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Beck Thinks He’s Found A New Way To Engage The Listener: He’s Wrong

Beck, the man who brought you “Loser” (a song that makes me want to rip my molars out and shove them into my ears so I can stop listening), thinks that he has found a way to truly combat music pirating. You see, in December, Beck will be releasing Beck Hansen’s Song Reader, an album of 20 unheard, unreleased tracks. Except that’s not actually the case. Instead of releasing an actual album, Beck will instead be releasing the music as sheet music.

Yeah, you read that right. People aren’t buying music, they’re buying the opportunity to play it on their own.

The “album” “…measures 9.5” x 12.5” with 108 pages comprising 20 individual full-color song booklets—18 featuring original lyrics, and 2 instrumentals—with covers from more than a dozen different artists.” More information about the actual product can be found here.

Read on to see why I think this idea will fail miserably.

Will Burns, a contributor to Forbes, wrote an article entitled “Beck ‘Produces’ A Genius Innovation That Appeals To The User-Generated Generation” about this release. I read through it shaking my head, wondering if Burns is actually in tune with this “user-generated generation” and understands how they operate.

He starts by saying that this is an “invitation” for musicians around the world to grab their instruments, load up GarageBand and get to recording their own versions of these songs. However, this assumes that these musicians know how to 1) record music and 2) read music.

Is recording music easier now than it ever has been? Absolutely. That doesn’t mean that each Beck fan has the means to record. You can’t just plug your piano into your computer and expect good sound quality. At the very least you need an A/D converter, like an M-Audio unit or an MBox 3. While not out of the realm of cost for many people, these units can still cost a pretty penny depending on what you get.

As for reading music, there are countless musicians who learned their instrument without delving into musical theory or learning to how sight read notation. Rather, they learned by playing their favorite songs from tab (which uses simple to read numbers and not notation), watching instructional videos on YouTube, or just figuring things out by ear.

So, right away, Beck is alienating a big portion of his listeners who are simply that. Listeners. Not producers of music. They want to get the music and sit back with it, not having to worry about how to reproduce the notes.

Burns then continues saying that the “content will not stand still”. Basically he is stating that people who actually go through the process of recording everything and are happy with the end result will share their product via the various available social networks (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc…).

Uhhh, yeah? Was that even really a question? People are now ready to share pretty much everything via the internet and if they can be part of some bigger product, they’re going to go for it. Everyone wants to feel connected, especially if there is a possibility that they can be a part of something that becomes huge. After all, don’t we all want to go viral?

It’s here that Burns makes a bit of a leap: He states that “this content will be hungrily consumed.” By whom? Huh? Aside from Beck fans and the very few music appreciators out there, this is going to fly over the head of pretty much everyone.

Myself? I’m beyond engrained in the music industry. I try my very best to pay attention to what is going on, to see what the new trends are and how it affects listeners, musicians, and labels. It’s a fascinating industry that is constantly evolving and changing, especially with social media. However, I could kindly give a crap what thirteen different variations of the same album are going to sound like. Scratch that. I don’t even give a single crap.

The next point that Burns makes is that the unique release of this “album” will be the “end-around on the pirating business.” Burns states, “Sure, someone will probably scan the sheet music into pdfs and send them around, but my gut tells me that, since Beck isn’t recording this music himself, the only way for Beck fans to truly experience Beck within this medium is to buy the full-color, beautifully designed package in a store.

Oh, they want to experience the true Beck experience with a beautifully designed package? Is that anything like how musicians put together amazing liner notes and pictures in their album booklets? Booklets that piraters could kindly care less about? Pirating has shown that people want the product, not the accessories that come with it.

I personally find this tragic as music, being an auditory experience, can be enhanced greatly by the addition of visuals. A simple picture can change the perspective on a song or make things resonate so much deeper, so much more true. Not to mention that having lyrics readily available is incredibly useful.

Burns ends his article by saying that a Beck concert will be an incredible and unique experience. Why? Because Beck can sift through the various YouTube and other social media posted recordings and put together a fan-based immersive show.

Sorry, but if I’m paying to go to a concert, I want to see Beck perform his music in his own way. If I wanted to see these YouTube renditions, I’d simply go to YouTube from the comfort of my own couch. Hell, I’d spend that concert ticket money to order a pizza, a six-pack, and still have money left over to GO OUT AND BUY AN ALBUM!

Sorry Mr. Burns, I couldn’t disagree with you more on this release. Perhaps the only thing I’ll agree with you on is that it’s unique and that it definitely goes outside of the box. But unique and fascinating ideas don’t make them good ones.

Got any thoughts/questions/concerns for Jonathan Barkan? Shoot him a message on Twitter or on Bloody-Disgusting!



  • Good article, but why is it on this site?

    • Jonathan Barkan

      Because it’s a music section article 😉
      But the real answer to your question is that people who love horror come from all different walks of life and, as a result, have a wide variety of musical tastes.
      Also, we live in a time when social media and sharing content is as normal as breathing air. Therefore, I’m actually really interested to hear what people think about this situation. Will Burns of Forbes is genuinely excited and amazed by this prospect. I’m much more iffy. I really want to know what the readers think of this idea.
      Did that answer your question? 🙂

      • crow454

        Well by that logic, that “people who love horror come from all different walks of life and, as a result, have a wide variety of musical tastes” gives excuse and license to write about absolutely ANYTHING on this site. ANYTHING. Where’s the articles on the next Julia Roberts/Sandra Bullock rom-com? Some horror fans like those too? Opera is a musical taste, is that the next article? This shouldn’t be on here. Period. You’ve used the site as a platform to your own agenda. But its not like this site has ever maintained journalistic integrity. Just read any subjective rant on Kevin Smith or Rob Zombie for an example.

        • morrisseylikesburgers

          You’re really mad because someone wrote an editorial about MUSIC in the MUSIC section of a website? WAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH

        • Decapitated_Dave

          The site primarily deals with horror films and television shows. I see your point, crow, but should it deal exclusively with horror-related music? Sincere question.

          • crow454

            This site, which I have been coming to since the beginning, advertised itself and prided itself on being a HORROR site for HORROR fans. This article has nothing to do with horror. Most music doesn’t, other than maybe someone horror slanted imagery. If this site is going to transition into just another generic news site its missed its own point. I come here so I don’t have to weed through news about every genre and i can get my horror fix. I’ve understood why they have reported on non-horror movies because of their tenacious link to horror, like Twilight and ParaNorman, but Beck has absolutely nothing to do with horror. NOTHING. This is becoming less and less a horror site than it is generic, in every sense of the word, and a platform for inexperienced 20-somethings to wax ironic, pat themselves on the back, and subjectively rant even in non-editorial pieces. This site has lost site of its initial objective AND its fan-base.

  • EvanDickson

    I don’t think he’s trying to thwart pirating or anything. Nice piece though! I do agree that basically no one can read sheet music and I’d rather hear his versions of the songs than cover versions.

  • Decapitated_Dave

    Publicity stunt, Beck. He’s been on and off the radar for the past couple decades, and now he’s trying to jump back on. And if Forbes produced an article, he’s doing a good job.

    Not to sound like a complete dick, but there will be hipster-elitist assholes that actually get the sheet music and produce YouTube videos as a way of “uniquely” releasing Beck’s music. If all goes well, people will be sitting by their computers anxiously awaiting the next person to unveil a song.

    If Beck were really smart, he’d take the top songs produced by fans and release a series of albums. If I’m not on his trail, I’m close…

    • EvanDickson

      He hasn’t been off the radar for the past couple of decades! His last album came out in 2008 and did quite well. Sea Change isn’t even 10 years old and Guero was a hit as well.

      • Decapitated_Dave

        “…on and off the radar…”

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan. I just feel he’s been inconsistent, that’s all.

