The Future of the physical format underground

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The Future of the physical format underground

Post by WCN »

This is something I've talked to with a few people on the podcast, something that seems worthy to think ahead about. What happens to the noise underground if the high volume production and shipment of physical media we all enjoy and rely on becomes either totally impossible, or cost prohibitive? We've seen how production prices of vinyl for example have grown and grown. A 7" used to be a cheap format for demoing music, now it's a novelty item that costs around €7-10 to produce. Similar thing is happening with cassettes. In the last few years, I think we've all seen that the comfortable and abundant conditions we are used to in the West are quite vulnerable and not self-evident. Wars, pandemics, scarcer natural resources, who knows what else is around the corner. Maybe not next year, what about in 5 years? 10 years? How does the scene adjust and carry on if the materials to make CDrs gets depleted, and a cassette costs €20 to produce and €30 to ship?
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by Scream & Writhe »

I didn't catch your angle with this initially when brought up in AFTERBLAST #2, but there were some "alternate format" ideas I've seen/heard of such as t-shirts or art prints with download codes, or specially packaged USB sticks. All of that still leaves material that has to be mailed, so if shipping costs become the major issue these formats won't help on that front. If it is an issue with only certain materials, then perhaps this is a way forward, though less than ideal as it still feels like a pretty big detachment from the tangibility of a "product". And anyways, the future we are facing is likely a combination of shipping costs and material costs/depletion.

If the point is to get the audio material out there, then, at the end of the day, by any means necessary should be all it takes. In theory. We know that digital files are not the same as playing physical media, but that might be the ultimate future of audio. The problem at that point might then be: how? Is there a fully artist-run way to handle digital media? Bandcamp was just that, and is now owned by a gaming company and before long it won't be the same service we've become reliant on. And that's just how it will always be. MySpace was bought out. There were others before and there will be others still. That landscape is never going to be permanent.
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by holy ghost »

I’m 100% supportive of the physical format and I think there will always be a market for it in some way, shape or form.

You often hear stories like “there’s only 3 pressing plants left in the world” or “there’s a tape shortage and the cassette will be obsolete next year” but I think human ingenuity will find a way (just like that whimsical Jurassic Park movie). Jack White opened a plant, a younger generation embraced vinyl, duplication.ca seems to be doing great and Troniks and Helicopter made the CD cool again . One might think with rising costs that there may be some element of quality control and people will stop pressing random bullshit, but I actually doubt that…

Shipping costs and gas shortages are fucking everyone, I can’t afford to order anything unless kS&W gets it in. That might really fuck vinyl more than anything. Prices are insane lately on new records.
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by adult human »

I wonder if the difference in all this will be when a generation finally emerges which has no links to physical media in their immediate history. A generation whose parents/grandparents were used to digital streams and downloads and didn't use any physical formats. I really struggle to believe they'll occupy any space besides perhaps being a museum-piece fancy by that stage, or possibly even the creative focus of a handful of incredible dullards making shit music out of them in the way that the same cunts today do so with hand wound devices or ancient cylinders or whatever. I believe that we are in the midst of watching physical media die away, but in the short term view of life that we humans tend to take this seems impossible because options still exist RIGHT NOW and we can't fathom that we might be in the throes of the same generational shifts that meant we grew up with radically different outlooks to our grandparents and those before. Forget the materials needed to manufacture tapes, for example - it's playback technology you need to worry about; nearly all of which exists within an ever narrowing pool of secondhand market availability and a decreasing pool of expertise when the need arises to repair, modify or understanding the tech. CD and vinyl are less dire prospects because they're relatively recent or more popular formats but let's not get it mistaken - their time will come in the same way, over time. It's hard to see it for what it is because we're in the middle of it but it's definitely happening. The market drives everything in regards to all this shit. I have no doubt that there will be numerous peaks and troughs of interest based upon cultural swings toward certain things as historical and aesthetic curiosities - I can imagine, for instance, CD developing a retro aesthetic similar to vinyl and cassette in a decade or two - but I don't believe these things will ever be enough to sustain the continued development and build of the background tech/manufacturing required to make these things available forever. I fully expect my 7 year old nephew to one day take a brief interest in LPs and CDs, perhaps. But if and when he has a child? no chance. I expect they'll all have much bigger problems than audio carriers by that point, mind you. And they'll be grappling with the ecological fallout of all that digital streaming they were bought up on too.

