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.


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.


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?


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.” 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.


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!


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.

Earl Scruggs at the Ryman Auditorium

First off, I must say that the Ryman Bluegrass Night concert series is an unbelievable value; $26 to see honest music at an intimate venue. You really can't beat it! The opener, Sarah Jarosz, was a pleasant surprise. I was prepared for your standard singer/songwriter fare until she kicked it off by playing two songs on banjo and then proceeded to jump back and forth between guitar and mandolin. Her originals were pretty good, but it was her instrumental that really brought the house down. Up until that point there were only hints that she was an accomplished musician capable of ripping crazy arpeggio runs. Aside from her originals she also picked some great covers; Bob Dylan's "Ring Them Bells", Patty Griffin's "Long Ride Home" and fittingly for the Ryman "Blue Moon of Kentucky". All this at 19!

As a precursor to the show I watched a 1972 documentary on Earl Scruggs via Netflix; Earl Scruggs: Bluegrass Legend: Family & Friends. I was hoping for a life story, but it mainly focussed on his attempts to move beyond bluegrass. Much like many of today's documentaries it relied on support from pop stars of the day; Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn. The oddest moment occured when Earl and his son Randy "jammed" with a Moog Synthesizer! It was amazing seeing him play with his two sons in 1972 and then move ahead 38 years later doing just that. They even played a few of the same tunes! Just the day before Randy had been flirting with Joan Baez as an awkward teen, the next he is an aged man playing the Ryman with his elderly father. It was a fake nostalgic moment.

Much like B.B. these days, Earl sat down the entire show. He let his son and bassist, Gary, do all the talking but he still had the umph to kick off every tune with a stampede of banjo flourishes. His timing was rather liberal but he always seemed to realize his mistakes and account for them. For the most part his band carried the weight with Earl providing fills and comping. There were a few odd endings and lost changes but that's what we all expected right? At 86 how can you possibly have the dexterity you had in your early age?

This begs the question how much do you go for the music and how much is it respecting a true music legend for his past achievements? You have to respect the artists that won't exploit legendary status; Robert Plant nixing the Zep tour. On the other hand, as long as it is coming from an honest place, you have to respect the passion of someone who wants to keep playing because that is all they've known and could very well be the thing keeping them going.

From where we were sitting we had a full view of the side stage. For the first half of the show Emmylou Harris sat watching in the shadows until being called upon to sing the Carter Family classic "Keep On The Sunny Side". She joked about having "over 60 disease" and used that as an excuse to read the lyrics off a piece of paper. It seemed as if she was holding on for dear life during the verses until reaching the unforgettable chorus. On the next tune when she strapped on her Gibson jumbo and while more at ease and proved that you can still sound great in your 60's.

The next guest was Vince Gill. Unlike Harris' understated and respectful stage persona, Gill tends to take over the show when he sits in; such was the case when I saw him with the Time Jumpers at The Station Inn. It isn't a malicious thing, the man just loves to play and is infectious. He told a poignant story of his own father cursing Scruggs as he struggled to master the Scruggs banjo style. This was followed by a song about just that, during which Gill gave Earl two solos. No other song that night had Scruggs soloing as much. Gill let Scruggs shine because that was why we all were there.

MC, Eddie Stubbs was the unsung hero of the night. His introduction for Scruggs expertly summed up the legendary figure. Stubbs' knowledge of country music is profound and proves that just because you can become an instant expert on something via wikipedia doesn't mean that you know how to piece it all together. Perhaps his best addition to the night was in trying to coax an encore from Scruggs. After the last number everybody stood applauding. Stubs looked over at the production manager who offstage was signaling furiously to end the show. This went on for a good two minutes until Stubbs expressed that the show was indeed over. In extending the applause, it was as if he was giving a man who first turned so many heads at the Ryman a glorious send off.