Why Listening To Music Now Is So Much Better Than It Was 30 Years Ago

A record playing, yesterday.
A record playing, yesterday.

I was chatting recently with friends about listening habits…

“It’s so much better and easier listening to music nowadays” I opined, expecting unanimous consent.

None came. A piece of tumbleweed may have rolled across the bar.

“I’m not so sure” offered one. “I think it all comes too easily nowadays. Years ago records were pretty expensive and if you didn’t like a record on first listen you’d go back to it and listen again. People don’t do that now. Short attention spans”.

“I agree..” agreed another, agreeably. “Kids will never experience the thrill of discovering a record they didn’t know about, because it’s all out there on T’internet.”

(We’ve tried to stop him saying “T’internet” but he’s quite persistent and it still amuses him).

“That’s true” said a third, “Discovering music is more special if it isn’t just presented to you on a plate. If its hard won I think people appreciate it more…”

I snorted.

“Hogwash” I blurted rather dismissively *. I pointed to one friend’s spectacles. “I think those glasses you’re wearing are somewhat rose-tinted. You forget just how much hard work, how enormously frustrating and financially ruinous it was being a music fan thirty years ago…”

We carried on with the conversation, but you get the idea…

It is easy to forget the lengths we went to in order to hear our favourite bands all those years ago, albeit yes, it’s not all good news in the 21st century. The record industry (as with many industries) has struggled with the switch from printed media to digital. Artists may be paid badly and perhaps there is less magic in discovering new music, but on the other hand, perhaps we’re confusing “magic” with “hard slog”. So here’s five ways we consume music now – and the equivalent thirty years ago. I’ll have five more in a few days time. Have a read and tell me which you prefer…

1. Listening to a song before it is released in the shops.

Nowadays songs are leaked into the Internet, ripped on YouTube and streamed in their entirety before release. In 2014 Coldplay, Beck, The Black Keys and many others have all streamed their albums prior to release. I remember downloading on Napster the new Ash album “Free All Angels” two months before it was actually released. It was an insanely good album and I couldn’t believe the novelty (and sheer joy) of being able to listen to it before it was in the shops.

In the Eighties: Your only option was to become a Radio One DJ. That’s pretty tricky, and didn’t end well for many involved, especially those with wandering hands…

2. Hearing a record to see if you like it before buying it.

Now: Bands stream albums before release, iTunes allow a 30 second snippet of every track and you can stream via Spotify for free.

In the Eighties: I had to ask a sullen record store employee to fetch a record, watch them tut dismissively, and reluctantly put it on a turntable for me so I could listen to it on headphones whilst I vexed about the three other people behind me in the queue all wanting to do the same.

3. Hearing rock music on the radio:

Now: Digital radio has Planet Rock 24/7. There are several other stations, some which play a particular decade of music for you.  Internet / satellite radio ditto.

In the Eighties: Rock music was considered a niche interest compared to the “light entertainment” that radio programmers wished to inflict upon their listeners. A committed music fan would have to therefore get home at 10pm on a Friday night to listen to the only two hours of rock music allowed on national radio: Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock show on Radio 1. That was it. You couldn’t record it whilst you were out. There was no “catch up” or iPlayer. If you missed it, you didn’t hear any new music for another week.

4. Finding out what albums have been released by a particular artist.

Now: Use the internet. Discogs, Wikipedia etc.

Got, got, need,,, The Beatles inner sleeve...
Got, got, need,,,
A Beatles US album inner sleeve…

In the eighties, the way to discover back catalogue was to look through the album rack in Our Price to see what existed. If they didn’t have an album, you’d never know about it. You might travel to three different record shops to see what they all had in stock. If you were lucky, inner sleeves would have the artist’s other records, all laid out like Panini Football stickers. Got, got, need, got, need…

Heaven help you if the artist in question had switched record companies, mind you….

5. Recording music for later use.

Now: BBC iPlayer, podcasts, Spotify premium.

1980’s Solution: Rigging an external microphone to a tape recorder during Live Aid and holding it against the TV’s speaker, whilst hoping your parents don’t enter the room and talk over the recording as they ask if you want any lunch.

