Discussion: Music in the Digital Age

A frequent topic brought up in music discussion has been how the ushering in of new and modern technologies have affected the way we interact with and purchase music, as well as its importance on the development of music itself. Jeremy from DFC, along with four other friends of the blog, Adam Nicholls of Shock! Radio, Ryan Dye, Tom Hummer of Velocities in Music, and James Laubhan, have gathered to discuss this important issue in music today. What began as a chat about entitlement in younger music listeners quickly developed into a discussion about the digital age of music as a whole. Read the discussion below.

Jeremy: A common thing seen in the younger demographic of music listeners is the feeling of entitlement, when people feel they truly deserve something. In this case, it’s music they feel should be easily accessible and free without any hassle. The popularity rise in music piracy and streaming services has contributed to this strong feeling with the young music listener. What are some of your thoughts on this, guys?

Tom: There definitely is a feeling of entitlement, but it didn’t just come from nowhere. People feel they deserve the right to free music because that’s become the new norm. If downloading and streaming had never come to be, I don’t think that entitlement would be there It’s kind of become just the way it is, and I don’t think there’s really any going back, for better or worse. I guess my point is the technology and ability to do these things caused the entitlement, and not the other way around.

Adam: Very true, Tom. Nobody is entitled to anything whatsoever, as far as I’m concerned. Nothing good isn’t worth working for. And musicians work hard to give us the product, so why shouldn’t we give something back? Meet them in the middle. It’s a big Pandora’s Box that can never be closed, which is very sad.

James: Good to keep in mind we all buy our music but it’s safe to assume a fair % of people streaming music for free have never bought their music.

Tom: It’s not like there isn’t a way to still buy music, but with free alternatives, the incentive to buy relative to the cost isn’t quite there. For the average listener, that is.

Ryan: If anything, I don’t think entitled is the right epithet here. I don’t feel that people are streaming/ or pirating music because I feel they deserve to own it but rather because it’s the simplest, most straight-forward way to hear it. By pirating/free downloading, there are no user agreements or licensing related red tape. There is no scouring the record store for a CD that costs $15 but only costs $3 to manufacture. There is no wait and there is no burden on the listener to constantly dish out.

Tom: Exactly– the entitlement portion of it only comes into play when you try to take a step back and take away the ability to download or stream.

Adam: I object to the way that people can simply take tracks from an album that the artist and/or their producer has carefully sequenced to produce a full listening experience.

Adam: I admit to feeling a bit cheated by just buying digital “product”. It feels like I’m not getting value for money. I’d rather stream digitally and then buy the LP or even the CD….

Tom: Yeah, if I’m shelling out money, I want something tangible for it

Ryan: Any service that sells music downloads isn’t selling you music, they are selling you a file of theirs and the permission to play it only on your desktop.

Jeremy: A good point I like to bring up while discussing this is the idea of a music collection. Would you call a bunch of ones and zeroes on your smartphone a collection? Surely not. Stacks and shelves of vinyl and CDs make more sense to me to be called a collection. Give you pride to own a bunch of those compared to digital files.

James: I certainly would not call any digital file a “collection”

Tom: I think there are two sides to the collection aspect of it. One is the physical representation of it, what you actually physically own. For me, another part of it is the experiential side of it. I like my digital library as more of a collection of stuff I’ve listened to. I’m also a big statistics nerd… so stuff like last.fm helps with that. The thing I like about the digital library is that I know I’ll never own every album I’ve ever heard on vinyl. Just not feasible. So for tracking purposes, having digital copies is great.

Adam: No one ever says “Hey baby, want to come back and see my iTunes library?”

Jeremy: Very true Adam, haha!

Adam: Maybe it’s been suggested before – I don’t know – but what about only ever allowing the listener to stream each song a certain number of times before they are forced to pay for it. I know it’s still digital, but it does mean they’re no longer getting it for free.

Ryan: Streaming and digital media are definitely an important part of the equation for me. A great majority of the music I’ve discovered, I’ve done by streaming online. But that said, I use it like many of you do: either for convenience or because I want to “taste” what’s out there without having to pay out for things I may not even enjoy after all

Tom: Adam, that’s an interesting thought. I’ve also heard people propose the idea of subscribing to artists on Spotify for a certain fee, so you pay according to how much and who you listen to.

James: I don’t think music is intended to be an economic risk. It’s just the old school way of thinking I guess… It’s a gamble, not every album you owned in the past you loved, and you knew it

Tom: Yes, that’s definitely true. I have bought a lot of stinkers in my day!

Tom: What about this though– music stores, before streaming and downloading, had listening stations to preview albums. What’s the difference? The only thing that’s changed is the medium.

Ryan: Excellent point

James: That’s a great point if we are talking about sampling like we do, but that’s not what everyone uses streaming for. They play the album over and over and that’s all they will ever do.

Tom: That’s true; I was more referring to the process of checking it out to see if it’s worth buying. My point was that that isn’t a process unique to the internet age.

James: I see no issue with that whatsoever. I did it in stores as you said many moons ago.

Ryan: When you bought a record in the 70s, you were primarily paying the label for the cost of manufacturing the record. The artist received most of their pay from the labels and from live shows. Now that the primary medium costs nothing to manufacture, we don’t need to find ways of supporting the artist. We do what we always do. We see shows, we buy t shirts and we are then compensating for the production costs of the music, rather than the medium. I’ll say to James that anyone who solely downloads music and nothing else, is doing things irresponsibly. If they love the music so much, they should give back. But I don’t think they should pay for the right to play the music themselves. But imposing that restriction seems wrong to me.

Tom: Naturally because of that we’re going to see concert prices and merch prices growing in an effort to compensate.

Ryan: The digital download really changed the game for a lot of people. It made the exchange of music exponentially greater and far reaching than anything thing that had been done previously and it’s continued survival depends upon a less restricted market. If you’re looking for ways to support the artist themselves (which is still essential) you can come up with a million different alternatives than paying for a sub-par mp3 files.

Tom: I think what streaming and downloading has really done is raise the minimum of “popularity” an artist has to have in order to actually make a living or career out of it. For that reason, what we’re going to see are a lot of artists who continue writing because it’s what they do, while they pay the bills through other means (maybe I’m biased because I’m pretty sure this is the boat I’m going to be in, lol). But until the superstars of the 70s, 80s, and 90s are phased out, which will still be a long time from now, we won’t fully see the effects this has on the creation process.
From the consumer standpoint, people are going to keep doing what’s available and convenient, and I don’t blame them for that. I don’t blame people for taking advantage of the system that’s available, and there’s no point in whining about the system because it’s not going to change. People will put their money where they want to, and unfortunately we can’t decide for others that paying for music should be a financial priority (even if it is for us).

Jeremy: Nice point there, Tom.

Jeremy: Thanks everyone for participating, this was fun.

Ryan: Take care guys.

Adam: Byeeeeee!

Tom: Keep rockin’.

James: See y’all, take care.

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