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Listened to While Listening

The annals of music publicity

I receive three PR emails for music recordings. Which of these would I be least likely to check out?

  1. A link to an audio stream.

  2. A downloadable press kit with audio files.

  3. A link that first alerts me that my email and IP address will be saved, processed, and forwarded to the “product owner.”

Understand that there are days when I get hundreds of such emails.

For the record, it’s #3: I see no need to grant approval for email and IP address alignment and tracking simply to listen to an advance recording. (Even if it is one of my favorite musicians — and experience has shown that in such rare cases, an email request from me will allow me to bypass the digital protections because, ultimately, the publicist is glad to have found someone interested.)

Once upon a time, bushels of CDs arrived, at great expense, the cost put on the artist, onerously and not always transparently. Now, today, when sending a digital file costs virtually nothing, there is, in some PR corners, a need perceived to track the personal information of the listener. Or, in the best of circumstances, an anonymized data cluster showing generalized habits.

I suppose that this way the PR agency can report data back to the artist, but the data doesn’t register the varied interest of people who simply opt out because such tracking is just an even more invasive branch of DRM (digital rights management, the thing you don’t have to concern yourself with if you download music from Bandcamp or SoundCloud).

The resulting data doesn’t even matter because PR doesn’t exist to tell artists whether or not (anonymous?) individuals are listening to the work. The PR exists to help the musicians get the word out. Anything to the contrary is specious at best, and counterproductive at worst. One needn’t be listened to while listening.

If as a recipient of such PR requests, you refuse such tracking, you get a word sent back the other direction: These practices are invasive and unnecessary. I’d rather wait until the music is out and be, heaven forbid, “late.” And the fact is, there’s plenty (vastly more) to listen to that isn’t secreted behind a veil of invasive protection. That’s where I’ll spend my listening time.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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