With equal parts optimism and naivete (sometimes but not always the same thing), Fingertips was launched 20 years ago this month. Because of some format and template changes over the years, some of the earliest posts are no longer available, but the extra curious can find an archive featuring the very first, very tentative posts (from May and June 2003) here, via the Wayback Machine.
That’s a long time, 20 years. Needless to say, the world has changed. Facebook didn’t exist in 2003; neither did iPhones, or Twitter; the phrase “social media” had been tossed around for about a decade at that point but it was not a mainstream coinage (in fact, it was still not quite clear what it meant). “The Apprentice” had yet to rear its poisonous head; little did we realize where that would lead us.
One thing that did exist in 2003, with increasing prominence, was the music blog. Fingertips wasn’t the first, but I was in the early mix; Fluxblog, self-identified as the first MP3 blog, had launched in 2002, as had the indomitable Largehearted Boy, and a handful of others, most of whom are long gone.
The original mission here was straightforward, if offbeat: there amidst the internet’s piracy party of the ’00s, Fingertips featured only free and legal downloads. What a concept! The early posts, which came weekly, were merely a sentence or two; I think my initial intention was to be a clearinghouse more than a review compendium. “Hey,” I was saying, “do you realize that there’s a bunch of really good, free music available legally?” “And hey,” I guess I was also saying, “maybe everyone can stop stealing so much music?” As noted: optimistic, naive.
Within a few months, the songs were each receiving a paragraph, and my fuller purpose was becoming clear: I wanted not only to alert people to the existence of high-quality free and legal downloads, I wanted to write about why any given song was so good, in as concrete a way as possible. This was based on a long-standing pet peeve of mine: music reviews that don’t talk much, if at all, about what the music actually sounds like. To this day, many album reviews focus disconcertingly on lyrics. This has bothered me for two reasons. First, it downplays the aural reality of the recording; second, it overlooks the fact that not every listener necessarily tunes in to the lyrics when they listen to music. I’m describing myself here, and I assume I’m not alone. In any case: if a song was only supposed to be considered for its lyrics there would be no need for there to be music in the first place.
The stream of warm impermanence
As such, the reviews here increasingly began to focus on distinct aspects of a song’s sound, often pointing to specific moments, via the time clock readily visible on your MP3 player of choice. Longtime visitors may dimly remember that there was also a fair amount of other content on the site in those early years, including guides to where you might find artistically satisfying free and legal MP3s in various locations around the web. I did album reviews for a while too. The weekly newsletter was launched relatively early on, and every so often way back when there would be a contest to give away stuff I was receiving. (Yes, record companies used to have actual physical things to send to the likes of me.) By year-end 2007 the song reviews had expanded into two or three paragraphs, and I had gotten it into my head to post essays every so often about some digital-music-related topic or another.
Eventually, the weekliness broke down. (I’m surprised in retrospect it lasted as long as it did.) Likewise lost in the first half of the ’10s was all extraneous content (except the essays, as you can see); in the 2014-2015 time frame, the reviews became a monthly occurrence, along with the playlists, which began in that same era.
And that’s been the model ever since, complete with intermittent self-questioning about why I continue to do this and who is paying any attention. Some things just don’t change.
As for the music itself, the description on the home page still stands: “Fingertips seeks out 21st-century music with heart and spirit, grounded in one sort of rock’n’roll lineage or another but with feet planted solidly in the here and now.” Fingertips was launched during rock music’s one last burst of cultural semi-relevance–the indie rock boom of the early ’00s. While other blogs grounded in similar ideas at the time have since ventured into different soundscapes, aiming to ride the wave of whatever’s most popular, I’ve stayed focused on that “rock’n’roll lineage” idea because it’s the music I know the most about and feel most connected to. As long as there are still people making it (which apparently there are) and some handful of people still interested in listening to it (ditto), that’s the music you’ll hear here. But only the really good stuff.
So. Here we are in 2023, in a culture (world?) that feels to be both slowly and quickly coming apart at the seams. And I don’t know about you but I most certainly am not getting any younger–I was already the “old guy” among the early music bloggers, some of whom only now are moving through the age I was back then. Which is to say there are all sorts of reasons for me to wonder, even if I am continuing, which apparently I am, how much longer this ship will keep sailing.
I walk along darkened corridors
But sail on it does for now. Having long ago abandoned the idea of attracting a large audience, I have in recent years learned to embrace the “boutique” nature of this endeavor. If my dreams of earning a useful income this way proved to be idle fantasy, what I’ve realized over the years is that a small audience is, in important ways, a more real audience than a super-large one. I can absorb and be grateful for every single person who finds their way here; and you can be sure that each of you is appreciated for your (excellent) taste far more than you could ever be appreciated or even perceived as an individual by any company or publication running a site with thousands or millions of visits, clicks, likes, whatever. You are not a real person there but you are a real person here. And maybe that means less and less in the dawning age of generative AI. But it’s meaningful to me; it’s really why I’m still here, 20 years and counting.
Perhaps the most important consequence of Fingertips’ persistence as a boutique music site, a one-man band as it were, is the site’s lack of the sorts of pernicious features long since accepted as normal most everywhere else online. The content is not only free but free of the strings usually attached to free web content; and say what you might about the underwhelming site design, there is, here, none of the mendacious tricks employed by most other sites to force you to scroll or make extra clicks simply to read what you came to read or listen to what you came to listen to. And of course no distracting ads. I am operating as a human being respectful of other human beings and ever hopeful of connecting to those with similarly humanistic inclinations. (This is needless to say an algorithm- and AI-free zone.)
These past 20 years have seen technology reach fascinating new heights and disconcerting new depths. The same might be said for the country where I was born and where I am based. (Short version: we had Obama, we had the next guy.) Fingertips has mostly operated as something of an innocent bystander, occasionally aiming to be a quiet voice of reason in a world dominated by loud and unreasonable entities, be they people, avatars, billionaires, websites, corporations, what have you.
And, a voice ever advocating for quality in this quantity-crazed world of ours. Whether the creation of a mainstream artist or a band with a relative handful of followers, each song featured here is a song of notable quality. I stand by every one of them, regardless of the views or clicks or likes they have received either here or anywhere else. Think of it: how many web sites can you name that have quality as their one and only content guideline? I understand the problem: to offer this attribute in the digital realm in which we socio-culturally exist requires a rejection of the capitalism on which we base pretty much everything we do. I am in the relatively luxurious life position of not requiring income from this enterprise (although donations do help!). Most of the icky features sprayed up and down and across the web are the direct result of the need and/or desire for profit. So none of them are here.
My ultimate hope is that I have created something of a digital oasis: an online location where you can forget about what makes more tentacled online experiences either overwhelming or off-putting or both. It was a conscious decision from the outset to keep “community” features to a minimum and by now that makes Fingertips a refreshingly quiet corner of a very noisy medium. You can come here to read about and/or listen to good music, and think your own thoughts, and feel your own feelings. Once you remember that web sites encourage active comment sections not because they care about your input but to increase their engagement metrics, it kind of takes the bloom off that particular rose. In any case, I think we as a culture have grown by a number of factors a little too concerned with having and expressing opinions. It’s okay just to read; it’s okay just to listen.
To anyone reading this, your presence and attention is truly appreciated. I don’t know where we end up on this idiosyncratic ride but I know that there will be a lot of worthwhile music to listen to, still, as the path yet unfolds. Stay strong and be a good human, because that is one thing the robots can never be.