I’d like to think that when I started Strange Currencies at the beginning of 2020, I did so with few delusions. I figured that supportive friends would check it out regardless; that those who were particularly into music would continue to read from time-to-time and share it with others who might be interested; and I assumed that, occasionally, certain articles might find their way beyond the realm of my friends and acquaintances.
Not only have all of these things transpired, but the site has maintained a modest, loyal readership, and has seen growth in virtually every month since its founding. Nothing here has gone ”viral,” but a handful of our pieces have accrued thousands of views and/or have been linked to by far-more-popular websites. While this endeavor hasn’t accomplished everything that I thought it could do, it has at least met – if not surpassed – what I expected it to do.
The thing is, Strange Currencies has never been more than a passion project, and the biggest challenge of any passion project is to maintain the passion once the project begins to feel like work. While I’ve enjoyed assembling every article, feature, group list, and podcast that has appeared on this site, I have to admit: there are times where it has started to feel like work.
I don’t bemoan the fact that maintaining this site feels like work. It is a lot of work. And while I’ve been fortunate to have some help from the cast of Strange Currencies contributors, I’ve always known that the website’s potential for growth and outreach would be directly correlated to the amount of time and energy that I was willing to devote to it. The problem isn’t the time and effort, but instead, is something that I’ve had a hard time pinning down until recently.
Last month, my brother and his family visited from Arizona. He and his teenage daughters are recent converts to record collecting, so I took it upon myself to give them a mini-tour of a few of Portland’s best shops. Of course, I couldn’t resist picking out a stack of records for myself, including a few Rolling Stones reissues (specifically their four-album stretch from Their Satanic Majesties Request to Sticky Fingers, for those wondering). Noticing multiple albums from the same band, my brother asked, “are those for an article?”
They weren’t. Having spent the past few months listening to Stones knock-offs (some great, some less so), I was just in the mood for the real thing. The problem was, I still had six more articles to crank out before the end of the summer. It was three weeks before I broke the shrink wrap for three of the four Stones albums. By then, I was more in the mood to listen to something else (the first volume of the calypso compilation series, London Is the Place for Me, for those wondering).
I had let my Stones kick go by, largely unattended. Another one might not come around for years: the previous having happened in the summer of 2006, when I first acquired the aforementioned albums on CD, along with Between the Buttons and Flowers. That’s not to say that I didn’t still enjoy assembling those last handful of August articles. I did, but I just wanted to listen to something else that week. However, “Garage Rock Summer” pauses for no man.
And once I got to thinking about it, that episode had kind of summed up these last few years of my music listening. Starting with the A Century of Song project, and continuing through our “theme months,” my listening patterns have largely been agenda-based. It’s been enjoyable, but now I’ve got a lot of records sitting in both literal and metaphorical shrink wrap. It’s time that they get a proper listen.
I committed to stepping aside from regularly-scheduled articles and the constraints of self-imposed deadlines in the most effective way that I knew how. I wiped out every rating on the RateYourMusic account that I’ve maintained since the summer of 2007. Over six-thousand ratings. Gone. I plan to re-score all of them, but only after giving each album, EP, single, and compilation a listen with as fresh of ears as possible. It’ll take years.
Along the way, I’ll continue to put articles together, but there will be no schedule, and no quota for what defines a “productive” month for Strange Currencies. I’m going to listen to what I want to listen to, and if I want to write about it, I will. I still hope to get contributions from my regular participants when they’re able to make them, but unified theme months are out – for a while, at least. New episodes of the Strange Currencies Podcast will continue to appear on a semi-regular basis, but even that project may yield some time for the creation of more “Royalty Free (To Us)” music.
It’s a little counterintuitive for me to step aside – even partially – from a self-created endeavor that several hundred different people engage with each month. I’m okay with it though. We’ve put a lot of good content out there over the past two-plus years, and we’ll continue to do so. It’ll just be happening in a slightly-different manner – a shift that may go entirely unnoticed by the majority of people who casually come across this website. Still, to me, it feels like a big deal: a shift away from a mission statement that was, itself, a shift away from an original plan.
And yet, despite all of that conceptual stuff, Strange Currencies has never really been more than a document of one person’s music fandom, with occasional contributions from the people who have most helped to shape that journey. It’s still that, and it probably always will be. This is just the beginning of the next phase in that journey.
Thanks for reading.