My Music Consumption

Nobody can argue that there is more music available to us now than ever before. As avid music fan and musician I thought I would take a look at how I’ve consumed music over the past few years.

Sound Quality

I guess we should start here. Sure I would prefer to have the best quality audio but it is not a deal breaker for me. In the 1950’s kids were still able to enjoy Elvis on transistor radios at low volumes through waves of static under their bedsheets. Neil Young is touting PONO as the answer but I do not see it taking off. People do not want to manage files and love the convenience of streaming; there is a reason Apple killed the iPod with the iPhone. Until we can stream audio at CD quality or greater, I do not see any changes to better sound quality for consumers.

Radio

I rarely listen to the radio for music anymore. College and independent stations are the only ones playing unique music and supporting their communities. Clear Channel stations run the same 50 songs into the ground day after day. Most days NPR is more engaging than hearing the same old thing for the millionth time. However, radio can still be magic. Your iPod is never going to surprise you. Independently owned Lightning 100 recently introduced the McCrary Sisters’ unbelievable version of “Blowin’ In The Wind”.

Vinyl Records

Dr. John's locked down came with an affordable pre-sale option that included the CD and Vinyl.

In high school my brother and I would buy vinyl records 3 for $1 to check out artists unknown to us; these days I do the same thing with used CDs. The last record I bought was Dr. John’s locked down and it is now hanging on my wall; I do not even own a working record player anymore! I would be willing to bet that the resurgence of vinyl records does not hinge on the analog sound or nostalgic romance. It has more to do with giving your attention back to music. Vinyl comes from an era where a record was enough to entertain and challenge. Records will undoubtedly always be around as an undercurrent format.

Cassettes

This is one format that nobody is missing. Indie bands are releasing albums on cassettes for novelty reasons and today’s high schoolers have no idea what they are. Gone are the days of taping songs of the radio and mix tapes.

Compact Disc

If an album is good and it is an artist I really like I’ll buy the CD; most times they are actually cheaper than MP3s and have better quality audio. As with a number of formats, listening to a CD can focus your attention on the music. ADD digital music listening on a computer or wifi device really kills the enjoyment of listening. Just putting on an album and letting it ride passively really lets your soak in the details and stop worrying about what is queued up next. Sometimes limitations can help you appreciate what you do have in ways you could not if you did have more options.

Digital Files

I still buy digital music files but only when I cannot get them anywhere else; as was the case when I recently bought St. Paul & The Broken Bones soul masterwork on Bandcamp. One major plus to digital music files is that they have brought us back to a singles market and liberated the consumer from purchasing disappointing albums just for one track. I used to rip all my new CDs to an external hard drive. Being able to sort through my iTunes library was awesome but a pain to stay on top of. When my hard drive failed I decided that there had to be a better way; Spotify?

Streaming

I remember the first time I thought “Why buy the CD if I can listen to it whenever I want on Spotify?” As a musician I nearly slapped myself! I now use Spotify to see if an album is worth purchasing. If it is good I support my favorite artists. Aside from that moral dilemma, how can you not love being able to sift through the history of recorded music? Like Netflix, Spotify works out deals with copyright holders. Just because it is there now doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow. There are definitely holes in their music catalog, but if you cannot find something new to listen to it truly is your own fault. As more and more people make the shift to streaming hopefully the royalty rates will get better for artists and thus increase the amount of content available to stream.

Social Listening

We’ve come a long way from when Steely Dan sang “Turn up The Eagles, the neighbors are listening.” Last.fm was one of the first to get online social listening down but Spotify has taken it to a whole notha level. On the plus side, it is easier than ever to share songs and check out what like minded music fans are diggin’ on. On the other side sometimes music is best observed alone. I once curiously listened to Busta Rhymes and Justin Bieber duet of “Little Drummer Boy” only to have it was posted shamefully on my facebook wall.

YouTube

From out of print records to archival recordings and performances YouTube may be the largest steaming music archive. After hearing Cat Power’s cover of “Aretha, Sing One For Me” I tried to track down the original by George Jackson. It is no longer in print or available digitally, but thankfully, somebody uploaded it to YouTube!

Conclusion

A better streaming experience is certainly the future however that does not mean that older formats do not still have a place within modern listener’s musical diet.

How long should music take?

It feels like I've been treading water and finally drifted to shore. It may very well be a desert island, but right now I feel relieved. Doing things "independently" does not really allow you to do it the traditional way; not that there is a tradition these days. You need to take the reigns, but also wait for the right opportunities. I think we'd all prefer just to say something and move on yet it's not that easy sometimes. Some of my favorite artists wrote, recorded and progressed at lightning speed; Dylan and Neil Young. While others polished their shoes for years before they finally put them on and even longer before they took them outside for a stroll; Steely Dan.

The past decade's business model has been to release an album and gradually release singles off of it despite the fact that it had been out three years. Tour on the record until the well runs dry and then start the whole process over again.

But now we are truly back to the sixties. It is a singles market. We no longer have to buy a whole album to have one good song. You need to release at least once year if you want to continue to have a voice, and it better be good.

I'm just glad to almost be there. In the end you need to take your time if you are going to do it right. Time is relative.