December 28, 2005

Sometimes the music in the café is so bad...

... that you suspect the barista is playing a CD made by her friend who has a band. Thanks to John for this theory.


Jonathan said...

I work in facilities for Starbucks and my experience tells me this: if it's a really, really old store (10+ years) that hasn't had it's Play Network system replaced (which is rare)it's possible it could be something made by the partners. I would think, however, that it's unlikely. We now have moved into networked audio systems that don't even have a cd player in them. If you have XM, find the Hear Music channel, and that's what you will find playing in our stores.

If the espresso bar you frequent isn't one of ours, then you're on your own.

Ann Althouse said...

It wasn't a Starbucks, but a café where, I believe, the baristas just play what they want. Starbucks is a more regulated, standardized environment.

Theo Boehm said...
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Pogo said...

My wife used to work in a 'Ten Thousand Villages', selling "fairly traded handicrafts from around the world." Really, it was a discount version of Pier One. Anyway, , this store was a very small time outfit, just one small room. They'd play music of all types.

Until one day.

One day, a man identified himself as an agent for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and Broadcast Music Incorporated (ASCAP & BMI ). He made them shut off the CD playing, and demanded money for the license permitting them to play the copyrighted material.

Goodbye, odd music!

And thank goodness for the ASCAP field agents, or the Thai folk musicians would've been cheated out of their royalty! (Actually, they thus received neither royalty nor any sales, as the store decided against carrying the CDs. Another musician's livelihood protected by ASCAP!!)

Word Verification ~ lihguoxy:
The mess left by unwanted visitors.

Kirk Parker said...

Theo Boehm,

Personally, I'd recommend buying an espresso machine. :-)

Theo Boehm said...
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Motor 1560 said...

My favorite coffee house plays Radio Paradise which streams over the net and is listener supported "Eclectic Music". Once a month they send RP a contribution.

So do I. It's impossible to describe them. Just go there and read a playlist. Interesting mix.

Good coffee, comfy chairs and couchs, free wi-fi and good music.

Theo Boehm said...
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Motor 1560 said...

The place is called Goleta Coffee in Goleta CA, next to Santa Barbara. House blend is called Industrial. Interesting mix of folks, high school, university kids, community. Just tatty enough to be comfortable.

To understand the urban pattern of the Los Angeles area it is necessary to understand the growth of its interurban and street railways, pre automobile. The systems were huge, well over 1000 miles of track. We're gathering the information together and using Google Earth as a front end so that the results can be desseminated and shared.

Fortunately, the resolution in the basin in good enough to resolve down to the level of being able to see individual rails and to pick out the old corridors that influenced how LA grew.

The project is in its infancy. But, there are enough resources on the Web to advance it. One of our guys is working on a very obscure PE rail line in Orange county and has uncovered an amazing amount of detailed historical information about the area's pre-automobile matrix, the skeleton of urban growth. He grew up there but is now doing the work from Colorado. It's a Web thing.

Theo Boehm said...
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John Althouse Cohen said...

I'm looking for a coffeehouse that plays progressive jazz and/or "difficult" 20th c. classical music.

Stella's in Ithaca, NY, once played Bartók string quartets. I was very impressed. But I agree that this almost never happens. Most college-student-oriented cafes rely heavily on alternative rock because it's so inoffensive--they can't take a chance with edgy classical or jazz.

ChrisO said...

I'm not a Starbucks devotee, although I do tend to look for them in a strange town because I know what I'm getting into.I think the philosophy behind the music is to play interesting music that isn't too distracting. It's a coffeehouse, not a concert hall. I occasionally like "edgy" music, too but not always witjh my morning latte.

Theo, I'm afraid you come off as a bit of a snob. Just because it isn't Charlie Parker or Schoenberg doesn't make it "bland top-40 pop with occasional irritating bubble-gum techno." I've never heard either in a Strarbucks. It's mostly world music, blues, or some standards by Ray Charles. I haven't been to every Starbucks, but I'd be surprised to hear bland top-40 pop in any of them.

