I’ve been thinking a lot lately — ever since I started this blog and began seriously reengaging with music, in fact — about the whole of experience of listening to music.
Growing up, music was always a social experience. You got an album, you went to someone’s house, and anywhere between two and twenty people would cram into someone’s bedroom and listen to said album. People would talk, smoke, pash, play chess, read a book, read a magazine, or engage in any other number of activities at the same time — including just listening to the music and poring over the liner notes — and the music would just seep into our collective unconscious, passively and actively absorbed like the smoke in the room.
Do people still do this? Do those who grew up when that sort of thing was normal still do it with their friends now that they have hit middle age? Do kids?
The general theory is that listening to music is now a much more individual experience, at least on one level.
The album has been replaced by the downloadable song as the primary unit of music, and the delivery system isn’t some sort of stereo in someone’s room listened to by the many, but an individual player delivered straight into the individual’s ears.
But of course, that isn’t quite right. Or at least, it doesn’t mean that music has necessarily become a more selfish, individual experience.
Music would cease to be without it social aspects and so live concerts have never been more popular (and therefore more expensive) and there are a whole range of ways in which people share music with each other, despite the best (and most stupid, counterproductive) efforts of music distributors.
It is hardly surprising that social media networks like Facebook and MySpace have come into their own at around the same time that people moved away from the bedroom stereo and into the individual earplug.
Anyway, I’m just curious about how others listen to music these days and how — amongst what I’m figuring is the older Crikey demographic — that has changed since you were all teenagers. It’s something I’m going to chew over from time to time on here and this piece was prompted by a couple of articles on new developments in music technology.
Spotify is a music streaming site that is apparently about to get its own iPhone app and that some are touting as the future and saviour of music.
The idea is that instead of buying CDs or downloading songs, you will pay a monthly subscription and have access to millions of songs through whatever device you like. The Wired article I link to raves about it, though I’m far from convinced that this is the way to go. (There’s more positive things about it in this piece.)
The other article I wanted to mention is more specifically about reinventing the album as a shared musical experience:
Apple is working with the four largest record labels to stimulate digital sales of albums by bundling a new interactive booklet, sleeve notes and other interactive features with music downloads, in a move it hopes will change buying trends on its online iTunes store.
Physical album sales have fallen sharply as music retailing has evolved from CD album purchases in retail outlets to digital downloads of songs from online stores.
Although consumers continue to purchase large amounts of digital music, they are buying individual tracks rather than higher-margin albums.
Apple is working with EMI, Sony Music, Warner Music and Universal Music Group, on a project the company has codenamed “Cocktail”, according to four people familiar with the situation.
The labels and Apple are working towards a September launch date for the project, which aims to boost interest in albums by bundling liner notes and video clips with the music.
“It’s all about re-creating the heyday of the album when you would sit around with your friends looking at the artwork, while you listened to the music,” said one executive familiar with the plans.
Consumers would be able to play songs directly from the interactive book without clicking back into Apple’s iTunes software, executives said.
“It’s not just a bunch of PDFs,” said one executive. “There’s real engagement with the ancillary stuff.”
Again, I’m not totally convinced that this is the way to go or that it will have the desired effect — will those who have grown up in the iPod era embrace a way of listening to music they have never known? isn’t this just the sort of idea that is being driven by a perceived economic advantage to the producers rather than by any particular demand by the consumer? — but it is interesting to see these being mooted and experimented with.
Anyway, this is just some unorganised thoughts on the topic. There’ll be more as we go along…