formats for music resources — This a sub-set of the 'reports and commentary' classification (above), and includes stories of the rise of music DVD, new DVD formats that "let viewers be their own director", the first DualDisc releases, and hand-held "concert companions" to take to the opera (less help at a Babyshambles gig).
- Instruments and making music — What I've collected so far is a small hotch-potch, that includes a feature on the ukulele, on the history and practice of playing the theremin, a site that details rock stars' guitar rigs, the Musipedia collection of tunes, melodies, and musical themes and software to support learning music theory and composing.
- Educational — I haven't found much that aims to be 'purely' educational, but this Jazz Improvisation Primer falls into that category (though it's just a 'text dump' of a book, rather than an e-learning offering).
- Trivia — Self explanatory: kitsch album covers, self-described weirdomusic, the origin of bandnames, and my favourite oddity, evoking my years of puberty, a collection of blank cassette covers from the '70s and '80s.
- New media presentations of music — This is the area where you might expect the greatest innovation in the long term. Developments so far are patchy. The concept of Song Meanings — to enable a community of fans to share interpretations of lyrics — is interesting, but its implementation (without moderation) is highly disappointing for the inane contributions and all the usual flame wars. The Audioscrobbler browser and Music Map show very similar visual representations of the old "people who like X also like Y" filtering data — though it's not clear whether they use the same data. Finally, saving the best until last, the most welcome surprise for me was finding not one, but two animated visualisations of John Coltrane's Giant Steps: one moderately literal version by Iain Houston and one more abstract by Michal Levy. Great.
What does all that show? Let's get the disclaimers out of the way first: I know that some of my classifications overlap or are open to question, but I'm making no claims to positivist truth here; and I'm not making any claims about being 'scientific' or representative, since I was never aiming for that; the selection is heavily influenced by my whims. Nevertheless I think it's safe to draw a few conclusions.
- While MP3s may not carry as much rich information as record labels and covers used to, the sheer volume of music-related resources readily available to a music fan is clearly much greater than it was in the 'good old days'.
- The challenge, then, is to find creative ways of linking those resources to the digital files of the music they relate to. There's an opportunity to think out of the box, if you'll pardon the pun, about how to package music and present the digital equivalent of the CD or LP box set (see my earlier critique of one digital box set and my specification for software to help link music resources).
- Many of the web-based music resources are produced by fans, 'amateurs' and public service broadcasters — there is little commercial activity in this space. Telling a good story about a piece of music brings it to a wider audience and can increase sales. Is there a missed opportunity here?
Making these classifications will influence my ongoing collection of resources, and may lead to further investigation of particular areas. You can view the collection any time, subscribe to its RSS feed, or suggest something I should add.
Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Curatorial, Music and Multimedia on 15 March 02005 | TrackBack
Hi, an interesting site, I will make a point of browsing it.
Have you come across my site KentFolk ? - partly an online calendar/gig list for Kent folk, blues, jazz, cajun ... music, partly a resource as to who the Kentish musicians are and current venues, partly a photo and MP3 log of what happens in the county.