This was my final composition essay for a writing class at the University of Calgary. Born in an environment familiar to many, this ‘what grinds my gears’ piece would not easily fit in Reader’s Digest.
Hundreds of meters above the valley, the turquoise-tinged lake looked like a drop of water. I stood on a pile of rocks and looked down at the live portrait. My hiking companion was a few steps ahead of me. When he realized that I no longer followed closely behind him, he stopped and turned to look at me. I didn’t hear him as he called my name. All I heard was nothing. It was a superb sound. There might have been a hint of wind in the air that created a distant murmur, a sound that if I strained to listen to it, I would almost certainly damage my hearing. I was lost in the peaceful nothingness until I was wrenched out of it by a sound so raw and so obscene in the scenic, silent wilderness that it could have easily caused the top of one of the nearby mountains to shake, shatter and crumble to the valley below. Civilization had stalked me into the backwoods.
The vulgar sound was the ear-piercing ring of a cell phone. ‘No’, my brain cried, ‘not in this anti-electronic device territory!’ But there it was: the soul-crushing ring tone of the latest cotton candy-derived ditty by some terminally-saccharine boy band that was probably named Hello Doggie or The Boy Brigade. Shaken from my solitude, I narrowed my eyes and looked at the offending party as if she was the target in a knife-throwing circus act. I wanted to run over, grab either the criminal device or the person that it was attached to and hurl it off the side of the mountain into the abyss below. I understood the need for cell phones in remote locations, but to slap Mother Nature across the face with them solely because someone wanted the latest update from their vacuous girlfriend about how the Justin Bieberish guy next door blinked in her general direction was going too far. How far did I have to go to escape the cacophony of the city: airplane cruising altitude?
It was because of this kind of ear invasion that escaping to the mountains was one of my top priorities. The solitude of the back country not only brought relief to my sizzled city senses, but it also rekindled memories of the quiet, hushed tones of country life. As hard as I have tried, I haven’t recaptured that sense of absolute quiet that I grew up with in the country. The mountains were my escape from the madness of city noise and an attempt to go back in time to recall the simple notion of solitude.
I grew up in a small town in Nova Scotia where there was nothing much except trees and the ocean. During the day, when the scream of an ambulance, a police car or a fire truck siren erupted from the main highway, everyone looked because it was such a rare sound to hear and it broke the silence. At night, only crickets and frogs broke the silence. But the most memorable sound was from the street lights on the main highway, scattered randomly at intersections, and from the glow of the windows of the sparsely placed houses. In the quiet of the country, this kind of light had a sound: the sound of nothingness.
When the gravel road that our house was on finally got street lights installed on the telephone poles, it was a huge event, even though the lights were like alien invaders. Even with the new lights that illuminated the neighbourhood, I still saw every star in the night sky. I eventually warmed to the new lights. They had become part of the nothingness because there were so few of them. When I stood outside on a warm, rural summer night and heard nothing but the silent murmur of the lights in the dark, it was comforting. I didn’t know that doing the same thing in a city years later was going to elicit an entirely different feeling.
When I moved away from home, it was a jarring experience; not because of the culture shock of the big city on a small town boy, but because of the noise. If I wouldn’t have looked like I had just lost my mind or had just escaped from a mad scientist’s laboratory, I would have clasped my hands over my ears as I walked around the city. It wasn’t just the endless list of all the things that made noise in a city; it was the sense that the noise was endless, as if it was being transmitted over loudspeakers on every corner 24 hours a day, reminiscent of a propaganda broadcast in the Second World War.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that night time respite from the roar of daytime noise was not going to happen. Whether it was the yowling of an annoying dog the size of a purse; the entitled drunken frat boys and their air guitar tributes to AC/DC; the residential drag racing of their similarly incapacitated younger brothers; the chanting of the wiccan neighbours around their burning cauldron of poisoned dragon’s liver; or the never-ending night terrors of Albertans who blame Pierre Trudeau of stealing their oil, city night noise was just as bad as city day noise.
The silent murmur of soft, warm lights in the dark that I grew up with might have sounded like nothing to a lot of people, but to me it sounded like a silent symphony; especially after experiencing the noise of a city. I have tried to replicate that nothingness by escaping to the mountains, but I am followed by the city like a ‘Night of the Living Dead’ mariachi band. Quiet is the greatest and most elusive sound ever heard.
I wrote this article at the height of the music industry crash – when illegal music downloading had eventually caught up to the industry and bit it in the behind. Since then, the situation has become much worse and I’m surprised that there is even much of a music industry. Artists who became popular and were successful in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s were very lucky. At the end of their lengthy careers, they could just walk away – that is if they had managed their money wisely.
In the late 1990s when I worked in the music industry, I saw the beginnings of the end: the two major music industry trade publications in Canada went under. That was not a good sign. Independent artists just signed to major record labels were dropped left, right and center. This article focused on music downloading only – but even that was only one cause of the industry’s plight.
Music Downloading and the Changing Face of the Music Industry
A dim light shines from underneath the closed bedroom door. In the darkened room, Paul Evans, 26, sits in front of his computer screen. A blinking status bar reflects back on his face. The bar shows how many more minutes remain until the file that he is downloading is completed. Evans is electronically downloading music files sent to him from one of his friends. What he is doing is illegal. The record industry claims that peer to peer (P2P) file sharing is the sole cause for declining sales; however, several other factors have contributed to the downfall of the industry. The record industry must re-evaluate how they do business to compete in today’s music industry; otherwise, its collapse could be imminent.
It is important to distinguish between the record industry and the music industry. The music industry promotes music through the Internet, digital music, P2P file sharing, concert revenues, satellite radio, song publishing, licensing, consumer electronics companies, DVDs, cell phone ring tones, and computer manufacturers. The record industry records, distributes, markets, and sell CDs. The recording, distributing, and marketing are done by four major record labels: Sony-BMG, Warner, Universal, and EMI (along with many independent labels). Music retailers sell music online or more traditionally in a “bricks and mortar” store – a store that physically exists like HMV or Music World. However, steadily declining sales between 2000 and 2003 closed over twelve hundred U.S. music retailers. 1.
In the 1990s, the major labels shifted their distribution channel away from traditional music retailers to “big box” stores like Wal-Mart and Best Buy. The music retailers couldn’t compete. The amount of space devoted to music in a big box store was smaller than a music retailer’s space; thus, the record labels had less space to sell their product. In addition to the problem at retail, the record industry became reliant on CD sales for its success.
The transition from an analog signal to a digital signal in the 1980s was a revolution, but the industry didn’t foresee the problems that it would cause. From the late 1980s to the late 1990s, the record industry enjoyed unprecedented financial success with the Compact Disc (CD). The CD replacement cycle that saw many of the fans buying the same music on CD, again, caused an unexpected ten year boom for the record companies, and this boom was largely based on reissuing existing catalog in the high quality CD format. 2
As people replaced their analog music collections with CDs, another revolution occurred: these people said ‘no more’. For many, the CD format was the fourth format that they had been forced into buying. From vinyl, to 8-track, to cassette, and finally to CD, the record industry sabotaged itself by having people replace their collections four times. When the replacement cycle ended, the industry, by digitizing music, allowed anyone to make a perfect copy of any song. By 2004, the best-selling CD in the United States was a blank, recordable one. 3 Consumers were now in control, and new technologies forced the record industry further into a precarious position.
Digital music allowed anyone to listen to music without having to possess a hard copy, further eliminating the need for CDs. As the technology to burn CDs became available in the 1990s, the blank CD became what the blank cassette was to the 1970s and 1980s – a way to copy music for free. Digital also meant that music was electronically transportable, fast and for free, using the Internet, instant messaging and e-mail. This was the beginning of MP3. MP3 compresses audio and video files for use in multimedia applications. The ‘MP’ comes from MPEG, standards developed by the Motion Picture Experts Group. The ‘3’ comes from Audio Layer 3, the part of MPEG that stores audio. With MP3s, CDs became unnecessary, creating a free fall in CD sales. “The CD is like the cassette of the mid-1980s, it’s dead – no one wants a CD, it’s not where the industry is going”. 4The industry was blindsided as tech-savvy teenagers began to download music like crazy. One teenager took downloading to a new level, causing the record industry to finally stand up and take notice.
