Jon Magidsohn considers how we get music today and what’s changed since we treasured record collections and copied cassette tapes.
The other day my twelve year old son told me he wanted some new music on his iPod.
‘Ok,’ I said. ‘If we have time today after school we can go online and buy some.’
My son smiled, shrugged and said, ‘It’s alright. I know where to get some.’
What was he talking about? Music or contraband? These days, it seems, there is little difference.
When I was twelve I had a nice, large tape deck in my room and I was free to go to the record store at the local mall to spend my allowance on cassettes of the music I’d carefully selected after many hours listening to the local top-forty radio station. I’d bring the purchase home, carefully unwrap the cellophane to remove the cassette with its factory smell, press play and scour the liner notes until the end of side two and that first listening was complete.
I would still buy records too if I thought I’d enjoy the packaging better on the larger format. I can still remember lying on the floor with those big, puffy headphones plugged into the family turntable, listening to Barry Gibb’s inimitable falsetto, the Saturday Night Fever double album open like a prayer-book as I explored the credits, lyrics and photographs. There are better examples but this was one of the earliest.
My son will never know what that’s like. He’ll never experience the leisurely pace of seeking out recordings of his favourite artists and may never have the patience to listen to an entire album at one sitting. I accept, difficult as it is, that this is due to the way music is now disseminated. Also as hard as I try, I may never get him to fully appreciate the music I grew up with. But that’s to be expected of any generation.
Most strikingly, my son doesn’t understand that purchasing music is not just a consumer’s prerogative, it’s also an artistic choice like going to the ballet or the Rothko exhibit or London’s West End (all of which my son has done). There is delight in deciding which cultural events you want to experience. Partaking in any artistic offering is the reward.
The major difference with buying music is that once purchased, the buyer takes some ownership of the product to treasure and grow with. There used to be things called record collections.
As Iggy Pop said in a recent speech at the UK’s Radio Festival, ‘Part of the process when you buy something from an artist, it’s kind of an anointing, you are giving that person love.’
Not to mention the fact that, if my son were to get his music illegally, his favourite artists will not be rewarded for their work. I can tell you, having sought out careers in music, theatre, furniture design and writing, no artist wants to do anything for free despite their desperation to be accepted. Would any other mainstream wage-earning worker willingly give their services away?
Iggy goes on to criticize those that make free music available to the undiscerning public by saying, ‘There are varying definitions of theft, but I know a conman when I see one. Is the thieving that big a deal? Ethically, yes, and it destroys people because it is a bad road you take.’
Theft is theft, full stop.
Mr Pop then slams U2 for giving music away, setting a bad precedent and for holding hands with the devil, AKA Apple.
I like U2. I’ve been a fan of their music since 1983. Sure, they don’t produce the same product they did thirty years ago but who does? They are still relevant, which seems to be an important criterion to music writers and fans alike. However, if that relevance includes changing the way people appreciate the palpable ownership of a music product, then I’m afraid I agree with Iggy on that one.
I’ve tried to instil the importance of this upon my son. But there is a new paradigm in play, one that I admittedly have a difficult time following. So how can I make my son a decent, honest, appreciative music-lover without sounding like an old fuddy-duddy?
My iPod is always with me, it should be noted. I like its portability and the luxury of having everything I want to listen to at my fingertips at any time. I love finding the song I want in seconds without having to fast-forward through twenty minutes of music first. But I, too, am losing some of my appreciation for the product of music. Because now there is more ‘product’ and less ‘music’. It has been homogenized just like the coveted gadgets we download it onto. Or jeans or fast food or flat screen TVs. Or anything else people might consider stealing.
So far, I think I’ve steered my son away from illegal downloads. But I can’t oversee his activities forever.
And then I remember … all of those blank tapes I recorded borrowed recordings onto in my youth. Dozens, maybe hundreds of them. Innocently assumed right out from under the artists’ unsuspecting, cocaine-powdered noses. The hours I must have spent copying records, cassettes and CDs in real time so that I could save my allowance for other things like … I don’t know … food, clothes, girls.
But that wasn’t stealing. Was it?
Photo: Maria Casacalenda/Flickr
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