Friday, August 26, 2011

Commentary: How music subscription services have changed my listening habits

I own over 1500 CD's. Since proudly showing my collection of 10 CD's off in show and tell during the 3rd grade, til my arrival in LA last year where I would spend about 75 dollars on music monthly, the CD has been my ultimate favorite past time. The whole anticipation of eagerly unwrapping the cellophane, the disappointment or surprise of the album booklet, and the mere listening to something new for the first time brought me so much joy. Weekly trips with my dad to Circuit City (RIP) to purchase those 2 albums for $13.99 apiece was my absolute favorite way to spend my free time. When Napster pretty much fucked the music industry back in 2000, I dabbled with it but dismissed it. The actual tangible album- the artwork, the lyrics- the whole package was essentially a part of the music itself.

Then Rhapsody happened. All the music in the world (aside from unofficial releases) available to me on my computer and my iPhone for a mere 9.99- the cost of a CD? I had to go for it... and... it is to my great disbelief and sorrow that I have yet to purchase a physical compact disc this year. The moment I realized my listening habits had changed was when I went to Amoeba Music and held PJ Harvey's "Let England Shake" in my hands for a good two minutes, deciding to buy it or not. I ultimately put it back, considering I had complete access to it on Rhapsody. I realized I had now contributed to a completely unfortunate trend- the ultimate decline of the tangible album.

For the first time, as soon as a song popped into my head, I could look for it on my phone and have it within access in 5 seconds. It blew my mind that I had immediate access to TLC's "Creep" and Ne-Yo's "Because of You", two of my favorite top 40 songs ever, within a few heartbeats. A song can appear on the radio that reminds you of that other song you absolutely love- and you're playing it in the car full blast 10 seconds later.

That being said, I feel that my music attention span has truly become a bit shorter. I've unconsciously started to gravitate towards music that is instantly gratifying to me. While I have a completely open mind about all types of music, and have found albums I love pretty much in all genres other than world or death metal, rhythm is the ultimate ear worm for me. I love percussion, bass... just the whole rhythmic aspect to songs. Given that, it seems almost alarming to me that the only album's I've given a whole lot of attention to this year are electronic and hip hop acts.

Not to say I don't love down-tempo stuff. I'm obsessed with psych folk, indie rock, and the classic artists as well. It's just interesting that Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, two of my absolute favorite indie acts that released superb sophomore albums this summer to much avail, have taken a backseat to Odd Future, The Weeknd, Junior Boys, and Hercules & Love Affair. In any other music period, I would have never purchased an album by Lloyd. But because I was intrigued by his first 2 singles off the album, I downloaded the whole thing and it unexpectedly became the soundtrack for my summer. (I still highly recommend "King of Hearts"!!!)

Just like the general public, I feel that the immediate access and instant gratification from these subscription services have immediately served what we, in point... instantly gratify ourselves with. Even for me, the concept of hating the song the first time but letting it grow on you is still completely legitimate- it just seems that I'm less willing at this time to put forth the effort.

During my glorified wonderful awesome (insert any other positive adjective here) conversation with Nigel Godrich- I told him that I hadn't heard Radiohead's new album, "The King of Limbs", entirely yet. He didn't have good things to say about it- stating that it's killing the music industry. Apparently, it's an attempt for major labels to collect revenue on catalog releases while in turn sacrificing a bit of revenue for current releases. The whole business model makes sense- the music industry is desperate for cash, and will do anything for it.

It's just odd, because now you can listen to any album in one listen, not like it, and move on. You didn't fork over 15 bucks for the album, so there's no type of investment in it for you- who cares if you might like it 5 listens from now? Subscription sites like Rhapsody have saved me a WHOLE LOT of money over the past 6 months, but I feel that my drive for listening to challenging, provocative, and thought provoking music has seriously diminished. Not that it's not out there- aside from unofficial releases like mixtapes, you can bet your ass that a band will have their album on Rhapsody. It's just having that dedication- that determination- to solve the mystery of complicated albums that you'll feel rewarded more than any other type of instant gratification.

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