Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Musical Chairs

My love for music is deep. That's why during my life, I have learned to play several different instruments, why I have enjoyed dancing and singing. Music moves me.

Back in the 90s, I was a music reviewer who wrote about new CDs and interviewed musicians. So as a result, I received thousands of recordings to listen to, and had wonderful opportunities to hear great musicians play in person.

When I began listening to music, everything was on records and single hits were made on 45s that had a song on each side. People just wanted to hear the hit songs they were familiar with. But then that form stretched out a bit and albums became more popular as creative individuals and bands put out albums that were more akin to a suite than a hit and the attention span of listeners extended to a half hour at a time or an hour, rather than the three minutes that singles usually lasted. It is kind of ironic that we have come full circle to a degree, where people now download just a hit song or two rather than a whole album of music by that musician.

Then they started making music on cassette tapes, which were really portable. You could put one in your pocket, play it in your car, or pop it into a tape player that was way smaller than a record player. When the Walkman was invented, that changed a lot about the way people listened to music. You could listen to whatever you wanted as loud or soft as you wanted, and it did not impose on anyone else. The sound quality was also different. It was more intimate, private.

I also remember how the transition happened. First you could buy your music on records or tapes, then eventually stores only carried tapes. Then after we got used to tapes, suddenly there were CDs. Then stores went from offering tapes and CDs to only carrying CDs, which of course, required different players.

The next transition brought MP3 players and iPods. And now if you need to replace your player, it will be easier to find a CD player that has a port for a digital player than a tape deck.

And some of us have not made that transition yet. Some maybe never will, just like there are some people who have stuck with records. I don't have the CD or tape collections that I used to have, but I still have quite a few and I can't see just dumping them to move to the new technology since they still work just fine.

But I can see the beauty of having a whole music library on one little gizmo. And it will be easier on the environment not creating zillions of pieces of plastic just so that people can enjoy listening to music.

However, an issue that is significant is how can the musicians make a living with their music. Album, tape or CD sales were at least a way of channeling some money back to the artist. Now if people pay for downloads, they will get some, but they make nothing off all the free downloads.

There was a time when some musicians made great recordings but hardly ever toured, compared to those who made relatively few recordings but played lots of live dates. So fees for live dates are now more important for them to make a living. Some will make good money creating scores and soundtracks. Funny thought. Not so long ago, musicians were hired to make original music for commercials, but now commercials are far more likely to play bits of a song that already is a hit.

Yes, the new players are more portable than anything we have had, and probably more green. I am one of slow adapters to technology. I will keep my TV until it quits working and then I will get a flat panel. And I will keep playing music on CD players and tape players until I cannot do that any more. I use my computers until they die. Then I get new ones. I don't just rush out to buy the new model of whatever just because it is available.

There is another metaphysical angle to all this. Music has taken on various physical forms, mutating from something that was heard in person to something that was recorded, now back to something that we just hear, rather than a collection of things we buy. Comparable in a way to what has happened with movies. I don't need to go to a video store any more to rent a tape or disc and then make another trip to the store to return it and rent something else. Now I can just watch a movie on my computer or TV without having to have any hard copies.

Essence takes form and then the form dissipates, and it is back to essence again.

No comments: