I’ve been thinking again. Uh-oh, you’re thinking. Here comes an uncomfortably right-wing tirade about the welfare state. Well, breathe easy. I’ve been thinking about the way I listen to, and store, my music collection.
Two articles published on the All Songs Considered were discussing different aspects of this issue – how the way we store, listen and think about our music collections in a changing, digital environment. The first is about the pioneering technologies surrounding the new ‘cloud’ method (storing everything online and accessing it from your various devices), and it’s here. The second is about piracy, and about how it affects the way you consider your music collection – and the way you interact with music, or audio products – it’s here. It’s something I’m pretty interested in, and it got me thinking about my own iTunes library.
So let’s start from the top: I have 7249 tracks, which amounts to 48.04GB; 19.7 days worth of music. That’s all stored in my iTunes library; if we count the audio stored in my growing podcast collection, and in various other places on my computer, there’s probably at least a few gigabytes more. Unlike the authors of either of the mentioned articles, I’m not a DJ or professional music journalist – this represents around eight years of incremental growth. Sure, producing Dauphin has thrown a lot more music my way but I’m pretty selective about who I let onto my iPod and, whilst I’ve begun listening to a lot more local (read Scottish) artists since I came to university, I have to an extent stopped looking out for new artists from further abroad. If I didn’t, my brain would just reach musical saturation, and like Dorian Gray coming to the end of his own novel, I might be tempted to stab and burn my hard drive and try to start from scratch.
But I’m also a member of a generation which is probably the last not to experience complete encapsulation by online media; musical downloads have only become the absolute norm in the last five or ten years and therefore there’s a good section of my music collection that still comes directly from CD’s. I still buy CD’s today, and my little vinyl collection will continue to grow, like a windowsill vegetable patch.
“I’ll miss the physical, the tangible, but that’s been feeling like a thing of the past anyway … I still miss liner notes, still wish digital would have more information to read while I’m listening and not sure why we haven’t all kicked up a bigger fuss about that.”
So whilst I can’t quite relate to that, I also don’t feel the same as Emily White, who says:
“I wish I could say I miss album packaging and liner notes and rue the decline in album sales the digital world has caused. But the truth is, I’ve never supported physical music as a consumer.”
In fact, I copy and burn most of my music collection to blank CD’s – partially via force of habit, but also because I still extensively use, and value my hi-fi stereo. I’ve had the old bird since I was about twelve and she’s in pretty good shape. For me, the true test of a record is that it doesn’t grind after a dozen repeat plays in the stereo.
What I’m trying to get across here, is that whilst I too have been “spoilt by the internet” for a long time now, I still value the physical object of an album, be it as a CD or double gatefold vinyl.
So let’s talk about piracy. White states that “…I didn’t illegally download (most) of my songs. A few are, admittedly, from a stint in the 5th grade with the file-sharing program Kazaa”. My collection reflects a similar degree of piracy – it was very tempting, and easy to do, when I was fifteen or sixteen – but these days I’m more careful about my computer’s freedom from viruses, and more mindful of the effects of piracy on the music industry. I don’t agree with the punitive and bullying way in which organisations like the RIAA attempt to ‘fight’ online media piracy, but it’s naive and silly to assume that downloading a copied file isn’t theft. It is, it is just of a more shadowy, indirect kind.
I think that the new territory that we’re gradually entering with things like the cloud offer some great possibilities for making music more social and more accessable. But I also feel that the flip-side of this – the loss of appreciation for the actual work that goes into producing a song or an album – that can result from having all of those thousands of tracks compressed into an iPhone or MP3 player – is precluding a wider cultural change that will change the way we interact with art and media in general.
Here’s the thing. I want the ephemera of the product as well as the sound waves. I want to be recommended and nudged towards great songs. I want practicality and accessibility. I want to pay for music; I appreciate the value of it, and I appreciate the need for artists to get paid. What most people aren’t okay with is the idea that Sony need to get paid as well.
My ideal music world – and I should stress, I am putting this out there as a listener and a consumer – would see the music industry as decentralised as possible. Labels like Song, By Toad and Gerry Loves Records actually provide me a direct service, by curating and producing the music I enjoy. And it’s brilliant that Soundcloud and Bandcamp are making it possible to bypass the A&R man, but I like a spoonful of selectivity in my coffee. A little elitism can work well, and arts journalism allows that to occur, whether through the medium of blogging, print, or podcast. And for the physical product, I’d love spaces like Avalanche and Piccadilly Records to stay alive. But, to paraphrase Franz Ferdinand, I don’t give a damn about the profits of HMV.