We share, play and listen online. We download and listen in an instant, carrying vast collections of albums in our pockets. What has been lost in the way we consume music in the social media age? Let me take you back to my childhood….
Music has always been huge in my life.
My dad, the original Papa Diva, is a self taught musician on the guitar and piano/keys. My brothers are all musicians – Matt is an Adobe Cold Fusion expert by day and an amazing singer and guitarist by night; Tim is an editor by day and multi-talented singer and guitarist, whilst Paul the baby bro is the drummer in Kill Casino. I play the violin and used to do the pub circuit in folk bands and the posh Cambridge circuit as a second violinist in a ball gown. Quite the opposite ends of the scale, both such fun. (I am rusty as a bag of old nails now, sadly but plan to get back on the bandwagon.)
My childhood was immersed in music – I was the coolest kid on the playschool block getting dropped off in the function band van (check me out, yo’), and the array of musician paraphernalia (amps, guitars, plectrums, sheet music) was always scattered around. When it came to music we chose to play in the house I adored those big, square, curious album sleeves. The musty, curious shelf of vinyl nestled at the bottom of the sideboard was a colourful horizon, a physical and tangible historical library of my parent’s musical tastes and their lives. Faces, colours, fashions. I loved the Steeleye Span cover with it’s optical illusion artwork, the Beatles staring at me in black and white overlooking a concrete balcony; ELO’s pop out cardboard creations and the illustrative work on the Gerry Rafferty’s Night Owl.
I loved it.
I can mentally browse that magical shelf of sounds as I picture a Mini Me sitting on the carpet,picking my way through those sleeves of tightly packed culture. The way the albums stuck together as I prized them apart to open up the inner sleeve, slide out the satisfyingly heavy record within, and blow away the dust accumulated on it’s surface. Oh, and emptying them all over the floor to play stepping stones. Sorry Mum – but hey, I have double trouble Mini Diva’s now so I must be getting payback karma on belongings demolition
From the shared music in the parental house of Rafferty, Steeleye Span, ELO, The Beatles, The Dubliners, Rod Stewart and the like I progressed to the teenage cocoon of The Bedroom. That magical, self developmental womb wherein the teenager needs to think, to read, to have space. To just be alone and find themselves, usually to a soundtrack of music. Here I began to amass my own collection of magical vinyl squares, an act of which was integral to my teenage life. My Mum had an amazing vintage 50′s Dansette record player from her youth, and I would sit upstairs playing all her singles on it, from Floyd Kramer to George Harrison, discovering a musical heritage as well as adding my own to the pile. In snuck The Smiths, The Cure, Suede, Hothouse Flowers, Massive Attack.
Listening to music meant the act of going out to buy it. Perusing in Parrot records in Cambridge or Reckless records in London on weekends; listening in HMV and deciding which of the life soundtracks would be mine that day. As my tastes developed and I explored music more, that enjoyment of discovering new stuff and the hunting of it when pocket money and part time wages allowed was an absolutely enormous part of life.
Melody Maker and NME were bibles. I read them, inhaled them and decorated folders with the band logos. To buy an album meant to know it through and through. You read the sleeve notes, recognised the artwork, memorised lyrics if they were printed on the inner sleeve; you held the object, loved it, listened to it and lived it. If I bought maybe 2 albums a month they would be played over and over and over until I intuitively knew the next song that would come; so much so that when I hear a song know from a much loved album when it ends I imagine the start of the next track. I am sure you know what I mean.
The artwork bought so much joy and it was easy to search for an album by the style. If you mention a key seminal album you think of the aesthetic; Nirvana’s Never Mind, Sergeant Pepper by The Beatles. We have lost that visual connection between art and music.
The way we consume music has changed so dramatically I can barely recognise the landscape. I chatted this over with Papa Diva Miles and one of my bro Tim over brews this weekend. The concept of Zane Lowe’s Masterpieces on Radio 1, which returns this week, has such an interesting and vital place in our culture because we so rarely now listen to a whole album, love it, connect with it, touch it, feel it and live it as we used to in the past. What Zane is doing to reconnect his audience with seminal albums is a genius idea, and I love the way that vox pops and commentary give context to the pieces of work.
So, how is the way we consume music different in the social media digital age? Since my first iPod 8 years ago music has been more accessible. The ability to download an entire album on my phone within minutes is just incredible, and a space age concept to the teenage me upstairs with that Dansette. We can share our tastes on Last Fm, Spotify and iTunes, discover new music by following lists of our friends and peers, and carry whole shelves of those dusty, musty album equivalents in one tiny device.
Do you still know the artwork which goes with your album? Do you still listen to an album in full, over and over and over; do you know who produced it, who the band would like to thank?
This act of tactile engagement with music is something my daughters won’t know. Even my younger sister, Faith will have a vastly different experience of her music compilation and consumption; 16 years junior to me (and still, therefore annoyingly young and beautiful;0), she was a child in the CD era, the stacks of plastic square boxes on the shelf age, when musical taste could be visually read like an index, a barometer of “you” displayed for anyone stepping into your space.
We can still share our idenity and musical tastes in the social media era by displaying our #nowplaying ear worm streams on our socal media sites, but the physical connection is lost. A binary code of music in cyber space will never, for me, have the same meaning of an album. The music will still impact my life and be a soundtrack to it, but the personal relationship with that piece of work just is not the same. My collection of CD’s pretty much stops in 2004, when MP3′s took over and my CD collection began to be cumbersome and space hungry. The soundtrack to my life from my early 20′s is still visual, but that of my late 20′s and 30′s so far is an online archive.
The love and dedication that went into pre-internet musical consumption was immense. Making a mix tape for a friend or love interest was a real undertaking; to press play/record at EXACTLY the same time and attempt to not to do a clunky needle drop. As a dedicated DJ time was the gift, and to curate personal streams of music was an act of creation and pure love.
Dragging and dropping in a playlist just isn’t the same.
You can’t email someone a playlist with anywhere near as much love and warmth as mix tape. The smudged writing on the slightly wonky inner adhesive labels you stuck on, the track list so lovingly transcribed, a personal note folded into the case of the cassette tape just slightly cracking the plastic as it closed. My besties and I have supposted each other’s rocky times in life with mix tapes, and of course whole relationships have been courted with King Crimson, Revolver and Ride in a lovingly prepared sequence.
In this day and age a tape doesnt get chewed. You would not go the to lengths I did to save my Radio 1 recording of Eric Clapton at the Albert Hall with the Royal Phil by dissecting spools of tape and splicing with sellotape. I am terrible at backing up all my music so my downloads often end up lost if (when) my Macs expire, but nothing is totally fatal – they can be re-downloaded in an instant. Not so my archives of mix tapes meeting their sad, slippery tape end despite multiple patch-ups of splicing.
To me, we consume music in the way we live our daily lives. Quickly, instantly, and on multiple platforms as we multi-task.
We share it, talk about it, but engage less with each purchase on an individual level.
This week I will be taking some time out with Zane to plug into some amazing pieces of work and listen. Really, really listen.
So what about you? Has your relationship with music changed in the digital age, or maybe you have never known any different.
Music – tell me how you eat yours.
Here is the last word from DJ Mia…