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The golden age of infinite music

November 3, 2009

The golden age of infinite music is yet another BBC article about the digital music world. It makes a couple of points that I thought were particularly interesting.

Firstly, the author, John Harris, is younger than me but still grew up with collecting music in physical product form – CDs, etc. He recently boxed them all up and was surprised to find that he doesn’t miss them. I have found the same thing. I always said I liked the physicality of vinyl or CD, the cover art, the sleeve notes etc. I still buy some CDs, but I am surprised to find that, like John Harris, I am also starting to not care about my CD collection. I recently moved house – my CDS are still in their boxes from the move but I’m in no hurry to get them out. They take up an awful lot of space. What has changed in me? Is it just laziness, the effort of finding a CD and taking it out of its crappy jewel case too arduous? Probably!

Secondly, he makes the point that the modern way of acquiring and listening to music makes it difficult for music that doesn’t grab you instantly to even get heard. He suggests that ‘grower’ albums or tracks are a thing of the past because people expect instant gratification from a tune or they’ll move straight on to the next one. Because they haven’t paid for the album or track, or it’s on a subscription stream, there’s no imperative to try to squeeze your money’s worth out of a purchase by listening through a few times to see if it grows on you.

If this is true (and I suspect it is) it could have two implications. It could mean that artists get sharper and weed out weaker tunes so that quality improves. More likely, though is that it means deeper, more demanding tracks that ultimately bring more value, will never be heard because there isn’t a catchy hook in the first 16 bars and people hit ‘next track’ on their listening device. Maybe, though, it’s both; the former will only affect the more mainstream, pop, genres and that might be a good thing but unfortunately the latter will prevent the unsophisticated listener from having their musical horizons broadened by being exposed to something from outside their usual musical choices.

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