The Value of Music – Blaugust Day 3

Firstly, a Blaugust-related update. I’ve realised that a lot of these posts are going to be quite personal when it comes to content. I think I need to accept that since I left Salford University, even those I’m working with social media on a daily basis, I’m just too far from the academic and up-to-the-moment stuff to write the kind of posts that I could do when I was a student. Time is also definitely a limiting factor. Basically, I need to learn a new way to write, and that’s what this month is going to be about.

Now, onto the main meat of this post… This morning as I was getting ready to go out, I happened to look up at the top shelf in my room, and the collection of CDs slowly gathering dust up there. I had a major clear-out about a year ago, only keeping the ones that I had a serious personal attachment to. They have been sitting there untouched ever since, because much as these albums were a huge part of my life, I just don’t use any of them any more.

Once upon a time, buying new music was a huge deal for me, but somewhere around 2010 I got a Spotify subscription, and the way I consume music completely changed. Currently I have a  staff-curated playlist of this week’s new hits playing in the background as I write, and as of this sentence, it’s giving me a Japanese pop ballad. This is sometime I would never have listened to when I was younger, because music was expensive and I was never going to buy anything that I couldn’t guarantee I was going to enjoy. This song? It’s okay. I’m enjoying it. I probably won’t listen to it again. I can come back to it if I want (though I wish Spotify still remembered your music history). I could send it instantly to a friend if I felt they would enjoy it – no more trying to share earbuds in the playground – or I could share it generally if I perhaps wanted the artist to have more recognition amongst my peers. Looking over this, it’s slightly scary how quickly this has changed. Music streaming hasn’t just changed the way I consume music, it’s changed the way I value recorded music. Before I had individual, physical items. The case, the booklet insert, the feeling of ‘putting on some music.’ I still love that to an extent (which is why I go through vinyl collecting phases, but tend to stop quickly because that sort of thing is both addictive and house-filling.) But now I value the ease of access. With a little googling, I can find almost any piece of music ever recorded. It’s all out there, from the chart hits to the obscure. I value how I can decide to listen to some music, hear it, decide if I like it, and either discard it or keep it and find similar tracks.

Of course, I understand how music has been physically devalued in this regard. I understand why artists take their music off streaming services, and issue copyright notices to YouTube. I understand that this post may sadden some musicians, even some friends of mine. I’m probably guilty of supporting a bad system. But that doesn’t stop my using that system, because I love it. And I still love those CDs, but I’ve come to see them as relics, as collector’s items rather than items of music. Because if I ever want to listen to any of my old favourites, I won’t be getting out a step stool to reach that top shelf. I’ll be going to Spotify.

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