There are five more examples in my next post, including watching music videos, working out the name of a song on the radio, and finding rare tracks….

* I may not have actually used the word “Hogwash”, given it is a somewhat archaic phrase and I’m not landed gentry, but this is a family friendly blog. I’ll let you decide a suitable alternative.






30 responses to “Why Listening To Music Now Is So Much Better Than It Was 30 Years Ago”

  1. 00individual Avatar

    Hey Man, fun topic, and you’ve got a great writing style.Thanks!


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Thanks! And thank you for checking in!


  2. marycigarettes Avatar

    the thing i love is how our habits have been changed…i loved the way we listened back then in exactly the same ways as your friends say,but on reflection it would be scary for life to go as it always had. i’m especially grateful how the new world allows me to dive into music that i might not like or know,without having to risk the cash…. in the end it’s made me buy more….i love the idea of getting into music i don’t like or know with the possibility of it broadening my pallet. i don’t want to end up calcified,which is what might have happened if our listening methods had stayed to same.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      That’s very true. Whilst I love to play a record like I did when I was 16 years old, I also appreciate the portability of the iPod, a machine which has done so much to increase the availability and increase the range of music I now listen to. I think we just said the same thing – but I think you put it better… 🙂


  3. Deke Avatar

    I went out with a girl years ago who worked at a local radio station and she would bring over stuff like the debut of Badlands and Dirty Looks , Cool From the Wire and we would listen to them and they were stamped with a not for sale on the cover of the vinyl and I thought cool now I don’t have to buy this stuff but she was paranoid and would always take em back …I was like there not gonna play em..just say u forgot em…hahahaha…..
    But it was cool cuz the station would get em a few weeks before they were in the stores…..
    So I was all over the debut Badlands when it was released domestically ….
    But yeah everything nowadays is leaked…
    Remember that last U2 album that someone leaked was it from Australia or sumthin….
    Those guys musta lost it big time….


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      I was always envious of people who worked in the record industry for the sole reason that they got to hear records before I did.
      I never went to the lengths of actually dating one. Looks like I missed a trick there….


  4. mikeladano Avatar

    4. Finding out what albums have been released by a particular artist. Now: Use the internet. Discogs, Wikipedia etc.

    This is by far the biggest change for me, personally. At the Toronto Record Show I was checking Wikipedia to see what singles had what. My phone and Wikipedia were the biggest two things that made my shopping experience different.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      It must make the life of a completist so much easier – but on the other hand more maddening as there will always something else out there you don’t have ..


      1. mikeladano Avatar

        Yes…as I have found, much to my wallet’s chagrin. But we chose this life for ourselves.


  5. noisynoodle Avatar

    It is definitely easier to source music from artists you are aware of, but it is a harder slog to stumble upon great music. Your record store owners and radio station DJs did the heavy lifting which you could benefit from. Nowadays you have to rely on iTunes to be your guide and it doesn’t come close. Lots of local scene knowledge has been lost unfortunately.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      There are blogs out there (not this one, clearly!) – the Pitchfork and Drowned in Sound ones. There’s aggregator sites like Hype Machine, where I spent a fair time a few years ago . but you’re right, there’s nothing quite like a personal recommendation


  6. 80smetalman Avatar

    Ah those fun memories. What we normally did was all keep our eyes and ears out for anything new that was listen worthy and if we found it so, we’d tell the rest of our circle and invite them to listen. There was this one guy named Doug who was always finding new thrash bands for us.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Yeah – we did a lot more borrowing and taping of records back then. I guess you now just need to say “it’s on Spotify”…


  7. yorgolee Avatar

    It still takes effort to engage with the music you love. It’s just now our default settings have us awash in easy options.
    Where before the internet age we had to get off our backsides just to find something to play worth playing, now we’ve got to put that same effort toward tuning out the noise and focusing on investing apiece of ourselves instead of just letting it wash over us.
    Yeah you can just let Pandora or Spotify read your music genome and tailor a list, yeah you can just set every album you own on shuffle. But it’s that extra engagement that makes the difference, choosing, and listening, and re-listening. The majority of people were lazy then and they’re lazy now. The lazy just have more options than they used to. It’s still up to the interested to make things interesting.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      You make a really good point. The next challenge for the music industry is to find out how people discover new music and tap into that. One streaming service already sells themselves on that premise. The existing “You like this so you will like that” doesn’t expand people’s horizons – it just gives them more of the same. How people will expand their tastes is a fascinating question…


  8. J. Avatar

    Great post and subject. I haven’t been buying music that long (first tape I bought was in the early 90s!), but I think it’s definitely easier to access music since the introduction of Spotify, etc. It streamlined that whole downloading thing – no need to go to that effort for something that might be a bit ‘mnah’.

