I’m not sure where to start because if you take the historical view, as I always do, the average twentieth and twenty-first-century United States citizen has had many options for over 100 years. Throughout my tenure on this planet, I experienced changing media and adapted to each readily.
Wikipedia, with thanks to Ms. Anonymous and her co-authors, has categorized the development of sound recording into four interesting categories:
The Acoustic Era (1877 – 1925); Electric Era (1925 – 1945); Magnetic Era (1945 – 1976); and the Digital Era (1975 – Present)
That pretty much sums up my experience with an art that I adore with great passion. I’m going to focus on the expansion of personal-use. Ever since the purchase of wax-coated discs led to the purchase of music streams, recent times have given us the ability to take music home.
Like everything else in this crazy nation, the delight in having a recording of the New York Philharmonic’s recording of Brahms’ 5th Symphony was instantly monetized. Yet people shelled out the dough and they are still doing it. The acquisition of personal music isn’t free. People make it happen—artists, recording personnel—and should get a cut.
Of course one can go to clubs and concerts to hear music, and we can also sing and play instruments ourselves. It’s not as if that wasn’t happening in households of the 1920s. People made their own music. But now at the touch of an app we can have entire libraries of song prepared and performed by anyone in the world.
I cut my musical teeth listening to the songs played on my parents’ radio and plunking their 78’s onto the phonograph, composing my own ballet to Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome. Then the fragile waxed discs began to be replaced by LPs, long-playing records that held on one disc the same amount of music as several 78’s. Having older sisters and being unable to save my allowance, I benefited greatly from their vinyl purchases. The first album I bought was Pink Floyd’s Saucer Full of Secrets, thinking that was where the music of 2001, A Space Odyssey came from.
I am fully an album/playlist listener. We own hundreds of vinyl and CDs. Once burning software became user-friendly, I loaded 1000 or more albums and favorites onto first my Walkman and then my phone.
iTunes roped me in with the ease of downloading cheap music directly to my phone without the hassle of library trips and burning borrowed CDs. The last few years I have been purchasing singles, and the occasional album from musicians I love. I have a voluminous collection of downloaded music.
All my singles go into playlists. The only streaming channels that I listen to are the eclectic collection of genres offered by SOMA-FM, a non-profit streaming service based in San Francisco. I want to control my music but I also like to have a vast array of choice–by my rules, not Spotify’s.
Now that iTunes, seemingly for good reasons, is being shelved, I suppose I’ll become a slave to Apple Music. The power of streaming or immense playlists is that one can listen to the sound track of life without having to reload a CD or turn over a record. I have adopted the ease of streaming media, but I’m a little miffed at the shift in listening habits of those who purchase—or steal—way more material than I do.
And of course there’s profit. Cheap music, freedom of listening, and someone is making big bucks from this. It’s sadly often not for the musician but for corporate mavens. And that’s the way it is and has always been.