In the meantime, the underground will continue to do what it always does - uncritically take part in whatever constitutes the current phenomena.
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by chryptusrecords »

of course "there will always be a market," and it's hard to imagine "new formats" that don't exist yet, the problem is that cost of production has been going up while turnaround times and quality are getting (a lot) worse. eventually vinyl and cassettes are restricted to diehard collector/"art" market for high-end splatter vinyl boring death metal and taylor swift record store day novelties. the market will crash, along with the rest of the economy, soon enough. what are the kids doing these days? what are people who make music but dont have any money doing? that will be the future
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by yullowteef »

Not sure if I'm in the minority as a consumer, but I'm just as happy to pay $10 for an album download as I am a cassette tape. I'd also be happy to pay to check out a stream of an artist performing, especially if there was some kind of elevated visual component to it beyond someone standing in front of their gear. The content is what interests me, so if noise artists started doing exclusively digital media or labels wanted to sell me a digital media subscription, no problem. I'll adjust.

I'm ever slowly starting a new label, and I'm already reevaluating my mission based on some of these discussions. I've been thinking of ways to promote artists or specific releases without relying solely on physical media, so I've begun writing the odd review on a label blog and putting together a radio show/podcast branch of it. I still want to release cassettes, but it won't be the sole function of what I'm doing as a label anymore. I'm not naïve though; I recognize there are people on this board who've been running distros and labels for a long time and depend on it as part of their income, so I don't have any expectation that others do likewise.
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by housepig »

Scream & Writhe wrote: Thu Jun 02, 2022 4:51 pm If the point is to get the audio material out there, then, at the end of the day, by any means necessary should be all it takes.
To me, this is the point. The older I get, the less and less I'm interested in format fetishism; what is the sound? I can appreciate that for some artists the inherent qualities & limitations of a given format are seen as intrinsic to a given work, but overall I feel like the material should stand on it's own, full stop, before concerns about format come in to play.
Scream & Writhe wrote: Thu Jun 02, 2022 4:51 pm The problem at that point might then be: how? Is there a fully artist-run way to handle digital media?
Sure, set up a website, get hosting that allows unlimited / practically unlimited bandwidth, and post the files for download. I'm being slightly sarcastic but this gets back to the first part - are we making music, or are we making product / fetish objects?
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by Scream & Writhe »

adult human wrote: Thu Jun 02, 2022 5:54 pm I believe that we are in the midst of watching physical media die away
I think so, too.
housepig wrote: Thu Jun 02, 2022 7:11 pm
Scream & Writhe wrote: Thu Jun 02, 2022 4:51 pm The problem at that point might then be: how? Is there a fully artist-run way to handle digital media?
Sure, set up a website, get hosting that allows unlimited / practically unlimited bandwidth, and post the files for download. I'm being slightly sarcastic but this gets back to the first part - are we making music, or are we making product / fetish objects?
The counter to that is a place like Bandcamp is a bit of a nice catch-all. I wonder what the streaming/download level would be if everything was again dispersed to individual artist's (or label's) websites that may all operate differently in terms of how files are accessed, etc. I don't know if people would be ready to go back and do the work. I shamelessly deleted all downloaded music off of my computer that could be found on Spotify. Years of downloading and hundreds of gigs of storage cleared up. I have little to no interest in rebuilding that library and I mostly don't think I even have the time anymore. However, it leads me to the next point, which is in support of "splinter cell" DIY-hosting: Spotify and Bandcamp can remove anything they deem unfavourable in the blink of an eye. For example, the Death in June Bandcamp was removed by the platform, allegedly without reason (" "), and the Rose Clouds of Holocaust album is not available on Spotify seemingly only because of the word "Holocaust" in the title and the greater negative connotations surrounding the project, and not for the actual content of the album itself. I do not want to open a can of worms by bringing up that project here, but I think it is a useful point when considering the reliance on these platforms: there is no guarantee of permanence.
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by chryptusrecords »

Scream & Writhe wrote: Thu Jun 02, 2022 7:55 pm there is no guarantee of permanence.
Setting aside the issue of object fetishism, this is a problem for all digital media. In addition to arbitrary content policies of the big platforms, the issue of purely digital content is new; how does one maintain a years-long collection of a bunch of files? Data transfer is hard enough as-is, on large petabyte scale data transfer Amazon Web Services has to physically drive a truck full of big hard drives. So if we want to keep multiple terabyte collection of music over our lifetime, do we have to fall back on a few hard disks, and hope that USB interface doesn't change too much? Interesting problem
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by housepig »

Scream & Writhe wrote: Thu Jun 02, 2022 7:55 pm it leads me to the next point, which is in support of "splinter cell" DIY-hosting: Spotify and Bandcamp can remove anything they deem unfavourable in the blink of an eye... it is a useful point when considering the reliance on these platforms: there is no guarantee of permanence.
YEP. The tradeoff from doing the work of DIY and using Bandcamp (or Facebook, or Instagram, or or or or) is you are at the mercy of someone else's taste, or business practices* - how many of us on this board lost out when MySpace circled the drain? DIY is a bitch, and I've been dragging my feet updating my webpage for ages because it's such a PITA, but in all likelihood if I put something up on Housepig.com, it stays up until I decide to take it down or change it.

( * and yes, I am not running my own server, so I am technically still at the mercy of my hosting company, but I trust the odds of their non-interference much more than any other platform I'm party to.)

And Chryptus, the struggle is real - I've resigned myself to buying a new set of (ever larger) external hard drives about every two years and copying over all my media to keep it relatively safe in redundant backups. But I also like lugging a 4TB drive around a lot more than 50 milk-crates of vinyl...
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by holy ghost »

housepig wrote: Thu Jun 02, 2022 11:14 pmI also like lugging a 4TB drive around a lot more than 50 milk-crates of vinyl...
This is (as the kids say) a mood. It’s June 2022 now and I’m all like “physical format is important!!!” you should have seen me in June 2021 after I sold my house and moved all my records to my mother in laws basement for four months where I was also living and then had to move my records in a fucking Uhaul man I was ready to drive that van into the lake (Lake Ontario).
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by Joie de la Blumpy »

adult human wrote: Thu Jun 02, 2022 5:54 pm Forget the materials needed to manufacture tapes, for example - it's playback technology you need to worry about; nearly all of which exists within an ever narrowing pool of secondhand market availability and a decreasing pool of expertise when the need arises to repair, modify or understanding the tech.
I suppose. But nobody ever cared then, not really, sez me, and if fewer care now well shall we declare success?
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by Ineffable Slime »

yea I'm feeling this after having 3 cassette decks die over the past year and I am struggling to find anyone who can repair them. My last working tape deck is this old timey GE portable stereo from the 70s and man I doubt it's going to get me through the year.

I guess we should all commit to sculptures or something, like a weird fucked up little ball of clay that spits out sputtering electronic sounds. I dunno, there's got to be more to this world than CD/Vinyl/CD-R/Tape...how about minidiscs? Any of those? Floppys for that horrid bit crushed sound? Zip disks connected via FIRE WIRE??

I do not see a future with corporate owned digital streaming platforms though, it's just going to disappear like everyone's myspace pages, etc.
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by 33033 »

I'm hoping more companies re-invest in producing cassette players again but maybe that's just wishful thinking. A platform like Spotify that has access like Bandcamp (why do I have to pay Distrokid/a third party anything to get material on streaming?) is probably where everything is going to go, with physical editions in smaller, smaller batches. I do wonder if costs for physicals rise to a point where they're unaffordable, whether we will see companies fold as less people rely on them? The article about T. Bone Burnett's venture in a CD/vinyl hybrid inspires a small bit of chance toward keeping physical alive, but I don't want to get all stoked and have it blow up. Ultimately a tape, CD or LP is a piece of an artists larger body of work, and having it released in sort of albums (or "volumes" if you will) didn't exist at one point. Maybe that concept is the issue that is dragging things down. I personally like full "albums", but they're sort of fading away in favour of singles or whatever.
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by adult human »

Joie de la Blumpy wrote: Fri Jun 03, 2022 10:37 am
adult human wrote: Thu Jun 02, 2022 5:54 pm Forget the materials needed to manufacture tapes, for example - it's playback technology you need to worry about; nearly all of which exists within an ever narrowing pool of secondhand market availability and a decreasing pool of expertise when the need arises to repair, modify or understanding the tech.
I suppose. But nobody ever cared then, not really, sez me, and if fewer care now well shall we declare success?
It might be that I've not explained it properly or I've just missed your point, but I don't think we've had a comparable situation for people to care or not care about before now? What I'm talking about here is the end of cassette technology full stop. Not "it's kinda crappy but it does the job" or "yeah, one day this probably won't be around but for now we still have millions of these machines being sold each year". I'm talking about the end of our ability to playback that media within the next few decades. The end. This will really only become a noticeable reality to compare against today’s when you and I are too old or dead to care, but from the wider perspective that is concerned with what that means on a cultural, underground, legacy level...we're talking about a fully fledged disappearance, an end point in time.
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by Bubble-Congeries »

I suspect that optical media will survive as long as there is still a market for DVD and BD films, which is still hanging on (Walmart comes to mind, but there's also the porn industry), despite losing ground to Internet/streaming services.

