For the Sake of Listening
Updated: Apr 6, 2022
The music industry has gone through several revolutions over the past hundred-and-fifty years, from the advent of the radio and phonograph which allowed the mass distribution of recorded music for the first time ever, to the digital age we now live in, it has been one of the most technologically driven mediums of art that exists. Lately, the streaming services have come under the scrutiny of the musicians that they represent due to the lack of compensation they are providing, which is completely legit. Spotify has become the largest streaming service and poster-child for this particular argument and while I tend to side with artists in thinking that they are underpaid, I know that ultimately it is me, the music consumer, that is responsible for this because it is more a matter of supply and demand than anything. That being said, I love Spotify, as a music consumer how could you not, it offers the opportunity to discover, delve into, and digest new and old music like we’d never had the ability to do before but I think that comes at a cost, not just to the artists but to the us as consumers as well.
I may be the only one but I am somewhat nostalgic for the days when I used to go to a store and sift through CDs for hours at a time trying to hone in on the two to three essential ones I had to take home with me. In the digital age, I’ve transferred that to buying actual vinyl records and I know I am not totally alone in that with record sales back on the rise but it’s really because this process forces me to appreciate the music more. The way I am able to consume limitless amounts of music now without ever leaving my laptop has taken a toll on the appreciation I have for music or even just the amount I pay attention to it. These days, it’s not uncommon for me to go through an entire Spotify playlist and only take note of a few song, whereas when purchasing an album, even if I ended up not liking nine out of ten tracks, I would probably listen to it at least five times and digest each song to the point where I knew the album to the point where I could skip through to the tracks I liked. Maybe Spotify does claim to be an avenue to discovering music akin to the radio but, in reality, if we really wanted to discover this music it is still only a YouTube video away from being able to check it out. The reality is we’ve gotten lazy and, not only that, but this inundation of music has also gotten so gross that we don’t even really consume music properly.
I might just be speaking of society today in general because the movie and TV show streaming services offer hundreds of more options than I used to have in my personal collection or on cable, but I still find myself scrolling through, finding nothing to watch. The sad fact is the relative ease with which we can consume these things has maybe just made us less appreciative. In Keith Richard’s biography, Life, he describes what it was like when he and Mick were growing up in London and they were so into blues and jazz music that when they would hear about a record store getting a rare record in, they would go to the store and join a group of other music nerds and sit there and listen to it. Imagine that, a group of people taking time out of their day to commute all the way to some random store just so that they could hear this cutting-edge style of music. Imagine how much more in depth you would care to listen to an album if you had to take an hour long train ride to listen to it or even just knew you were going to spend your hard earned cash on it.
I’m not sure I really ready to give up Spotify at this point but I have started purchasing albums for my iTunes collection again, not that I’m anticipating Spotify going belly up, but with artists starting to push back, maybe it’s only a matter of time. Of course, then we’re left with a choice of tech giants’ (i.e. Amazon, Google, Apple) streaming services to choose from, but I’ve also started buying albums again because I just like having the album in my collection. I think it makes me appreciate them more too, maybe I already have a good appreciation of these albums and that’s why I buy them in the first place but part of me still likes to go to my iTunes collection and put on an album, old or new. This concept is similar to one I’ve been doing with books for some time because if I read something I got from the library that I really like, I will usually buy it, even if I only read it again here and there. Maybe this works better with vinyl but I’ve had to separate myself from my collection because I live on a boat now and records would not last long in a marine environment, but I think that’s missing the point here because we really just need to support musicians anyway we can. Maybe soon we’ll be able to go to live shows again and do it that way but until then buy a shirt or maybe throw a band some money for a live stream. Take time to recognize and appreciate the people and the bands that inhabit your playlists and show them some love because making music is a lot of work and maybe listening to it should be too.