How Tech Has Changed The Way We Listen: Ownership
“When I used to make mix tapes, I would make the track lists by hand. I had notebooks full of my mix tape track lists, with notes about what I was trying to accomplish with them. And making them would take hours and hours.”
The increased portability of music is, in the end, all about a shift in power. It’s about ownership and about scarcity. The easier it gets to access music, the less we perceive the creator as the owner. Sure, we can talk about the authority of the artist and our respect for his or her creation, but that’s just so much philosophy. But for the most staunch purists out there, we’re all more than willing to drag, drop, recombine, edit, skip, shuffle and redistribute music as we see fit.
But haven’t we always?
It’s easy to make the argument that a new format tramples on the purity of the art of music, but that’s really just a matter of perspective. A vinyl LP may be more “pure” than, say, the compact disc because it comparatively limits a listener’s ability to alter the flow of the album, but it doesn’t completely prohibit alteration. The listener can still lift the needle, still start on the B-side, still memorize the exact point where a particular track starts and repeat it manually.
“Radio was more magical, too. DJs were live on the air (unlike the voicetracked shows that are all the norm now), and so there was an immediacy to the listening experience.”
Yeah. What about freakin’ radio? Talk about trampling on musical purity. Why, with radio a DJ can just pluck a song off a complete album, play it regardless of where it comes up in the track list and the context that provides, introduce it with his or her own twist on the experience… hell, you might even dial to the station in the middle of the song. Pssh. Radio.
“Technology has allowed us to basically bathe in whatever mass media we choose, 24 hours a day — but that can’t help but make us a little numb to it in the end. That’s the source of the disconnect so many of us are talking about in this thread, I think. No matter how precious music is to you, it can’t help but lose some of its value when it’s so easily accessible.”
That’s the trade-off, isn’t it? Technology has made music infinitely more accessible and ubiquitous, but that ubiquity has resulted in some acclimatization. Back in the most pure days of music, before any form of recording at all, it was a 100% live experience. To hear music, one had to listen to another person making music in the moment. There’s nothing purer than that. This also lacks the perfection of the studio or the democracy of mass distribution. It may be harder to make music sacred in an era when music is everywhere, but let’s repeat that little phrase…
Isn’t that some kind of holy dream? Think about it: We are living in a time and place where music, the art that moves all blessed with the auditory sense to every emotion in the human spectrum, is all around. Is a loss of purity and a relinquishing of sole ownership a fair price to pay for this living dream? Is it better to let people bathe in music whenever they desire, using it to do whatever they want it to do, than to insist on purity for purity’s sake?
Music has lost its rarity and so the value of owning it has diminished. The same thing happened to apples. Something can be rare and special or ubiquitous and of negligible value. In the end, the only way to keep music meaningful in a world where it can be plucked out of the ether at a moment’s notice is to assign it the idiosyncratic value of things like personalized mixes. The listener must take originally undue ownership of music from the artist, tarnishing its purity, to distinguish it from the infinite ocean of noise.