I see a lot more recycled tapes in our future as the bulk supply of NOS tapes continues to dry up, though.

Ditto on repairs. Unless people make a concerted effort to learn how to service them, the machines will all fall into disrepair. I'm currently out a high-end Mitsubishi VCR which is an electro-mechanical clusterfuck inside because nobody will touch that particular model. Not even the big VCR repair grandpas who charge over a grand for certain refurbished JVC models.
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by Ineffable Slime »

yea agree - I have noticed that within the "techno"/rave world right now, CD-Rs are huge. Aesthetically, they're doing some interesting stuff with packaging just in terms of weird old stock jewel cases. I don't really know if CDJ work is on the upswing or if it's just really the "object" but it's been interesting.

Cassetttes though, man, I hate to say it but I feel like within a decade they're going to feel like 8 tracks. Just totally alien to a certain age. I'm dying seeing distros selling walkmen for 75 bucks a pop and you know the battery terminals look like carlsbad caverns.
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by Remi »

Tapes can be recycled and labels can do co-releases and split costs, with for instance one label being based on the American continent and the other in Europe, etc. That makes distribution easier and cheaper.
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by fenian »

adult human wrote: Thu Jun 02, 2022 5:54 pm I can imagine, for instance, CD developing a retro aesthetic similar to vinyl and cassette in a decade or two -
I figured it had already taken on that status as most cars, laptops, desktop systems aren't manufactured with CD playback capability. Have seen CDs, cassettes and vinyl dip and crest throughout the Napster, Kazaa, LimeWire, iPod, WinAmp trends to re-emerge as superior archival and playback format, and much more so for fidelity. My compressed MSBR and Speculum Fight mp3s, are infinitely inferior to their alternative physical format options, and likely closer to what the artists intended I would guess? Hope whatever the next archival and playback durable format will lead with that motive as opposed to technical convivence.
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by Bubble-Congeries »

I suspect that whatever mainstream production houses Japanese publishers use will likely dominate in the near future where optical media is concerned. East Asia/Japan is (or was) one of the last MiniDisc holdouts (not technically optical, I know).

And pop/Idol CD singles and adult video disc releases are still a big cultural currency sort of thing, or at least were in recent years, according to what people who know about this sort of thing have elucidated to me.

I sort of automatically suppose that a lot of repairs for optical drives will come out of more impoverished nations and east-Asian countries as well going forward.

Then we all die and disintegrate into cosmic particulates.

PS: Reading back my own post, my FUCK! I sound pretentious when I'm drinking!
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by Matthias »

Mainly some price banter here, which is a complex issue.

As I see it, prices are generally too low or too high these days. Physical formats has to be seen as luxury items today and the underground culture haven't really been able to update itself towards factors as raised production and shipping costs. I remember purchasing import CDs from local shops in Sweden for like €25 a pop a few times like 20 years ago, which still kinda feels insane but that was what they had to be sold for. Now, it's not unusual with brand new CDs being sold for €10 or thereabout which is basically 1,5 beer at the local pub 2022. Or 4 bags of potato chips. It's of course not fair to compare DIY businesses with no desire to make money with legit tax-paying outlets with bills that has to be paid, but something is just still weird here. What are we really spending our money on and what do we value? Production costs for CDs are obviously cheaper than ever and the retail price should reflect that to some extent, I certainly don't think prices should be raised just for the sake of it, but to me it's just craziness when like €15 for a new CD album is considered expensive. It's not. Value art, craftmanship and awesome stuff still being made. Also, an important aspect of too low retail is that it's almost impossible to match these set prices for international distributors/shops etc after shipping, import fees etc. Wouldn't it make much more sense to lower the wholesale cost and raise the retail, thus somewhat balancing it out for everyone in the end?