And by the way, ASCAP may be an annoyance to those who would like to enhance the ambience of their store without paying a dime for it, but it's a Godsend to musicians. That's how many of them make their living, or a good portion of it. ASCAP can't really pick and choose and let the cool little places have a free pass. That kind of selective enforcement would weaken their whole system.

Kev said...

"I can remember a time when "coffeehouse" and "jazz" went together."

I'm a jazz musician, though I make most of my living by teaching (it cuts down on the number of "corporate wallpaper" gigs that I have to play that way). I've had the good fortune to play in several charming, friendly little neighborhood coffeehouses in the past couple of years. Although I've gigged at a few Starbucks here and there, I'm grateful to the local places for taking a chance on live local music. But sadly, all three of those coffeehouses had the bad fortune to go out of business within the past year. (My band is not cursed--I swear!)

One of my musician friends who plays a lot of country gigs says that the reason the coffeehouses failed as live music venues is that they didn't serve alcohol, which may be true...but a coffeehouse that does serve it also tends to keep out the under-21 crowd, which keeps a lot of college students from hearing live music.

I'm not sure what the answer to the problem is; I guess the long and short of it is that jazz does still thrive in coffeehouses on occasion, but the trick nowadays is getting the coffeehouses themselves to thrive in this Starbucks-on-every-corner world of today.

Theo Boehm said...

Chris, Yes, I was playing the snob for effect. And, yes, Strabucks doesn't have bland top-40 pop. They play what you say, although it's homogenized somehow to be below the threshold of consciousness. I put on the Hear Music channel yesterday for about 10 minutes. It's interesting how it fades into the background. There's a whole science to backgound music, but it's something about which I've remained aggressively ignorant. I have heard irritating techno in a coffeehouse (not Starbucks) recently, though. I think it's the musical equivalent of fast colors. Move 'em out. Radio Paradise would be an improvement over Hear Music, because it's playlist seems to be made to be actually listened to.

kev, Good for you! Sorry about the coffeehouses going broke, though. You're absolutely right about the Starbucks-on-every-corner. BTW, what do you play? Has your band recorded anything? Tell us more!

Kev said...

"BTW, what do you play? Has your band recorded anything? Tell us more!"

I'm a saxophonist by trade; my response to the question "Do you play any other woodwinds too?" is "Yes, but badly, and only when forced." ;-) I'm waiting to do a full-blown recording until I have a few more original tunes fleshed out, so that I can have a decent mix of originals and standards. If you're interested, get my blog URL from my profile and bookmark it, because my website is about to undergo a big makeover, and it may well include an original of mine on mp3.

(BTW, it's interesting how tunes not written by the artist are usually called "cover tunes" in every other genre but jazz, and bands who only do covers are usually relegated to a lower rung of the musical ladder. But in jazz, these covers are known as "standards," and it's possible to go through an entire career without having ever written an original tune, provided that you do interesting things with the melody or style. And of course, there's the improvisational element, which guarantees that every performance of a single tune is different, sometimes markedly so.)

Kev said...

Oh, and a couple more thoughts (sorry to be a comment hog, but this subject is right up my alley):

"There's a whole science to backgound music, but it's something about which I've remained aggressively ignorant."

It really is fascinating. In a Psychology of Music class that I took in grad school, we analyzed an entire set of Muzak one time. It's all very well planned out, starting softly and sparsely-instrumentated and building to louder and thicker, designed to take up the exact amount of time that, say, the restaurant wants you to be in there before it's time to turn your table over to the next group of patrons. (The next time you're in a place like Chili's or Friday's, notice how loud the music is usually being played. They're looking for a quick turnaround, so their music is much more boisterous as a whole than in, for example, a swanky steakhouse.)

"I have heard irritating techno in a coffeehouse (not Starbucks) recently, though. I think it's the musical equivalent of fast colors."

I had the opportunity to play in a jazz festival in Switzerland a few years ago, and I was really amused by the fact that they played techno in every grocery store I visited--quite a contrast to the New Age or elevator music usually heard over here.

Theo Boehm said...
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