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Streaming is Messing Up the Whole Idea of What It Means to be a Music Collector

Before streaming, we were all collectors of music. We acquired and possessed all many of music. Your cred as a music collector was based on how many linear feet your music took up in your home or by the numbers of records and CDs you owned. When digital tracks came on the scene, it became fashionable to brag about how many gigabytes then terabytes of music you owned.

There’s that word again: owned.

In the streaming era, we don’t own much of our music. We rent it–or more correctly, we license it for our own personal use. In exchange for easy and instant access to tens of millions songs, we surrendered our ability to possess them. And given the convenience of access over possession, it’s a pretty good trade.

But this does have an impact on the people who self-identify as music collectors. Sure, we’ll still buy vinyl and CDs, but when we look at the big picture–how so many music fans will never be owners, collectors of music, what will be become of the collector?

Renting is not collecting. Creating a playlist is not collecting. Even collecting a list of playlists isn’t collecting. This is from

Music rarely exists in a vacuum. From classical concert programs and 12-track albums to DIY mixtapes and personal record shelves, we imbue songs with new meaning by connecting them to each other, by treating them as elements of a wider, self-constructed narrative.

We are music collectors by design and by necessity—an identity threatened by the rise of streaming.

In previous decades, physical formats like CDs, vinyl, cassettes and 8-tracks required us to limit our music consumption, if only to keep our wallets in shape. We didn’t just throw money and time at music left and right, but rather invested more wisely in a handful of albums and artists, with whom we developed intimate relationships through repeated listens and colorful liner notes. Filling our binders and shelves with these records also facilitated a more positive, aspirational side of our aesthetic identities: we set tangible, attainable goals for our collections, and could show off these works in progress to our friends and family whenever they visited for dinner.

The three recent stages of digital disruption in music — which can be bookmarked by Napster, iTunes and Spotify — have made our collections more public, more granular and more abstract, respectively.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38556 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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