W.G. "Snuffy" Walden is one of the most prolific composers of music for film and television in this era. His music has enriched some of my favorite TeeVee shows, among them "The Wonder Years" and "The West Wing" (how would we have survived the Bush years without "The West Wing"?).
This morning I discovered that Mr. Walden, who is an outstanding acoustic guitarist in his own right, has at least one recording of his original music in release on Windham Hill Records. I also discovered that the album is not available digitally except as a purchased download via iTunes, etc.
AsI try not to purchase music through iTunes any more, the following missive to Mr. Walden describes the resulting dilemma:
- - - - -
Dear Mr. Walden,
I guess I've been a closet fan of yours since "The Wonder Years" days, though I have not made a concerted effort to keep up with you as a recording artist or performer. I may not have even considered that as an option. I have only known of you as a film and TV composer (and guitarist extraordinaire in those contexts).
This morning I discovered "the rest of you."
It all started when I fired up Pandora.com -- the Internet "radio" site -- to a custom channel I created a few months back based on Christopher Guest's "The Beyman Bros." recording. My Beyman Bros. channel played a track that knocked me out, and I stopped to see what it was.
It was "Angela Smiled," which I guess came from a Windham Hill compilation, "A Quiet Revolution."
Turns out that may well be the ONLY Snuffy Walden track that's available digitally outside of iTunes. It may be a fluke that I heard it at all. How could it have happened at all?
It happened because this is typically how I discover and "consume" (I hate that word) music these days:
First of all, my MacBook is my jukebox and the browser is my iPod; I use a program called Airfoil to send the signal from my browser via WiFi to my stereo. I listen to a LOT of new music that way; Lala lets me listen to anything I want in their catalog, in its entirety, for the first time, for free. If it's something I need to hear again, I can then purchase unlimited -- though web-based -- access to those recordings for 10c a track or 80c for the whole "web album." For example, that "Beyman Bros." album that is the foundation of the Pandora channel I was listening to, I also own the "web album" of that release in my Lala.com library and listen to it often when I need some instrumental music while I'm doing my own work.
I don't use iTunes Store much any more. In fact, when I go to Starbucks and pick up their "Free Download of the Week" card, I take it home with a chuckle -- knowing that I'm going straight to Lala.com to listen to the whole album that one track came from. I am MUCH more likely to become enamored of something new -- and thus become a fan of the artist -- by hearing a whole album, or at least a whole song. 30-second clips? That's so... 1999.
In the musical world that I now inhabit, the ONLY reason to buy "records" any more is to make them transportable, i.e. to transfer them to my iPhone so I can listen to them in the car. But I've already got tons of music on my iPhone that I'm never going to have time to listen to And then there's my XM Satellite Radio receiver, and Pandora on my iPhone, and besides, I'm usually in the car when NPR is on... So there's really not much of an imperative to "buy" individual recordings any more.
I don't need to "own" what I want to listen to. I just need to be able to listen to it. So there's still plenty of reason to have access to music I want to listen to, and artists whose work I admire and has enriched the soundtracks of my own life. But (just about) the only time I buy physical CDs any more is when an artist appears in my town (Nashville) and I can buy it from them in person -- and get an autograph. Cheesy, I know, but... that's the way it works in the new paradigm.
Essentially, what I'm describing for you, the paradigm I'm following here, is the "Celestial Jukebox" model of digital distribution that is almost upon us.
Simply defined, the "Celestial Jukebox" supplies 'whatever I want to hear, whenever I want to hear it, wherever I am.' That is the end-zone that all of this digital music delivery technology is taking us to; And if that is indeed the end-zone, then services like Pandora and Lala.com (and another called Spotify that is not yet available in the US) are "first-and-goal on the 10 yard line."
Except that Snuffy Walden is still back on the 50 yard-line with iTunes, 30-second clips, and CDs that can only be purchased through Amazon, etc.
After hearing "Angela Smiled," I followed my usual pattern: first to Lala.com, where there is nothing listed. Your page at Lala.com says only, "This artist's albums are not yet available for listening on Lala. Thanks for your patience as we work to license more content. To view the full discography of this artist, click here." I clicked, and found two compilations listed, and I don't actually see anything by you on either of them.
So I went back to Pandora and I created a "Snuffy Walden" channel. And guess what? It appears that "Angela Smiled" is the ONLY Snuffy Walden track in the whole Pandora library. Yup, it's a fluke that I heard it all, because right now my new "Snuffy Walden" channel is playing everything BUT Snuffy Walden.
OK, I apologize now, this missive has gone on MUCH longer than I intended, so let me get to the point:
1) I think it would be worth your while to do whatever it takes to get your collections into both Lala.com and Pandora. If that's unappealing or too daunting then...If I knew how to do it, I'd do it for you.
2) What do you think is the likelihood that I could get a SIGNED copy of the 2001 Windham Hill Release, "Music by W.G. Snuffy Walden" ? I'll gladly pay the regulation $15 for it, but I also realize that raises all kinds of e-commerce issues like processing payments etc. I don't even see a commerce function on your website.
I guess there's a third alternative: I could wait until you come to Nashville, either to perform and/or record. Composers and artists of your caliber have been known to visit this backwater on occasion. A long shot, I know, but it doesn't hurt to make the suggestion.
So let me know if there's any way to get that "signed" copy of the CD, before I put my tail between my legs and breakdown and send another $10 into that bottomless maw known as iTunes...
Apple gets enough of my money already, and given your level of success, you may not need the $15 either, but I'll make you a deal... I'll put my autograph on a check and send it to you if you'll put your autograph on a CD and send it to me.