There’s no need to go back and dig up / beat the dead horse that is the “audiophile superiority complex” and get into proclaiming a love (or by contrast, a hate) for the excessive expense of “quality” listening devices. (a.k.a stereos/headphones/sub-woofers, etc.) Heawood, nevertheless, starts down this horse-beating path when she unfolds her narrative in the second paragraph with,
“I have got rid of all my CDs, all my records, all my tapes. I even wiped my hard drive, leaving nothing on my iTunes. …the digital age was starting to offer freedom from all this clutter, so when my career changed, and I moved house a couple of times in rapid succession, I decided it had to go. I would be free! I would stream music from the internet as the mood took me!”
That’s all well and good. Plenty of people have taken to embracing the convenience of music in the digital space for this and analogous reasoning. So is it that she herself is reflecting on the range of behaviors one can choose to exhibit with their music collection? It certainly seems that way, given that things start out with this extreme but solidified affirmation of her new “all-streaming” position, only to see a midway point of creeping dissatisfaction and then an eventual resolution steeped in longing for the old-school tech of a large stereo that invaded a dream she narrated at the very beginning…
Well, I’m not here to talk about which method of collecting / transient listening is better or should be preferred. Yes, I passionately enjoy purchasing physical mediums of music. However, I own an iPod, take it with me everywhere and yes, I even own a pair of cheap earbuds, though I refuse to crank up the volume to get “my fix” because I want to keep my hearing reasonably into old age.
What struck my nerve of inspiration, is the very fact that there ARE so many different ways people choose to have a relationship with music. One can go from the most tangible to the most transient and if that makes them happy, that’s what matters; at least where the aspect of an individual’s positive musical experience is concerned. So without going into data on wavelengths or ohms or the omnipresence of compression, let’s agree to the existence of this “medium spectrum.” Going beyond that to anger, and, even worse, demanding that songs be cut to a specific standard is pointless.
This is becausethe only people that will stick to one mode, regardless of what end of the spectrum that mode stands on, are the extreme outliers. Those people are hardly what anyone would call a common majority, let alone people that could ever represent musical ubiquity, aside from perhaps a desire for ubiquity in the method of their preference. As my mother will sometimes say during another’s session of whiny, self-pity, “Wish in one hand and crap in the other. See which one fills up first.”
In coming to this realization and now seeing it stirred up through Ms. Heawood’s article, I stop to both wonder about, as well as admit to something. First the contemplation and question for you all:
Does the true future of music’s sustainment reside in personal experiences and individual emotions, more so than any other facet of the music making process?
By this I am asking if anyone believes there is a (relatively) untapped reserve of momentum and energy the music industry could be hitting upon if we focused it on the commonality of people’s experiences with music rather than how they experience music. In other words, getting back to basics. If we highlight things everyone has in common, (e.g. We all listen to music, there are songs we like and songs we don’t,) as macro as these concepts might be, such a respite from nitpicking nuances could be the first step in a whole industry shifting mindset -something I’m not presuming would happen right away, but could.
“But Kira, the very nature of focusing on “personal experiences” inevitably involves things like “The Great Audio Quality Debate” because quality is part of my ideal personal experience and subsequently affects my emotions!”
To this hypothetical but very plausible argument, I redirect back to the other word in my large-fonted question: emotion. Fine, yes, for some, the reason they have positive emotional experiences with music is due in part to using a specific medium. Others though, don’t necessarily need or want that same medium in order to achieve the same end result of “Hey, listening to this song makes me happy.” They might reach that same general endpoint by flicking on their radio or docking up their iPod or clicking on their Sirius XM to find that song. Whether hi-fi, lo-fi or static-ridden, so long as you’re up, dancing or singing along in shameless celebration, listening to a composition is a win for music as a field because you the listener are partaking in it. (Excessive illegal downloaders/plagiarizers and other assorted rip offs notwithstanding)
Heawood goes on to reference the “artist Michael Landy, who [publicly] destroyed all his worldly goods in 2001” and analyzes whether she unconsciously might have done this same type of thing, purposely, to make a “dramatic gesture.” Does it matter? Other than the fact that one could frame Landy’s actions as a cool form of art unto itself, is there a need to declare one’s stance on the spectrum -particularly with such excessive force? Does the music business need to keep folding in upon itself in spurts, with groups of people trying to establish themselves above the rest? Perhaps the business and profitability of the music industry would flourish in a more “cruise control” manner of stability if it stopped thinking like a business; stopped surveying “niches to be filled with new X service” and instead positioned itself as, “A business that just wants to make anyone happy using the songs people like, no matter what medium they love.”
The reasons we come to love or hate a song, avoid it like the plague or have it on repeat until it invades our subconscious, are myriad. However, the song itself is the key to igniting those feelings and maybe, that’s what the business has to get back to. Get back to the MUSIC ITSELF WITHOUT JUDGEMENT. Music with no judgement fits as a support to alleviate so many barriers and tensions of the field that I cannot believe (ironically) that no business has exploited the concept yet.
I know this idea has promise because even though I stand on the physical side of the medium spectrum, I don’t want it to take over my life to the point of causing me distress and a need to obliterate my possessions. If all I could do was listen to music and not own it but
the music made me feel something, was written / played by people that made me feel something and was only obtainable through temporary situations, then I would gladly embrace those opportunities and do so without getting all bent out of shape that there was no CD or vinyl for me to commemorate and permanently solidify the occasion.
The experience would be just as intangible as a streaming session online but would provide the same easily revisited emotion, even if the experience itself is not. Is it possible for the music industry to get a handle on this mentality without exploiting it to the point where it just becomes another competing option? Or is it impossible, given the innate nature of business overall?