  • StatutoryApe

    Did you stop to think, for even a single second, that Beck is releasing this “material” in this format for MUSICIANS directly? The entire viewpoint of your article is from a very, “ME! I want what I WANT!” right down to the mention of his live performance.

    Look, I get it. I do. Not everyone has actual musical skill required to sit down and learn sheet music for an album. But did you stop for a second to think that this might encourage a fan of Beck to start? Beck isn’t the greatest musician of our generation, but at least he’s attempting to do SOMETHING unique instead of sitting back crying about why people aren’t buying albums anymore. People aren’t buying albums simply because you can not compete with “free” which leaves people to turn to unique products and get innovative with their marketing in order to catch peoples attention. Which is exactly what Beck has done.

    Will it work? Maybe. Probably not. But at least hes trying. And even if 50, 100, 200 people decide to sit down and learn this music and mold it into something of their own, then what’s the harm in that? It further pushes the creative boundaries between artists and fan and allows the fan the ability to CREATE along with the artist.

    Your mindset of, “I want to see Beck perform his music his own way” is drastically limiting the freedom he has as an artist. He’s the artist, not you. He can do whatever the fuck he wants to. Crying about when you don’t get something your way is the exact thing that has killed this industry. We as a society have become so used to getting what we want, when we want it, that if we have to work at something or something doesn’t live up to the insane, unrealistic expectations YOU bring on yourself, we instantly hate it and demand a refund.

    If you’re incorporated into this industry as much as you claim to be, you’d be the first person to not knock someone for doing something creative. Regardless of whether or not it’ll work. Your cry of “buy an album” is no longer useful. It doesn’t exist. Until some new technology shows itself that will evoke people into running out to re-buy all of their music library, pirating will continue to exist. You can not compete with free. If this path leads him to connect with MUSICIANS that can further take his music, mold something new out of it, and release it to other music listeners that may find it interesting, then that only further promotes art. And isn’t that the point?

  • djblack1313

    Jonathan, very interesting article/piece. Jonathan, i pretty much agree w/ you. i play bass, keys, guitar etc, but when i want the new album from say…Aimee Mann (which i just pre-ordered!) i want to her AIMEE’S self written music and lyrics and what instruments/sonic choices SHE chose for this album, not Sharon Jones or Tim Doe’s (made up names. lol) versions/attempts of Aimee’s new songs.

    Statutory, i don’t see how wanting to hear Beck or Aimee Mann, etc sing & perform their songs is wanting too much, having unrealistic expectations (god forbid Beck fans hear BECK perform his owns new songs!) nor do i find it limiting the artist’s freedom of anything.

    i love (sorry to keep bring up Aimee Mann. :)) Aimee’s unique (IMO) voice and her choices in how her songs (and the album) are produced. THAT is what i want to hear. if Aimee or Beck or anyone else considers that being unreasonable or wanting too much (which i don’t think they do) then they might want to switch careers.

    as far as i know most musicians/singers/etc never have really made kajillions of dollars from album/cd sales. people like Sheryl Crow & Joan Jett, etc toured relentlessly (and still do from time to time) and THAT is where (again, from what i’ve read over the years) these artists make their money.

    i DO give this sheet music idea props for originality.

  • Nothing333

    Beck equals musical genius. I seen no harm or no foul in doing’s an original idea and will probably be appreciated by musicians. I hope he follows an actual album though.

  • PatrickxJonathan

    This is actually fucking brilliant. While I’m not a fan of Beck (at all) this is brilliant marketing, and PR. On top of that fans will be releasing there interpretations of his songs on youtube giving him even more buzz. It’ll be interesting to see how people play these songs differently.

  • The only way to stop pirating is to put out great music. People will pay for things when they feel it is worth it. I can’t tell you how many times I have paid $20 for an album that did not meet my expectations, but the new Cranberries album? I bought it digitally, on CD and on vinyl.

  • crow454

    Well it got you talking and made it into Forbes. He’s a bit of an oddball, and I don’t think anyone including Beck actually think this is an end to piracy. Its just a weirdo stunt.

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