In the October 17 edition of the New York Times Magazine, in an article titled “Streaming Music Has Left Me Adrift,” Dan Brooks articulates what many of us who grew up with the long playing record album have long mourned, the passing of the era when consumers “owned” their own music collection based on a dedication of pursuing musical interests.
With the current ability to listen to just about anything ever recorded with merely an insignificant monetary monthly subscription (Brooks calls it “sharing the same record collection”), gone are the days when the music in our record collection could speak volumes about who we are, what we had in common with others, where we shopped, and what our commitment was to music.
In the early days of file sharing, I recall having a conversation with a young man of about 20 who boasted of having “over 10,000 songs” on his various devices of the time — a collection, he proudly proclaimed, that cost him “nothing.” While he was correct in saying that his “collection” cost him nothing, what it did cost him (and many others since) were the person-to-person experiences that led to connection and friendship routinely initiated in visits to the record store. “By making it perfectly easy to find new music, we’ve made it a little more difficult to find new people,” Brooks writes.
Are friendships still made over music? Obviously, the answer is yes, and sharing files and pointing friends to favorite songs is easier to accomplish now than in the days of the record store, but to what depths do these connections over music go? As Brooks writes; “Such connections are still possible even in this new world of abundant content. But have they become too possible — so possible…that they have lost meaning?”
Addressing how file sharing impacts our commitment to music, Brooks writes; “When getting into a band became as easy as typing its name into a search box, particular musical tastes lost their function as signifiers of commitment. What you listened to ceased to be a measure of how much you cared and became a mere list of what you liked.”
When I pointed Brooks’ column to my brother — like me, a record album junkie during the era of the record store — he responded to me by writing, “I am so grateful we were able to experience the pure joy of discovering, owning and savoring music and artists as we did. Who knew those simple pleasures would evaporate in our lifetimes?”
How we consume music in the future will continue to evolve, but, considering the rising demand for music on vinyl, it may even revert. This reversion could be coming out as a result of the audiophile’s demand for a more authentic sound, but it may also be possible a purchase of vinyl displays a commitment to music and our relationship to it mostly absent in the digital era. If so, maybe those “simple pleasures” my brother wrote of haven’t completely evaporated.