If a low price for some reason is very important to maintain, it's surprising with all 300 edition CDs when you can actually, using a place like Monotype, get another 200 copies for like €100 extra. I know 200 copies can be a huuuge difference for certain releases, but the unit price will obviously be lower and you could even spoil the artist/band with way more copies etc.

Re: Viny 7"s. While they have indeed become more expensive to produce, I think the major problem is that no one wants them anyway. In reality, you could do 500 white label 7"s w/o covers for like €1300-€1500, do a photocopied sleeve, sell them for say €4.00-€5.00 each and still do a small profit per unit, but who the hell can move 500 7"s today?
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by Joie de la Blumpy »

adult human wrote: Fri Jun 03, 2022 2:01 pm I'm talking about the end of our ability to playback that media within the next few decades. The end. This will really only become a noticeable reality to compare against today’s when you and I are too old or dead to care
Well, exactly. But I think it would be worth factoring in the capacity of the average future of a given seven year-old nephew to be no less if not more obsessed about one or another species of sound bullshit than you or me. This whole format thing is a layer of complexity I'd never seriously considered, at all, from the ages of seven through forty seven. But perhaps it might yet be a thing.

That. On some level. Is both highly disturbing. And reassuring.
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by adult human »

Joie de la Blumpy wrote: Sun Jun 05, 2022 11:01 am
adult human wrote: Fri Jun 03, 2022 2:01 pm I'm talking about the end of our ability to playback that media within the next few decades. The end. This will really only become a noticeable reality to compare against today’s when you and I are too old or dead to care
Well, exactly. But I think it would be worth factoring in the capacity of the average future of a given seven year-old nephew to be no less if not more obsessed about one or another species of sound bullshit than you or me. This whole format thing is a layer of complexity I'd never seriously considered, at all, from the ages of seven through forty seven. But perhaps it might yet be a thing.

That. On some level. Is both highly disturbing. And reassuring.
I definitely don't underestimate the possibility of future kiddos developing their own legit obsessions and that being a breeding ground for all kinds of innovation that I can't possibly envision. The future of the underground? not in doubt. However I find it unlikely that the necessary salvaging of knowledge and industry required to continue physical media beyond increasingly expensive micro-hobbyism will take place within the next handful of decades. It's too easy to forget that the market (sadly) drives everything and no degree of brilliant yet small scale cultural innovation will be able to mitigate what happens when an entire industry shuts up shop.
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by Joie de la Blumpy »

adult human wrote: Mon Jun 06, 2022 6:23 am no degree of brilliant yet small scale cultural innovation will be able to mitigate what happens when an entire industry shuts up shop.
To which the only adequate response is, of course, to shrug the shoulders. This topic has been a good one for twat-in-front-of-screen-pantomiming-shrug-every-third-sentence. Which is not to suggest said twat would necessarily impugn much of what is on many levels an interesting topic. Should purely digital products find currency proper through some form of NFT or whatever, it may be a lift to even attempt to justify an "underground" that steadfastly cleaves to its most precious and rarified iterations. But still. I'd be hesitant to discount goofballs' readiness to goofball. What it's all about.
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Re: The Future of the physical format underground

Post by adult human »

Joie de la Blumpy wrote: Tue Jun 07, 2022 9:53 am
adult human wrote: Mon Jun 06, 2022 6:23 am no degree of brilliant yet small scale cultural innovation will be able to mitigate what happens when an entire industry shuts up shop.
To which the only adequate response is, of course, to shrug the shoulders. This topic has been a good one for twat-in-front-of-screen-pantomiming-shrug-every-third-sentence. Which is not to suggest said twat would necessarily impugn much of what is on many levels an interesting topic. Should purely digital products find currency proper through some form of NFT or whatever, it may be a lift to even attempt to justify an "underground" that steadfastly cleaves to its most precious and rarified iterations. But still. I'd be hesitant to discount goofballs' readiness to goofball. What it's all about.
Well yeah, sure. I think we both agree that A) the great waves of change and annihilation wait for nothing or no one and B) people will always do SOMETHING with what they've got around them, but the shrugging that comes along with knowing that is something we could surely append to any one of the entirely optional conversations that take place here? Yet tend not to.

So I wonder what about this particular flavour of speculating and distraction makes it less (or more) worth raking over in granular terms? No doubt I'm a classic over thinker but I reckon a bit of musing on the decreasing feasibility of the merciless stream of physical releases that to some degree defines this culture is one of the more interestingly prescient things we might be busying ourselves with.
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