Friday, December 07, 2012

The shifting software of music

"As you are no doubt aware, there have been changes in how people listen to and procure music, during the past dozen years," the blogger said in the Queen's English.

OK, so, that's something of an understatement. If you're tech savvy enough to read this blog, chances are you've been stealing or buying music off the web for years now. The coming of online music was a once-in-a-lifetime event that shifted the foundation of all things song beneath the house of industry that it had built.

It's a change that's altered the way I hear music.

The ability to buy only the tracks that I like off an album means I'm far more engaged with music than ever before. My interest no longer waxes and wanes like it once did while listening. Now I've got forty eight hours worth of my favorite and only my favorite songs to listen to on a single playlist, which can keep me immersed in an inner landscape of sound and emotion for several hours at a time. The ability to shuffle randomly through such a huge volume of tracks, or through twenty-song playlists, also means that I no longer get desensitized to new favorite songs the way that I used to. It's much more fun to slot a newcomer into a list of similar tracks, rather than listen to it by itself over and over to the point where all emotion has been leached out of the melody, rhythm, and any well turned lyrics.

The change in procurement mediums has also made me even more social with my music. I say "more", because, yeah, back in the day I not only made mix tapes, but occasionally inflicted them on friends unfortunate enough to find themselves within arms length. So the jump to YouTube and the ability to direct friends to my channel there was a natural one to make. Of course YouTube no longer is what it once was. The commercials have come, so the pure experience of music fused with imagery has been shattered.

Which is as it should be. YouTube is parasitic. Nearly all theft, and little payback for the artists whose works appear there. Which makes me glad to see the rise of cheap, paid music services like Rdio, Spotify, and Pandora, where sharing uninterrupted music or playlists is an organic feature. That, and the ability to see what other friends are listening is now the primary means by which I discover new songs to listen to and buy. Yeah, I still occasionally crawl the reaches of the internet, looking at recommendations by well-listened individuals whose tastes have proven to overlap mine, but seeing what friends are listening to each day online is a heavy new body in my musical solar system--one which has perturbed the orbits of all other sources.

If my childhood self, who read a lot of science fiction back in the 80s, could see all of this--the hardware, the software, the social networks--he'd be by himself with ecstatic glee. As far as music goes, the future has proved to be pretty damn awesome.

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