Doing music

The way I “do” music is very different now.

Back in the dim, dark days of the nineties I mainly consumed music via the radio, or by regular visits to the indie section of JB Hi Fi. Triple J was my radio station of choice, as it was for everyone who was a teenager then, so I heard a fairly wide variety of sounds. However it was still barely representative of the range of music that was out there.

Buying a CD cost around $20-25, which was a fairly significant sum at the time. Selection was careful, and buying a CD that I turned out not to like was agonising, since I would have to work several more hours to afford another one. I was conservative in my musical tastes and tended to pick albums that I felt I could listen to over and over again.

The introduction of electronic music storage in the 2000s expanded my horizons somewhat, but it was still limited by bandwidth and storage (1mb/min, 6gb HDD!). I still had to be careful about what I listened to, even with the apparently unlimited options of Napster and Kazaa.

The result was that the music I listened to in the 90s and early 2000s is burned into my brain. It’s also the bulk of the collection of music sitting on my hard drive.

I’ve heard it said that one’s musical tastes tend to fossilise at around age 25, and this happened to me… sort of. I increasingly found myself going back to the music of my youth for comfort and I was less inclined to seek out new music. A big reason for this was because the late 2000s coincided with an explosion in the amount and variety of new music available and I didn’t know where to start. I got quite intimidate by music for a while.

Enter the streaming services. Although I’ve always felt that Steve Jobs was on to something when he stated that people wanted to “own” their music, I tried out Spotify and Rdio in around 2012. I liked the options available but the apps were buggy and unreliable and didn’t interface with my existing library. I was still limited by storage issues too.

However I think that may have all changed. This week I got a new iPhone with a lot of storage space (256 GB) and loads of mobile data. I took the plunge and signed up for a trial of Apple Music, and by Jove I think I may finally have it. The price is cunningly low, so that for the cost of “buying” one album a month (or less) I can have effectively unlimited access to everything on iTunes.

This is liberating in a way I feel uncomfortable admitting. It turns out that there is a huge amount of music that I’d like to “try”, but that I don’t feel would be worth purchasing permanently. This morning alone I’ve tried half a dozen things that I’d ummed and aaahed over – turns out that some are great and some are crap. How like life.

This cornucopia of music has a possible cost though. I strongly suspect that some of the reason that 90s Smashing Pumpkins still resonate for me is that I listened to the albums hundreds, if not thousands of times. The music that I had back then got the chance to seep into my brain and I could really get to know it.

With an endless amount of music available to me from anywhere at any time, will I properly get to know it? Will I give it a chance to impress me? Or will it wash over me? I know that Top 40 music is designed to appeal on the first listen, but it’s rarely the most rewarding thing to listen to. Top 40 temporarily elevates moods, but it doesn’t change lives.