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…”
“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.
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.