    Noisynoodle makes a good point about the lack of knowledge and it being harder to stumble on really great music. That interaction with the chap / chapette at the store or stall was valuable. Now it’s all sales stuff.

    … I’ll look forward to the other examples in your next post!


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Yes -Spotify has almost made record reviews redundant – if you want to find out what a record sounds like you can just listen to it yourself.
      I say *almost* – what record reviews do now is to act as a filter for the ones worth listening to…


      1. J. Avatar

        Very true. Though I find these days that I rarely read reviews … well, traditional reviews (the ‘trusted mainstream like Pitchfork or ol’ trusted magazine reviews have lost perspective, I reckon). Often it’s a case of folks telling me to check something out. Folks I trust when it comes to music, right enough …


      2. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

        The best way, I think. I also have some good friends who I rely on for musical recommendations, and every now and then they tell me about a good one, and hopefully vice versa. I heard about Sweet Billy Pilgrim, Parquet Courts and Beach House to name but three in that way…


  9. rossmurray1 Avatar

    These times are great not just for new music but for music history. Example, Van Morrison’s catalogue is a shambles and mostly unavailable due to legal squabbles and pique. However, you can hear full album streams on YouTube. Veedon Fleece, man. Veedon Fleece! Granted, the sound quality is the pits but better to have Fleeced poorly than to never have Fleeced at all.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      I have found that if you have a record player Van Morrison is a great artist as his classic albums are all available and are all pretty inexpensive. There must be ten copies of the live “Its Too Late To Stop Now” at every record fair available for a fiver and I also picked up Tupelo Honey for a fiver recently.


      1. rossmurray1 Avatar

        Nice. After commenting, I realized I may have made this almost exact comment in an earlier post. If not you, then someone. Vintage comment, perhaps.


  10. Phillip Helbig Avatar

    1: Superfluous. Fanboy bullshit.

    2: An improvement, but I used to regularly listen to vinyl albums in record shops. If I wanted to buy it, I had it in my hand, so could tell the clerk what I wanted to listen to. So, yes, better, but not a game-changer.

    3: Big improvement.

    4: Big improvement.

    5: Better, but a) even back then there was “line out” and you didn’t have to put a mic in front of the speaker (and even so, you didn’t have to hold it!) and b) I rarely record stuff which is broadcast.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Heh, you clearly had a better TV than I did in 1985 (the incident I describe Actually Happened to me). Sounds like you had nicer record shop staff too – good for you!


    2. theEARLofSWIRL Avatar

      I have a blurry memory of holding my little Panasonic cassette recorder mike up to the TV speaker, trying to capture Manfred Mann’s moog solo on “Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert” (while trying to shush my little sister).
      Great post, lots of interesting perspectives here


      1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

        Thank you – and good to know it wasn’t just me with the TV mike!
        I have enjoyed the responses from everyone here also on this post and on part 2 – thanks for being part of it.


  11. John S Avatar

    Totally agree with you. The only thing is that it’s good to try to persist with whole albums still, when it’s massively tempting to react to the two or three tracks that jump out and forget the rest. I’m as bad as anyone, picking out those tracks, sticking them on a playlist and filing the rest in forget. The benefit of giving the whole album a chance is with me at the moment, loving “Lost In The Dream” by The war On Drugs. Took a few listens to hit home.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Ah, I still am an “albums only” person. Aside from end of year lists, I seldom just listen to one or two tracks – and my morning commute happens to last about the same time as one album, so I get enough time to hear it all the way through uninterrupted..
      I have so far avoided the general playlist – its just as easy to download the whole album and you get to hear the whole statement.
      I think I’m in a minority though…


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