Listening to music
Over the last few months I’ve been thinking and reading about how today’s music fans listen to, or to put it in modern corporate speak, ‘consume’ their music and how it’s going to continue to change and develop in the future.
Although change seems to happen faster today, let’s remember that change is nothing new. When I look back at all of the changes that have occurred in my own lifetime in music – I got into music as a teenager in the 70s growing up in a town on the north east coast of England. I used to jump on the bus and go to one of my home town’s record shops (we had 6, including a wonderful second hand store) to buy the LP and/or 45 of my choice, get the bus home and settle down excitedly in front of my record player in my bedroom and immerse myself in the music. The whole experience – studying the cover artwork , including the credits and the lyrics if included of course!
Then cassettes came in, then ghetto blasters and the Walkman made music portable and listenable anywhere. Cassette players appeared in cars too. Replacing radio only or possibly, 8-track. Then came the bright shiny digital future in the form of the CD, then the Discman (CD’s version of the Walkman) made the CD portable too. CD players replaced cassettes in car too. Then came downloads and MP3s via the then new wonder, the Worldwide web! Internet music was available both to buy and also shared freely on certain sites! MP3 players and iPods developed into Smart phones, tablets and iPhones/Pads. All of which can now be linked into your car’s audio system too. Large home PCs are giving way to laptops and books. Most recently, we’ve seen the growth in streaming across all digital media too.
I’ve followed and used most of these formats and platforms at one time or another (except for free file sharing, because as a partner in a very small record label since 1991 I always viewed this as stealing from primarily the artist) but if asked to state my own personal favourite way of listening/consuming music now, even though I run an aggregation company (via this very website!) distributing music digitally to every major download and streaming site across the world, I’d have to say that my very favourite way is still listening to vinyl on my living room music system. For me, it’s the whole experience – the smell of the vinyl (give it a try) and also the afore mentioned larger cover art – gatefold sleeve (if you are lucky!), lyrics and credits etc.
Sure, a big factor in my choice is my age and personal history, combined with the frustration of my total love of and obsession with music but not been gifted musically, and, a love of, and interest in, graphic art and design through my art college ventures! To me, listening to music properly is an event or experience, an art form to be savoured and enjoyed! That my choice – my preference. But, I still use Spotify when I’m working on my iMac (like now – currently Genesis, “Selling England By The Pound” if you’re interested) and when I’m in the car I use my iPod which I load up with music from my iTunes library. And I own loads of CDs too! I use whatever method is easiest and most convenient for the time and circumstance
The long and short of it is that there is a wide choice of how people can listen to or consume their music. From the now resurgent vinyl format to the ever expanding streaming. From Record players through to smart phones, tablets, PCs and TVs. And that’s not forgetting areas I’ve not even mentioned like the changes within the world of radio, including internet radio, and broadcasting and also the likes of YouTube. Whatever, each and every music fan and listener will choose the format and/or platform that suits them and their lifestyle.
Artists can also choose the formats and platforms they prefer to utilise and use and, should they wish to do so, also think about what their fans might prefer too. As some very general and sweeping examples, if you are an artist or band producing songs aimed at the pop charts then the vast proportion of your potential fan base are probably going to be listening to their music via streaming on their smart phones and tablets and possibly downloading too. This is their ‘norm’, what they are comfortable with, used too and want to use. If you are an artist or band playing classic music genres, such as Motown, soul, jazz etc, then the chance is the majority of your audience will be older (my age!) and may well be buying CDs (especially at gigs) and possibly vinyl, or downloading tracks from the likes of iTunes and Amazon etc. Of course, these are big generalisations but I’m sure you get my drift.
No platform or format is wrong (as long as it’s legal!). Platforms or formats are different. And yes, there are differing levels of returns for the writer, artist and labels from these different platforms and formats.
But if you are working within the music industry then you need to look at ALL of the options available to you in making your music available to your potential fans and listeners. There is a tendency with some people to spend their time commenting on how much better the ‘old days’ where and not wanting to understand, learn about and embrace the newer formats (which we do all know and realise tend to return much less per song compared to existing and older formats). Things are not going to go backwards, so we need to look at the whole, bigger picture and be more realistic, resourceful and think about how we can all best embrace and work with and within the multiple format opportunities and outlets that are available to the music listening world now.
Things change. That’s an unavoidable fact. But let’s not forget, despite what the media might keep telling us, that there is a vast audience of music fans out there and they all listen to or consume their music in different ways. The ways they like, prefer or are most comfortable with for themselves – from vinyl to streaming – and everything in between.
Long live choice! … and vinyl!