Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Observations on Music Now

This is another one of my silly little posts for all those music geeks out there who have certain songs that make them think of one single conversation five and a half years ago or songs they can't listen to unless it's raining.

I know music is so important to so many people's lives, and I think it's really interesting to see how the actual listening of music has evolved over time (mostly due to the internet). I've read plenty of books people's personal relationships with music (Prozac Nation, High Fidelity, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Goodbye, anything by Chuck Klosterman) and listened to people talk about it, and it got me thinking about how my generation's music habits are drastically different than the habits of the generation that's probably making the music we listen to.

So here's a list of how I listen to music, in contrast with previous listeners of 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 50 years ago, etc.:

  • For one thing, I don't listen to or buy albums. I listen to songs and download bands.

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  • If I feel like checking out a new band, I can download their entire discography, sample some tracks in any chronology, and, if I decide I don't like it, delete the entire collection. There's more personal music experimentation because of this.
  • I'm generally less invested in my music. Since I did not go through the effort of going out, selecting an album, and spending my own money to make a purchase, I have a decreased investment in the actual music. So if I don't listen to an album right after I get it, it's not a big deal.
  • As such, there's less excitement with getting a new album because it is so much easier. When I first started listening to CDs, I used to come home and listen to the entire thing in one sitting. I've heard this is not uncommon. But now, when I get a new album (or new albums, as I tend to get many at once), I'll just put it on my iPod and listen to it whenever it comes up on shuffle.
  • When I do actually make a music purchase, it has more significance. If I actually make a music purchase, it's because I specifically want to support the artist.
  • Some people I know only make legal music purchases and this is abnormal compared to the rest of us. It's a real point of difference. It's also out of fear of getting caught.
  • My music collection is obscenely large and all housed on a hard drive the size of a book.
  • I'm going to guess that I have a wider range and taste of music than I would have had I grew up a few decades earlier. It's so easy to find and get new, different music and there's such a low risk involved in listening to new music.
  • Although I have more breath in my music taste, there's less depth. While there are certain artists I love and know a lot about, it's nothing compared to what past generations describe. I haven't sat there and analyzed songs extensively in terms of musics and lyrics in comparison to the artist's previous music and personal life.
  • But hey, if I want to know more about an artist I can just go online. I can use Wikipedia to find out anything, instantly about Bruce Springsteen, rather than reading every magazine article about him.
  • To make a sweeping assumption, my generation defines themselves by genres, not artists. I'm not a Beck fan, I'm an indie folk fan. (I'm not actually a Beck fan but the analogy makes the most sense.)
  • Genres that used to be lifestyles are now simply music labels that don't necessarily conform to the original definition. Most notable is indie, but there are others.
  • Bootlegs, live songs and rare tracks are no longer rare. They're now easily available if I want to listen to them and honestly, I rarely do.
  • I have the ability to look up lyrics. In the past, if an artist didn't include lyrics with the album you were stuck singing "Saving his life from his Mom's cup of tea!" for everyone to hear. Now, I can easily look up the lyrics for Bohemian Rhapsody or any other song.
  • MySpace. Really. MySpace allows me to sample artists' music in seconds (Sorry, listening booths of yesteryear. You're not replaced by the Land of Tila Tequila). It also lets bands share their music for free and allows them to gain popularity organically. I think this is actually how Taylor Swift was discovered (according to a Glamour article I read last month).
  • It's easier for emerging artists to share their music and gain a fan base because it's now both easier to share their music and less expensive to do it.
  • However, there's now so many artists that the music space is incredibly saturated with all types of music.
  • As a result of the internet, artists have less control of what is actually done with music. Advanced album leaks, piracy, and even remixes have taken away the songs from the artist and given it to the people.
  • I don't personally use them, sites like Last.fm have turned music into a community where strangers can share and recommend music. Even bands that have sites with message boards where fans can communicate have an increased level of community.
  • There's less spontaneity and self discovery in music. Thanks to these communities and auto-recommendation tools, there's now an "if you like x, you will like y" formula of music. The last truly spontaneous music discovery I made was when I downloaded a mislabeled song in 8th grade and discovered a new genre of music.
  • My music is intangible. It can never be damaged or misplaced, only lost as a result of mechanical failure. My music is also impermanent. I can delete it whenever I want and think nothing of it.
  • This is a huge difference- my music is portable. I can (and do) listen to my music where ever I go. If I'm at work, in my car, the grocery store, walking down the street, etc., I am listening to music. Before the Walkman, this was totally impossible. As a result, I have situational music- music that I can relate to certain places and events. The previously listed books all describe the significance of the times where they were sitting on their floor, listening to music. I've never had my music been tied down physically, and as such....
  • I never just listen to music.
  • I listen to music with no regard to chronology, withing artist history or within albums.
  • My music is all about customization. I make playlists, and I can listen to my music on playlists, in an album or from an artist. If I wanted to (I don't) I could make remixes easily and share them on YouTube or MySpace. Also, everyone thinks they're a DJ now.
  • I listen to playlists, not mixtapes. I can create as many playlists as I want or even have them auto-generated. They can have no constraints- I can put as little or as much as I want on them. There is no specific order, and songs can be fast forwarded or skipped all together. They can change whenever I want them to.
  • I'm part of the A.D.D. generation, and as such I skip music like no other. I skip through my iPod until I find something I want, or I skip the last 30 seconds of a song if I don't feel like listening to it anymore.

Most of these statements are fairly obvious, but I hope they helped you put your everyday habits in context to history. Also- if you're interested in how music has changes aesthetically over the years, check out this article in Rolling Stone, The Death of High Fidelity, or The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century.

Images from Wikipedia, Gizmodo, and Paste.


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