On Special Handshakes, The Meaning of Life, Oceanic Waves, The Psychology of Social Media, Audio Quality, Bands That Never Were, and a Bloke Called Graham

If you have the time (I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’re not goofing off at work), and you’re in any way interested in quality audio, rare and vintage recordings, live music, or music in general, I have an interesting story to tell you. So make yourself a coffee and settle into your chair and hear me out, if you will.

If you have as many musician friends as I do, you will be aware that a great many of them have a favourite pastime – and no, it’s not making music. It is called Harping On About Supporting Live Music. Although some have made careers out of it, mostly it’s a kind of casual obligation, like a special handshake at one of those secret but probably rather uninteresting societies where they engage in sacred rites that somehow always seem to involve imbibing tremendous volumes of beer. In both cases, if you don’t know the handshake you’re out of the club. You’re an outsider. But I digress.

My point is this: rarely do you come across an individual who actually supports artists. I mean in a way that isn’t self-motivated, or politically motivated, or subject to one of those prejudices that cause music industry people like us to demonise ordinary working folk, and by this process make utter cretins of ourselves.

Well I recently met someone who does. Support artists, that is. I shall call him Graham (that’s not his real name – his real name isn’t important).

Graham is not the kind of person to big-note himself, so I won’t, except to say that for years he worked on tours, and has been involved with venues and artists in various capacities, amassing a library of some of this country’s finest acts, including many unreleased and vintage recordings that have, until now, never seen the light of day.

I get the impression that, in the past few years, Graham has looked back at his life (not with any resentment I imagine, for he has had an interesting life) and wondered, as most of us do at some point, what mark he is going to leave upon the world. Some people seek to amass a fortune to leave to their kids, or for the sheer satisfaction in amassing it. Others seek to leave something a bit subtler behind. A great piece of art, say. Or words and ideas that will leave an imprint on the souls of others. Or an act of goodwill that will carry on like a wave across the ocean; maybe it will peter off over the miles, or maybe the variables of wind and current and sea bottom will conspire to build it into one of those big rolling Hawaiian combers. That is the nature of waves, and the nature of goodwill.

Graham is in this last category. He wants to leave something for the artists who are still doing it, those who are no longer doing it, maybe for those who are dead too… a library of rare and unreleased music from the past 40 or 50 years, and a genuinely supportive worldwide (but Melbourne-centric) community for artists to get involved with. And he is funding it out of his own pocket.

I was lucky enough to become involved with this project on a professional level, through a good friend of mine, to build the website that would be at the centre of this community of artists and audiophiles.

The brief was simple enough. Build a donation-based social media site that could host an archive of CD quality audio, and could be managed almost entirely by the members themselves. I was provided with about 20 pages of detailed sitemap handwritten in coloured texta, limitless cups of coffee, a tireless assistant who would be handling the audio rendering and content management, and a timeframe of 10 years in which to complete it. After reassuring Graham that it would probably not take quite so long, I got to work.

There are two main points of difference between this site and the many other online music communities and music download resources, and I want to talk about these differences.

Firstly, it is the only site I am aware of that combines high quality, freely downloadable audio in a Facebook-like social media site. It is rare enough to find a site that provides CD quality audio to begin with. There was a time when ordinary people prized this enough to maintain an immaculate vinyl collection and treat their record player with a kind of holy reverence. Times have changed – oh have they changed. The recording industry, in response to the demand for ever cheaper and lightweight audio media, will now spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a studio recording that will, in most cases, be played at 192kbit/s bitrate or less, through devices that compress the audio data in all kinds of weird and not-so-wonderful ways and output it through such high fidelity devices as laptops, ipods, and mobile phones.

That this is quite acceptable to most listeners was not our concern, because “most listeners” are not Graham’s target audience, and I can probably assume that he hopes they never will be. No, he has specifically made the guts of the site somewhat difficult to get to, in order to weed out anyone who is looking for a quick online music fix. Want to download something? You’re going to have to get involved on a more serious level than simply clicking a link or sharing a picture of a cat. You’re going to have to find out about the community, maybe make a donation to the artist you are downloading from, maybe join their group and give them a bit of encouragement by way of a comment.

Secondly, it’s the only place I’m aware of that provides archival audio in a modern and responsive community website. The site is intended to house both unreleased recordings from bands that no longer exist, and recordings for modern bands that will not be released anywhere else. Recorded a brilliant EP for a band that imploded back in 2002, before you were able to release it? This is the place for it.

Sound engineers in particular will find the site interesting. Both studio stems and remixes are encouraged – yes, you can upload the stems to an entire album if you want, and offer them to other members to remix. Graham wants to encourage an environment where audio professionals and artists swap ideas and work and help each other.

I have written this article not so much because I have a stake in the site (I don’t really, I’ve just been hired to build it), but because it is something that has impressed me for its originality and vision. I hope Graham succeeds with it on the level that he originally intended, and creates his wave of goodwill, be it only a wavelet, or one of those big Hawaiian combers.

You can visit Graham’s site at: www.prionpie.com.au

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