Thursday, November 8, 2007

Is iTunes a Music Enabler?

When I was young and records were still in fashion, I remember the eager anticipation I felt when one of my favorite singers or groups released a new album. I would run down to the record store on the day it was released, find the most pristine copy, and then rush home to listen to the entire album in one sitting. And if I really liked it, I’d listen to it all over again. Sometimes for the rest of the day. (Much to the dismay of my parents, whose musical tastes were clearly different than my own.)

Then I went through a cassette phase, where I bought the cassette version of everything I already had on vinyl. After all, you couldn’t fit a 33” record into a Sony Walkman. Not unless you wanted to do some serious damage to your instrument.

After cassettes came CDs, which were much smaller and more convenient than records, and supposedly better quality than cassettes. I must admit I resisted this new innovation for a while, until the Walkman ate my cassette tapes one too many times. (How I hated having to stick a pencil through the spindles of the cassette to try and reel in the tape that had been pulled out.)

The transition to CD was rather easy, and I thought this would be the last time I’d ever have to update my musical collection to another format. How little I knew about technology. For several years after I made the switch to CDs, I was introduced to something called an iPod. And for a while, I must admit that I didn’t really understand the concept of an iPod. How could you hear music playing from such a little box without inserting a cassette or CD first?

The iPod presented a new level of musical appreciation—the ability to have your entire CD collection on one unit. Or at least as much of your collection as you could fit. And you could even create your own dance mix or playlist, so now everyone and their Grandmother had the opportunity to test out their latent DJ skills.

But the biggest musical revolution of the past few decades has got to be that wonderful online store that allows you to download your selections immediately. I’m referring of course to iTunes, which single-handedly changed the way people purchase music.

iTunes is like having your own private Xanadu, a “place that nobody dared to go.” No more running down to your nearest Tower Records to pick up the latest Billy Joel CD, or waiting for your latest package from Columbia House to arrive. In fact, no more running down to Tower Records at all, since the company recently closed its doors forever. (An obvious sign of what iTunes has done to the local neighborhood record store.)

It’s sad to think that music stores might soon become a thing of the past. All those aisles of CDs and Albums and Cassettes you once mulled over for hours have now been replaced by the convenience of a click. And how easy it is to click, especially when most songs only cost ninety-nine cents to purchase. Ninety-nine cents!!!! It’s incredible.

And what’s even better is that you no longer have to purchase a whole album if you only like a few songs. Now you can have your music a la carte. Which makes it so much easier to expand your musical tastes to other genres and artists you might never have considered before. Just browse, click on a song title, and after thirty seconds of sampling it, make the quick decision whether to download it or not. And since it’s only ninety-nine cents, what have you got to lose? If you decide later you think the song sucks, you’ve only wasted ninety-nine cents. (Except those ninety-nine cents really add up if you happen to be a compulsive clicker.)

Today, I have the largest collection of music I’ve ever owned. It’s massive, it’s comprehensive, it’s eclectic. But if you asked me a specific question about a particular song or the artist singing it, I’d probably draw a blank nine out of ten times. Because my music is no longer something I anticipate, or research, or know much about. It’s more spontaneous than that. With only a click, I can have instant gratification and a snappy tune. I don’t have to spend hours staring at the album cover, or reading all the liner notes. All those simple pleasures have now become a thing of the past. Replaced with an online jukebox that is not only convenient, but addictive as well. And therein lies the rub.

I’m Henson. And I’m an iTune-aholic.


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I'm Stranger than Fiction said...

My name is Monica, and I too am addicted to iTunes. (I run GNN, found you when you commented me ^_^)

I have almost 2700 items, mp3s, mpegs (video clips), and I cant name half of those.

It's a two headed beast: I love being able to buy music 'a la carte' as you so perfectly put it. But I knwo listening to full albums that I had to buy introduced me to some great music too!


Valley Girl said...

ITune-aholic right here, too. But I agree--it would be sad for music stores to become obselete.

Henson Ray said...

Welcome Travis, Stranger than Fiction, and Valley Girl. Glad to know there are other itune-aholics out there.