Audio streaming has now beaten video streaming – or put simply, Spotify means more to people than YouTube. Okay, that’s putting it very simply but that’s – basically – the news.
Record companies are only just cottoning on to YouTube, thinking video might help them sell audio. But audio is being taken for free – or for a monthly fee, where you don’t own a thing, you just take what you can get, pile it all up and churn through as much as you can.
This is where we’re at.
Record companies have been battling the internet for 20 years and still no plan.
Vinyl is the only physical medium showing an increase in sales.
So there’s a small faction of people fighting what they are sure must be the good fight. They’re rebelling against music-as-convenience, music-for-convenience and they are sitting down with music 20 minutes at a time. Interrupting their day to stand up and switch sides. Sitting down with a record as if it’s one side of a conversation or a book or a movie. Sitting down to nostalgia. That doesn’t make them right. Nor do they deserve to be written off as snobs.
Because you can have a record collection and a Spotify account. You can watch videos or simply use YouTube for audio and check out full concerts, whole albums or just bite-sized snatches. YouTube was the first place to go when Prince died. Suddenly you could hear all of the demo footage, the bootlegs and b-sides and those much talked about classic shows were there. As well as the album tracks and hit singles. All of it there with just a click. Takedown notices and muted audio had plagued Prince fans seeking his music online for years. And overnight it was all there. Almost all of it. More than anyone ever expected. More than any one person could ever wade through.
In all of this madness the cassette tape is this year’s vinyl – making the weirdest of comebacks, its inferior quality irrelevant: people are conditioned to listen to music through their phones, on their laptops, as an overheard conversation. There are dedicated cassette-tape labels. Its portability, its secret-club aspirations trumping concerns around actual sonics. Who cares about the production? Who cares about the representation of that production and whatever is lost in the mix? Gatekeepers are being shredded. It’s just another set of jobs…
It’s a weird world we live in – but none of that matters. What matters is the music.
Yesterday, without even planning this set of events, this schedule of sorts, I listened to one of my all-time favourite albums on a wobbly old popping-and-hissing vinyl that I bought for $1 some 20+ years ago. I then played a favourite brand new triple-LP set that cost $80.
After that it was to Spotify, to Bandcamp, to my iTunes for rips from CDs and downloads from authorised sites, to a bundle of tunes sent to me from a friend, and to the car to listen to mp3s on a stick-drive plugged into the cigarette lighter.
I listened to podcasts on my phone and I received a brand new tape in the mail. Some music DVDs too.
They’ll get an ear today hopefully.
As I hopped and skipped through all of this media across different mediums I never really stopped to think or care about the format. (I’m only doing that now).
These stories about what’s best and what’s winning and what’s making a comeback…
None of that has ever mattered. All that matters is the music. It doesn’t – really – matter how you’re hearing it. Unless that matters to you. And if so, fair play. That’s your call. Fill your boots. Have the best stereo in the world and the mint collection of original pressings. Or pump music into your house through Bluetooth, via $2 Shop headphones…
Either way it’s about how it makes you feel.
One of the best things I heard yesterday, over and over, was the brand new album by Tortoise. I will buy the vinyl because I’m a fan of the band and I do like artefacts. But for now the Mp3s coming at me through the headphones, through the laptop, through the wee Bluetooth speaker, in the car stereo, was enough.
One of the other best things I heard yesterday was a song a mate of mine wrote on the fly. He recorded it in his lounge on his phone and sent me a link to a demo-quality dirge. It was for my ears only. Which might be part of what I loved about it.
In the end it’s all just about seeking out a little sonic space to call your own – it only lasts for the duration of the album or the song. If you’re lucky you find a new space just as good or better next round.
All these platforms, all these options…you can dabble in all or any. Just find the time and make the soundtrack.