Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The tunes, they are changing...

I'm currently listening to Jay Z's 2001 masterpiece of an album The Blueprint. I don't actually own the full album- I'm streaming it from a website called lala which allows me to listen to almost anything I want, for free. No wonder the record industry, like the newspaper one, is dying. Yet, it has never been easier to listen to a variety of music and discover new artists and sounds than today, just with a google search. If I wanted to listen to yemeni folk music (like my roommate sometimes does) I could do it in a second and if I wanted to listen to amateur covers of John Mayer (shoot me now) I could watch the fools on youtube do that too.

Consider the following:
10 years ago we didn't have Itunes, the ipod (or at least not everyone had one), streaming music, downloads of singles. When you wanted to hear a song you had to wait for it to come on the radio or TV or get a friend to burn it for you- now we just google it on youtube and its always there to send and share via a quick link copy-pasted. We still had music videos on MTV and when you wanted to buy an album- you got to go to a store and buy the whole thing. We didn't have the ability to carry around thousands of songs in a device the size of a cigarette pack.

It's incredible when you think about it, isn't it? Well, i'm not the only person doing this kind of pondering. As the decade draws to a close (less than 20 days people), a lot of this collective reflection is bound to happen and is already coming out. I've been listening to and reading some really interesting pieces on the transformation of music in the 'aughts' (what are we going to call the next decade? I plump for the 20-somethings). When you reflect on it the 'aughts' completely revolutionized how we listen to, buy, share and experience music (I'm talking mostly about pop music here).

NPR's All songs considered (a show that I like to make fun of for its pretentiousness and predictably obscure indie sensibility but that I neverthless respect for its erudition) did a great show on just this topic called the Decade in Music. Their focus was primarily on the impact of technology and the way our relationship to music has changed thanks to the internet and the ipod. Slate's Cultural Gabfest also did a segment on how music has changed- but their focus was more on the kind of musician that exemplifies the aughts. For them this is the era of women pop stars (Beyonce and Britney being the queens but also others such as Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift etc exemplify this trend). interestingly they say that even male stars like JT or Kanye fit with this feminization of music. These men are not making macho and MALE music - gone are big rock anthems or grungy sensibilities. JM of course typifies this, as fans and detractors alike would note.

The main themes that came out of it were as follows:

Technology - basically the ipod and itunes- (and with it the isolation of listening to music)- its true, I look forward to walking to school alone so I can listen to my ipod and sometimes when I run into someone I know a part of me feels a twinge of irritation at having to switch my ipod off. Sad but true. (I don't mean you of course, I mean other people.)

The revival of the single/the death of the album- Again holds true for me. The last album I bought was Battle Studies but before that I can't think of a full album that I actually bought. But then, I've always been into picking and choosing songs.

Downloading music versus buying it physically or even paying for it- I tend to pay for my music because I like supporting artists but hey, I'll cop to the occasional dicey download. This also has resulted in a dramatic change in what a best selling album means- Michael Jackson sold 40 million copies of Thriller whereas a No. 1 Album today would sell a couple of million cd's.

Fragmented taste
s - it's never been easier to find music you like and share with a select group of people but this means there are fewer truly widely shared artists- hence the nostalgia for MJ earlier this year.

I would add to this one more thing- the instant availability of music and the expectation of instant access. No longer do you have to wait for an album to come out or make the trip to a store to buy it. It leaks even before you can avert your eyes (or ears if they can be averted). Songs are instantly available and what's more you can tell the artist- via twitter or something - just what you thought about it. What are we losing in the process of such instant access? Perhaps a sense of appreciation of what goes into the creation of music? The wonder of it all?

Also, as one of the discussion points said, and this fascinated me- you can indulge every nostalgic moment you have immediately. No songs are ever just lost or gone- they're on youtube. Hell, you can even use your phone to identify a snatch of a tune that's stuck in your head or playing in a grocery store. Kind of great, but also sort of sad...

Of course it's not inevitable - Heather was telling me that she still listens to albums, doesn't use her ipod in public etc. But I have a feeling she's a rarity. It is interesting to see how much of what I take utterly for granted now is really quite new and to think that even someone as comparatively low-tech as me does all these things in a blink of an eye. And it feels like I've always done it this way.


What changes have you experienced when it comes to music? Do tell...

p.s. Later this month I will discuss and set up my best of the decade contest- so more musical musings are coming and there are sure to be embarrassing revelations like just how many times I have listened to that n'sync song!

1 comment:

The Diplomat's Daughter said...

Hmm...I think the point about the 'feminization' of male stars is interesting...its so obvious but I'd never thought of it that way. Perhaps we all do take change for granted!
Of course, I still haven't graduated from my old white shuffle...but hey, it works just as well and I like the music on it! I get overwhelmed with all of these changes - kudos to you for keeping up with them.