Listening to music isn’t what it used to be, and that’s okay with me

From time-to-time I write about streaming music and physical media vs. media “in the cloud.” So I’m trying to avoid writing something here that I’ve written about before. So please pardon any redundancy.

Time has just run an online piece headlined “Everything you need to know about Spotify,” that may not actually contain everything you need to know about Spotify, but does contain some valuable information. The part that I find most compelling is that “According to neuroscientist, musician, and author Daniel J. Levitin, musical tastes begin forming at 14 and peak at 24, which means if you’re older than that, the new sound is total garbage. Perhaps that’s why you can’t name the latest Pearl Jam album, even though you waited for hours to buy ‘Vs.’ at a record store in 1993.”

I guess I don’t quite fit the mold. I’m 45 and still enjoy listening to the new stuff and discovering new artists. I am not as attached to the music I grew up with as other listeners my age. That’s why I enjoy “free music Tuesday” on iTunes, because it gives me the chance to sample new music by current artists, and I have discovered a small legion of contemporary artists who are worth listening to and exploring further.

Aside from the music itself is the actual process of the listening. When I began listening to music as a teenager in the 1980’s, it was via the LP and cassette. I preferred vinyl because it sounded better and was more durable than cassettes, even though cassettes were portable and allowed you to listen in your car or while carrying devices such as the “Walkman.” But vinyl went out of fashion as the 1980’s drew to a close, and the same thing happened to cassettes less than a decade later as we completely switched over to CD’s.

But CD’s were slowly replaced by .mp3’s, which was a big jump, because we suddenly went from music that took up physical space to that which doesn’t. So .mp3’s was the end of the line as far as music evolution, right? Wrong. Now we have streaming music services, such as Spotify, Pandora, and Beats. This represented another giant leap, because streaming music replaces one thing that LP’s, cassettes, CD’s, and .mp3’s all have in common: ownership. Now, we no longer own the music we listen to. I don’t have a problem with this, because I pay $10 a month to listen to whatever I want to listen to and whenever I want to listen to it. I can even download the music to my iPhone/iPad, but I don’t own it. I spend less money streaming than I did back when I bought the music I listen to, and I have access to far more music than I ever have. So how could I not be a fan?

Another significant change to the listening process is the hardware. We don’t buy stereos any longer. It used to be that to listen to your music, you had to own a turntable and a set of speakers, or a cassette deck, or a CD player, and if you were really sophisticated, an equalizer. Now you just need a smartphone/tablet and a set of bluetooth speakers. Our “stereos” are portable now. They go wherever we do, but they aren’t any cheaper considering the cost of smartphones and tablets.

The evolution of technology fascinates me, and so does the evolution of listening to music. I have lived a good part of that evolution, watching as one predominant form of technology has overtaken another, usually about once per decade. Gone is the record store (or at least greatly diminished). Gone is the boom box. Gone is the Walkman. And going fast is the iPod and .mp3 player. Gone is every form of music that we thought was here to stay, except music streaming. So now the question is, what is going to replace music streaming? Or is music streaming the technology that is here to stay?


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