Reflections on Musical Gluttony

According to a recent Seattle Weekly article, in November Google VP Sukhinder Singh Cassidy "predicted that by the year 2015, a storage device the size of an iPod will be able to hold 4 terabytes. In seven years, every song ever recorded in the world will fit in our pockets."

Now, this doesn't say "and that will totally be an affordable device for the typical consumer," but then again, it's also possible that we're going to be all Shadowrun-ned up with chips in our head. For perspective, keep in mind that blogs as a phenomenon (rather than just a sort of niche market) didn't exist seven years ago.

The article goes on to talk about a few things, such as:

--having a ton of choice leads to being dissatisfied (sort of a grass is greener approach -- if you could torrent a new yard)

--this glut will lead to a transition from actively choosing to just picking from what's readily available, and

--this leads to an over-reliance on filters (top 40 lists, trusted music sites, social network sites) to give leads on what to choose (or pick).

The writer even astutely notes, "I now find myself getting bored, even in the middle of songs, because I can."

What's really intriguing for me, though, is this idea that too much choice still means too much. I'm taking the Buddhist precepts in a few weeks, and a lot of the success I've had stemming from this interest has come from trying to live in the present moment. I think that's probably what a good song and a good show and a good "____" does to me, too--puts me in the present moment.

So how does a big old music fan discover what really, truly moves them, when the choices are vast, attainable, and ultimately producing a feeling that "this is pretty good but I bet if I just keep looking...." It's thrift store shopping without the physical objects, and in that way, something is lost.

To me this is intriguing in that it reflects how much technology continues to drive music listening. This has been true pretty much since recorded music began, from format (such as how CD's led to more album filler, or how downloading has moved folks back to singles) to players (quality shifts as radio moved from tinny AM radios to better, FM radios). As each shift takes place, you'll have people (Luddites? Rabble rousers? Grumps?) that bemoan the change, wonder what we've done, on and on. Hell, one of my best friends loves cassette tapes, frequently scours eBay for the best walkman models, and will defend passionately the superiority of the medium.

Tapes were also the first medium I used as a young music fan, and then CD's. But still, the vinyl albums I really listened to in college have stuck with me because of the fact that I wasn't about to skip tracks, and because of the ease in which I'd play the same album side over and over. It takes some concentration these days to make sure that I make it to the end of any album I download -- and that even means that sometimes i go see "favorite artists" play and realize that what I thought was a "great album" was really "a great first five songs, and sometimes I'd hear the rest," or, even more accurately, "a great x minutes of songs, where x is the amount of time it takes to get to work in the morning."

One of the guys over at Yelling About Music wrote quite an amazing post* that relates to all of this, about his music purchasing. For him, the availability of music in general has made his disposable income purchases of music nearly, well, disposable (I say nearly because, like many music fans, he can't quite get himself to get rid of previously favorite discs).

I have been buying albums more in the last year. Like, vinyl. I love it. I love the huge album jackets, the artwork, the heft. I love that there's no way that the sound is coming thru my computer (even though it is actually coming thru one tin(n)y built-in speaker), that it's a conscious decision to put on Last Light again, or Tupelo Honey, or Get Lonely. I think it also makes me appreciate these albums more than the ones that I download from eMusic or Bittorrent; I think I love that part, too.

And yes, I love that the labels caught on...and they finally are including codes for downloading mp3's of the same vinyl albums, in the packaging.

After all, I still can't fit a record in my pocket.

*Seriously, "Harry," I wish I knew how to contact you to tell you how well this was written.