Napster was a turning point in music history; but, unlike the CD that was aggressively promoted by the record industry, Napster was controlled by the consumer. In the fall of 1999, university dropout Shawn Fanning created Napster (his online nickname), a computer program that allowed people to share and swap music files. Notoriety arrived in 2000 as the rock group Metallica discovered an unreleased demo of one of their songs on Napster. Metallica and the record companies sued Napster. In 2001, Napster was shut down and forced to pay music creators and copyright owners $26 million for unauthorized use of their music. The publicity that resulted from the legal battle did two things: software developers around the world created more, and more technically-sound P2P programs, resulting in a feeding frenzy for free online music; and, it left the major labels in an even more vulnerable position than ever before, as consumers migrated away from CDs to digital downloads. The industry then created a culture of resentment, as it focused its energy on individuals who illegally share music files.
The record industry began to sue people who illegally shared music files, creating an atmosphere of bitterness, as students and teenagers saw the industry as greedy, and biting the hands that fed it. “We would prefer not to be in the courts; however, this activity takes place on an unthinkable, massive scale”. 5 Litigation was a panic reaction from an industry that ignored the problem of downloading, until it began to eat into its revenue. “Suing music fans is not the solution, it’s the problem. Litigation is not artist development. Litigation is a deterrent to creativity and passion and it is hurting the business I love”. 6 The industry now admits that illegal music downloading sites will never be eradicated. Music will always be available for free somewhere on the Internet, despite costly battles to shut down illegal music sites. 7 The record industry’s woes can be blamed on downloading, but the industry itself is to blame for continuing to operate on an archaic business model.
The current business model of the recording industry, developed in the mid-20th Century, continues to be based on selling an analog, physical product, and does not take into consideration the evolution of technology. The record companies need to adapt to the realities of the marketplace and cast off their antiquated business models. 8 “The industry is going through a really difficult time because so many of the contracts they have with artists and bands are old”. 9 A digital subscription service could be an answer to the industry’s problems. “Until the industry adopts a subscription all-you-can-eat type of service, it’s in trouble. The industry needs to act quickly as the old business models are becoming obsolete fast”. 10
The industry is trying to change. The major labels, by legitimizing P2P file sharing, could extract revenue from P2P by collecting blanket license fees from P2P companies and ISPs (Internet Service Providers), who in turn charge their customers for the service. With the creation of legal, major label sponsored P2P sites like Pressplay, PureTracks, and MusicNet, the industry is trying to legitimize P2P file sharing, thus stopping the industry from disappearing.
The record industry needs to find a way to deliver legitimate digital solutions. It is clear that the record industry is in a precarious position because it has ignored the trends of digitization. Neither a physical media, nor an analog signal is at the cutting edge of music anymore; they are seen as antiquated and obsolete. Once CDs become obsolete, the record industry will soon follow. The record industry must embrace the digital revolution or be left behind.
1. David Kusek and Gerd Leonard, The Future Of Music: Manifesto For The Digital Music Revolution. (Boston, Berklee Press, 2005), p. 7
2. Ibid. p. 108
3. Ibid. p. 1
4. Steven Ehrlich, “Listen Up”, Ryerson Magazine. (Winter 2006), p. 19
5. Graham Henderson, “Recording Industry Launches Campaign to Protect and Promote Products of the Mind, Citing the Results of Two New National Polls”, www.cria.ca (September 29, 2005)
6. Terry McBride, “Suing The Hand That Feeds You: P2P Suits Make No Sense For Music Business”, www.futureofmusicbook.com (March 12, 2006)
7. Darren Waters, “Illegal Music Sites Here To Stay”, www.news.bbc.co.uk (January 8, 2003)
8. Kusek and Leonard, The Future Of Music: Manifesto For The Digital Music Revolution. p. 128
9. Laura Nenych, “Listen Up”, Ryerson Magazine. (Winter 2006) p. 19
10. Ehrlich, “Listen Up”, Ryerson Magazine. (Winter 2006), p. 19
I researched and wrote this article for a health website mainly because I was personally concerned with the sunscreen I put on my skin and wanted to find out what the best product was to use. It is scary to think of the gallons of chemicals that we have put on our skin over the years that are contained in sunscreens. It’s probably best not to think about it.
