The digital age has made a vast supply and variety of music more accessible than ever before. But while music has never been closer, the closest most listeners get to a physical connection to their music is holding an iPod. After all, when was the last time you actually held an album or CD in your hands?
There has been a small rise in vinyl sales recently, but in most cases, music comes in the form of quick click and a download bar. Album art has become a lost art, banished to a small window on iTunes, and elements like liner notes, which used to provide a connection between the artists, the listeners and their inspirations, have mostly gone the way of the 8-track player.
Big artists may be able to still reach out to their audiences and give them something real and tangible to go with the music, but for up-and-coming bands, the money often just isn’t there.
Gian Pogliano, guitarist for the Bay View "surf-dance-punk" band The Jones Island Flood, is hoping he may have found the ideal solution: a concept he calls the deluxe download.
The idea came to Pogliano as his band prepared to put together their debut album, titled "4 a.m." (there is more to the album’s name, but Pogliano said the rest of the title is "not printable"). The album is being released at a show at the Riverwest Public House on May 11, but before they could release the album, they would have to find a potential format for it. As the search went on, Pogliano struggled to find an option that gave the band everything they wanted.
"I wanted there to be a thank you section and all those other things that you don’t really get when it’s just a CD in a cardboard envelope," Pogliano said. "For a while, it was going to be a CD in a Digipak (a traditional four-panel CD case), but that was going to be more expensive, and we were going to have to charge more for it. Plus, people just download a CD and then toss it in a pile somewhere."
Pogliano then looked at download cards, small free cards that often just contain a picture of the album art, the band’s name and a code for the album. Though the price was right, the cards seemed very impersonal and temporary, and according to Pogliano, many of them don’t come with a copyright notice.
"The thing with downloading music is that, if you’re using a service, it’s usually something where you’re getting a whole bunch of things at once, but none of it really makes an effect," Pogliano said. "It’s made music a lot more disposable, like a funny picture online or a funny video. It’s become something you’ve just downloaded, and now you have it. It didn’t really require all that much of you. It didn’t even require you to listen to the entire thing."
One night, Pogliano realized that he could synthesize the best elements of the two formats together into one new release strategy, called the deluxe download. The idea takes the booklet from a traditional CD or vinyl release but combines it with a download card and its efficient price. The two items, combined with a plain plastic sleeve in order to keep them together, comes to a cheap $1.17 per unit and still includes the personality, notes and artwork that help the music live on longer.
"People really like looking at the artwork and reading what people played which weird instrument," Pogliano said. "For people who can’t do a vinyl release locally, this allows them to also include those things that people love."
For the band, the ability to give credit and thanks where they are due makes it even more valuable. Pogliano specifically wanted to have a dedication included to his father, who introduced and raised Gian on much of the music and genres that helped inspire this debut album before he passed away.
"All these things involve the fans and make it an active experience," Pogliano noted. "It still retains its sense of being an artifact and isn’t something completely disposable that you download, listen to that night and forget about it."
Pogliano hopes to expand his deluxe download idea further with The Jones Island Flood’s next album, growing the booklet into a full vinyl-sized magazine filled with artwork, band photos, information about the creative process and even sheet music. He also hopes other local bands follow in their lead and try other deluxe download ideas.
"It’s just a code, and a code can go on or with anything," Pogliano said.
It seems Pogliano and The Jones Island Flood aren’t alone in trying new ways to connect with audiences. Two years ago, psychedelic rockers The Flaming Lips released four songs on a USB drive jammed inside a life-size gummy skull. Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have notoriously experimented with various online release formats, letting fans pick what they want to pay for what content. Pogliano even mentioned another local band that is brewing a special beer that will come with their download card.
"In general, that’s where things are going: options." Pogliano said. "That’s what we’re discovering right now. At this point, the future of the music industry is very philosophical. Everyone’s trying to figure out what people want out of music, which is the same as what people want out of life. And people want all sorts of different things out of life."
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.