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Saturday, July 16, 2022

Marc Cohn and the Evils of Streaming

I am something of a dinosaur.  Let’s get that out front.  I refuse to pay for digital file licenses for music.  My CD collection is north of, well, it’s a lot.  I’ve even spurned releases from some of my favorite artists because they didn’t release hard copies (here’s looking at you, Ron Hawkins and Barenaked Ladies.)  I also have an aversion to vinyl, but that’s for another day.  Suffice it to say that from the standpoint of sound quality, ownership and longevity, nothing beats the CD for this music fan.

Of course, I do have teenagers, so things like Amazon Music and Spotify have made it into our way of life.  I don’t generally mess with either, although I will admit to spicing up my morning routine of feeding animals and checking glucose levels with a shuffle of songs from Amazon for whatever artist occurs to me that morning.  It’s often a frustrating experience, but easier than asking for a specific artist.  “Amazon, play music by Antje Duvekot.” “I wasn’t able to find songs by that artist, but here are songs by Two Cats.”

On this morning’s menu, besides a conglomeration of kibble (what the hell is kibble?) for the dogs and a split can of Friskies for the felines was Marc Cohn.  The first I heard of Marc Cohn was a quote from Billy Joel way back in 1991, where Billy prognosticated that Marc Cohn was next great American songwriter.  “Walking In Memphis” was just catching on at radio and you could hear the song six times an hour if you were switching radio stations.  He is an artist that has stayed with me through the years in spite of changes in musical taste because his songs have substance.

He popped into my head this morning and so I asked Amazon to play songs by Marc Cohn.  Seven songs in, and I had heard “True Companion”, “Strangers in a Car” and “Walking in Memphis.”  Wait, that’s only three songs, but “Walking in Memphis” had played four times.  FOUR!  Now I love “Walking in Memphis.”  It’s a brilliant piece of songwriting that captures a moment like an Ansel Adams photograph turned into song; and I don’t even mind listening to it four times in half an hour, but this is really a disservice to Marc Cohn, in a way.

If I were a new fan who stumbled across one of Cohn’s songs by accident and then looked to take a deeper dive on Amazon music, I would presume that he was a one-shot wonder (although “True Companion” is a pretty compelling piece of songwriting in its own right.)  Attention spans are short these days, and a potential fan probably moves on to something else (and even an established fan probably moves on somewhat quickly because of the repeats.)  The Algorithm, part computer programming and part Payola, defeats artists at almost every turn.  This is just another example.  The repeats of “Walking in Memphis” probably put another ha-penny in Cohn’s next residual check, but at the cost of the opportunity to expose people to a deeper catalog that is rich in well-crafted songs (His recent turn with the Blind Boys of Alabama, Work to Do, is utterly brilliant, and totally absent here.)

This is but one of the facets of the larger problem with streaming.  Great artists (like Cohn and Duvekot) get lost in the shuffle.  Compelling voices with something to say are not heard unless you know what to ask for (and if Alexa has cleaned her ears recently.)

Meanwhile, CDs and (for those who like media that deteriorates every time you play it) LPs are plentiful in the marketplace, from the grossly overpriced records at standard retail joints to thrift stores, garage sales and flea markets.  If you truly want to support an artist, go to their website, listen to song samples there that you enjoy, and if you like it, by an album/cd/download from them directly.  It puts more $ in their pockets and ensures that they have the resources to continue doing what you love them to do.