MOG, The Cloud and Boxcar Willie, Explained
A few months ago, I received an email from someone at MOG inviting me to join their network of music bloggers. And I responded to it in my normal fashion – by simply ignoring it. (By the way, I recently lost a year’s worth of emails, so if the guy who sent me the deep blues compilation is reading this, please re-send!)
Then a few weeks later, MOG fired off another email that basically said “dude, are you sure you want to ignore our invitation?” I have to admit, that got my attention.
Turns out, being a MOG blogger has its advantages, especially when you consider my current level of compensation (somewhere in the low zeros). For example, I have free access to their online library of over 11 million songs. Granted, I’m only interested in a small fraction of those songs, but it enables me to check out a lot of stuff I wouldn’t normally listen to. Bands like Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, The Decemberists and Bon Iver, which remind me how much I miss “Déjà Vu” by CSN&Y… or how little I care about The Beach Boys (I know, heresy).
Without sounding like a late-night TV pitchman, let me give you the skinny on this newfangled subscription service. You can start by entering your favorite artist – let’s say, Boxcar Willie. Then MOG shows you all of the albums released by Mr. Willie, as well as compilations that include his songs. Then you can choose to listen to specific songs or an entire album, such as “Last Train to Heaven” (which received an average rating of five stars from MOG members, which tells you they either share a strong sense of ironic detachment or a deep appreciation of the Boxcar oeuvre).
The MOG player also includes this sliding rule that moves from “Artist Only” on the far left to “Similar Artists” on the far right. So you can adjust the player to select other tunes by Mr. Willie or songs from similar artists or a preferred mix of the two, and those songs will play after your current selection is over. By the way, I’ve already moved on to The Wood Brothers… don’t really feel like riding the Boxcar today. Stumbled In
If you think you’re onto something that bears a second listen, you can save it as your own personal playlist. Or you can choose to buy any given song from iTunes so you can have it for posterity.
Fact is, I’m sure MOG is very similar to other online music subscribers, like Rhapsody, Napster and Rdio (but better, of course, given MOG’s patronage of RCR). And I think – but correct me if I’m wrong – the main advantage that the subscription services have over Pandora (which is still free) is the ability to listen to specific songs or albums on demand.
To further complicate matters, Spotify just entered the U.S. market with a “freemium” service, ranging from free access with commercial interruptions and a time cap to $9.99/month for unlimited access, better sound quality and other extras. A friend of mine with the free service found it lacking in the Pandora-like personalized radio department (for more on Spotify, check here or here).
All of this reminds me of an article I recently came across in the New York Times by music critic Jon Pareles, who faces a dilemma that should be familiar to anyone who owns a large quantity of music – some of it rare – in various formats. I’ll describe it in my own terms: 11 million songs on MOG, but no sign of my favorite yuletide album, “Please Mr. Santa Claus” by Evan Johns and His H-Bombs (I still have my red vinyl copy). Stuffin’ in the Stocking
The problem then becomes, should I continue hoarding all my CDs, albums and cassettes (including many titles that are long out of print) using some kind of anal-retentive, color-coded tabulation system for easy retrieval? Or should I eventually get rid of those relics while keeping a massive digital library on my home computer that includes songs I’ll never find on MOG? Or, should I look to the clouds (The Cloud, to be precise) for a personalized online storage option – supported by Google Music Beta or, soon, iTunes Match – that would free up valuable space on my hard drive?
And what idiot invented the term “The Cloud”? Can’t we strip away all this whacky wiki-mysticism and call it what it is, a server? Deep breaths…
Pareles covers other ground in his article, like the fact that compressing all your music into digital files is very convenient but ultimately a poor substitute for vinyl and CDs played through high-end stereo systems. And having all this music readily available on a hand-held device ultimately cheapens the value of the music – as well as the amount of revenue that trickles down to hard-working musicians. All very thought-provoking and, to some of us, maybe even a little troubling.
But I’m confident someone will eventually come up with a workable “de-compression” system (I think a couple of tube-driven ones are already on the market) that approximates the warm analog sound. And I’ve got a nephew who’s figured out how to make a few bucks in the business the old-fashioned way – creating music that doesn’t treat rock’s roots with contempt, and steadily building an audience through constant touring (although I’m not sure The Black Keys would get the same breaks today that they did 10 years ago).
For the most part, I’m no different from the vast majority of music nuts. I want it… I want it now… I want it wherever I am… and I don’t want to pay much for it. And by those standards, MOG works just fine. Here’s Pareles’ take on it:
“For me… the great hope of the cloud is the subscription services, like MOG and Rdio. Their catalogs are deep, their interfaces sensible, their sound quality decent though not spectacular. For every fan who imagines herself a D.J., there’s a new social curatorial model arising in these services, somewhere between the old homemade cassette mixtape handed to a friend and full-scale broadcasting, with a giant potential library.”
“So Tim,” one might ask, “now that you have this unlimited access to new music, what have you been listening to?”
Well, I’ll close with some new “old” music from Gillian Welch’s latest release, “The Harrow & The Harvest.” It’s basically more of the same from Welch and her musical soulmate David Rawlings (guitar and harmonies). Which is a wonderful thing, given that this strain of backwoods American soul is practically a lost art. In fact, when you consider most of the dreck that is modern country – and some of the lightweight drivel that makes a whole lot of indie bloggers hyperventilate – you could argue that Welch and Rawlings have staked out the new alternative. Timeless songs with close-knit harmonies and stunning guitar… what’s not to like? The Way It Goes
The MOG genie led me from that tune to this one by Lucinda Williams, an artist I lost track of about five or six years ago. Big mistake… “Blessed” might be her best album yet: Copenhagen
This is how it’s done, son… Gillian Welch and David Rawlings live in London. Watch how Rawlings slaps on his capo right before he takes a solo. Never saw Albert Collins do that!
Lucinda Williams, with John Jackson (slide) and Kenny Vaughan on guitars. What do you call this, white-trash soul? Hillbilly crunk? I like the fact that while the indie boys are getting all misty-eyed about orchards and honeycomb towers, an AARP-qualified Lucinda just wants to rock (when she played this song on Austin City Limits, her band launched into the riff from Heartbreaker by Led Zeppelin – an irony-free moment of pure rock ‘n roll bliss):