Music: The Consumer's Evolution

Listening to an episode of "Snap Judgment" on NPR this afternoon reminded me of something that's been bouncing around in my brain for a couple of years but hasn't made its way into blogpost form yet: The evolution of music consumption.

The segment I listened to was from an episode called "The Stranger," wherein a Seattle musician chronicles a snapshot of his life as a teen breaking into the emerging 80s punk scene. Along the way, he meets a mysterious kid working at his friend's dad's hotel who is able to hook them up with mixtapes of something they really crave: the latest punk music. They later find out the friend is a now-famous (also now-deceased) musician; the knowledge comes upon the narrator in a goosebump-inducing rush at the end of the segment.

You can listen to it here to find out who the musician was:

As I reflected on my own teen years after listening to this episode, I remembered what it was I've been wanting to say for awhile about music.

I'm an 80s kid. In my teen years, my friends and I learned about music through word-of-mouth. You found out what was cool when other kids shared mixtapes, or later, CDs, with you. Or, if they were musically trained, they'd play garage or basement band jam sessions at your house, you'd ask what song it was, and that's how a new band groupie would be born.

As pointed out by Nate DiMeo over at The Memory Palace podcast, in the 1800s, you'd get one shot in a lifetime to hear a particular dazzling performer, and you'd likely never get to hear that music again. In a July 2012 podcast, DiMeo tells the story of opera singer Jenny Lind, who many called "the Swedish Nightingale" because of her angelic voice. Queen Victoria herself had to wait two years before she could hear a second performance from Lind.

Yet in my lifetime, I've been lucky enough to witness the birth of the YouTube generation. It's now much easier to find out about new music, let alone be able to listen to it for free whenever I feel like it.

I've heard a lot of angst expressed over how new technology has contributed to the Death of Rock 'n' Roll and the decline of the music industry in general. And sure, while empowering, this instantaneous access can also be isolating, if you let it, and financially challenging for the artists. Another topic for another day.

What I really want to say today is I don't think those of us born in this era pause and marvel often enough at our good fortune. We live in an age when the previously unthinkable is now the possible.

I'm taking today to appreciate the gift of widely available music. And here's a sample -- nightingales in their own right:

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Adam said...

"Queen Victoria herself had to wait two years before she could hear a second performance from Lind."

I wonder what history's royalty would give to have recordings of their favorite performances?

Probably more than $9.99. :)

Thank you for this post, Rachel. It reminded me of how fortunate I am.

This post makes me more grateful for the music I've heard.

Rachel E. Watson said...

Glad you liked it. :)

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