Once upon a time, we gained access to music by buying it on pieces of plastic. We made a financial investment in the music, the album, and the artist. And that didn’t include the effort and cost it took to go down to the record store and search for interesting music.
Now, though, access to music is instant and near-infinite from wherever we are. And it’s all free–or at least close to it. Our relationship to recorded music has changed forever. As music has become a disposable commodity?
NPR in New York considers that concept.
When I was a kid, I listened to the radio, or to my parents’ vinyl. The radio offered the excitement of the unexpected, and had me waiting — sometimes impatiently — with my cassette recorder at the ready to snatch some tunes from the ephemeral airways. Listening to vinyl, on the other hand, had a celebratory quality to it — it wasn’t something you did in a rush. You carefully removed the sleeve and placed the heavy, dark plate on the turntable, adjusted the pick-up and lowered it gently down … there was a brief crackle, and then music filled the air.
Today, like most of us, I generally turn to streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music, which basically offer all the music there is — somewhere, online, you can find pretty much everything that has ever been recorded. Sometimes I choose a specific recording, but often I just do a playlist search for something along the lines of “fast beats for workout,” or “gentle dinner R&B,” or “classical to focus.” I tend to give each track a two- to three-second chance, then skip until I find something I like. Sometimes I recognize the music, sometimes I don’t. If I really like something, I save it, but more often than not, I don’t even check who the performer is.
This listening behavior is how most people — including myself — engage with recorded music these days. And frankly, it makes me sad. It makes me realize it’s time to take a closer look at how our engagement with recorded music has changed, and what it means for both listeners and artists.