Choosing the Best Sunscreen: An Update
Most adults will remember the days of summer when tanning oil or even tanning butter were used to get that perfect tan. That first sunburn of summer was a badge of honor. Now, especially since the ozone layer depletion scare of the 1980s, the focus for cosmetic companies has been the blocking of the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays. However, new research suggests that the chemicals used in today’s sunscreens may do more harm than good.
UVA, UVB and UVC rays all contribute to the development of skin cancer. 1. UVA rays are not blocked by the ozone layer and penetrate deepest into the skin. UVB rays are partially absorbed by the ozone layer and penetrate less deep into the skin. UVC rays are almost all absorbed by the ozone layer. However, as the ozone layer thins, more UVC rays will penetrate the skin.
When the depletion of the ozone layer first entered the news, choosing a sunscreen meant choosing one with a high sun protection factor (SPF) against only UVB rays that burned and damaged the skin. Research soon focused on the UVA rays that don’t cause sunburn but penetrate deepest into the skin, thus causing premature aging, cell damage and skin cancer. 2.
Cosmetic companies soon developed “broad spectrum” sunscreens to block out both of the rays.
Recent changes by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have put additional pressure on cosmetic companies to provide the public with clear guidelines for sunscreens. The FDA plans to limit the maximum SPF to 50 as there is insufficient data to suggest that higher numbered sunscreens offer more protection. The FDA has also banned the use of the words “sunblock”, “waterproof” and “sweatproof” on the labels because the claims are inherently false. 3.
It is important to understand that your skin is porous. Almost anything you apply to your skin will absorb into your body. Protecting yourself from UVA and UVB rays by applying a sunscreen will require you to do some research on the chemicals found in many sunscreens.
Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing harmful UV radiation. However, some of these chemicals have shown to be harmful once they are absorbed into the skin. Research indicates that some may disrupt the body’s hormone systems and interfere with sexual development 4. Also, as chemical sunscreens break down in the sun and become ineffective, they release free radicals (by-products that cause cell damage). 5.
Ingredients on a bottle of sunscreen contain many unfamiliar chemicals. Of all of them, Ecamsule (or Mexoryl SX) appears to be best of the lot with low skin penetration and high UVA ray absorption. 6. On its own, Avobenzone (or Parsol 1789) is an unstable chemical. When it is added to octinoxate, it becomes even more unstable. Avobenzone must be paired with octocrylene to become stable. 7. The stability of a sunscreen chemical is essential so that it doesn’t break down in the sun. For the consumer, it becomes an exercise in chemistry to determine what is safe and what is not.
Consumers can simply choose physical sunscreens like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to avoid all the confusion over chemical sunscreens. These minerals are often found in chemical sunscreens for added protection. Physical sunscreens completely reflect UV radiation. It is important to remember that because our skin is porous, these two elements will also absorb into our bodies, but in minuscule amounts.
The benefits of physical sunscreens far outweigh those of chemical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens are stable in sunlight, don’t appear to penetrate the skin and offer excellent UVA protection. 8. If consumers don’t mind the thick consistency and the pale white appearance after it is applied, physical sunscreens are probably the safer choice.
We have always been told that overexposure to the sun results in a sunburn, skin damage, premature aging and skin cancer. Staying out of the sun when the sun is at its strongest (usually between 10 am and 2 pm) is the best choice. When in the sun, cover up with a long sleeve shirt, long pants and a hat; use sunscreen; or a combination of both. Knowing the effects of sun damage and learning about chemical and physical sunscreens is also vital.
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