I’ve been writing a lot about how recent technology has changed almost everything about music lately. I’ve talked about how it has affected the radio, how it has affected the major record labels and how it has affected bands. This week it’s all about how it has affected the listener, or, more specifically, the listening experience.
Record labels insist that copying songs is killing the music industry. I’m not talking about file sharing and illegal downloads—I’m talking about making a mix tape. The recording industry complaining about people not paying for their music is nothing new. As far back as 1980 the record companies were already complaining that homemade tapes would be the end of the music business. There was even a logo to go with it and many records released after 1980 came with the logo in the bottom corner warning the owner that “Home taping is killing music and it’s illegal.”
Until the invention of the cassette tape, compilations were rare. It was possible to buy them on record, but they were mainly collections from one record label or possibly the local radio station. If you wanted a wider selection of songs, movie soundtracks were pretty much the only option, and because of it, soundtracks used to be very popular. In fact, a quick Wikipedia search told me that three of the top ten highest-selling albums of all time are movie soundtracks. (The Bodyguard, Dirty Dancing and Saturday Night Fever.) However, once the cassette tape was widely available, people started to make their own mix tapes.
That was essentially the beginning of the iPod, or at least the idea. Technology has only made it easier. Older readers will fondly remember Napster, Limewire, Kazaa and the countless other file sharing sites of 10 years ago. All it took was a few clicks and you were on your way to making your own mix CDs, and the recording industry hated it. Every song downloaded is one less purchase, they argued. I’m not even going to touch that statement right now because it opens up many arguments from both sides, and a discussion that is still going on today.
Now that we’re caught up on the history lesson, the point I was getting to was that in this age of single-song downloads, music in general and the idea of an album as a whole in particular, are less important than ever. And that’s really too bad. When was the last time you bought or downloaded a complete album? When was the last time you listened to an album from beginning to end? When was the last time you sat down to listen to an album, or any music, without doing anything else? People always say that our generation has a short attention span because we can’t go five minutes without texting, Tweeting, Facebooking and whatever else it is we do all day.
For a lot of people, music has become a background noise for multiple other activities. We’re all guilty of this to some degree. You deserve better. Your music deserves better. Next time you have some free time, pick out your favourite album or artist, put the computer and phone away, and just listen. You might discover things you never noticed before. I know I still do.