Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Do playlists sate our lust for "New" music?

Originally music was "free" in the truest sense. Then we captured it, recorded it, wrapped it up and sold it. Then we digitalised it, ripped it, caged it in bits and shouted about its freedom. Full circle, only this time the circle is made of metal.

This Reg article on how the music industry doesn't get digital reminded me of a thought from the other day. Our relationship with music in a digital age is often thought of as "disruptive" in 1 of 2 ways: either the ability to copy music freely once it's been turned binary, or the ability to reach out to new, unsigned/unheard of artists and to ignore the idea of "mainstream promotion". Unlimitations of the physical, and of the social.

But that doesn't explain why I've stopped buying so much music. I used to go and buy random discs. I used to browse music channels and find interesting, bizarre tracks. I used to pick up discount CDs in the hope that every 1 in 10 might actually be good (and often, 1 in 9 was...)

Here's what I've noticed - I don't think I buy so much music any more because it's easier to listen to what I already have. This harks back to the "physicality" perspective, of course. But I think the "playlist", or the mp3 collection, defines a very real and very new relationship with musical zeitgeist. The fact is that we haev instant access to all of the music we've ever bought now. No more scrabbling for CDs. No more scratched surfaces. Given enough time, and enough tracks, the first item on my playlist becomes new again, unforgotten and re-discovered.

So maybe I don't need to buy new music so much, because I have my old music still. And I have better access to it. And it's still good. Still uplifting. Still a classic. I can focus my purchasing energies on what I really like, in an incremental attempt to expand and increase the mean quality of my shufflerised playlist.

Is the digital back catalogue the music industry's greatest enemy?

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