Romanticising music?

Somewhere along the line music lost its romanticism. I’m not saying that music isn’t romantic, far from it, people fall in love to pithy love songs every day, indeed, the radio is awash with singers declaring their true love, lamenting an unrequited love or the one that got away. No, what I’m getting at is that music lost its mojo, and, if you’ll stick with me, I think I know where and when.

For me it was 1999 whilst I was sat at my desk, the first time I downloaded a song through (illegal download software) Napster. Before that point music was romantic – as a youngster I’d get my pocket money and go the record shop and buy a single or an album. I’d listen to the radio or read a music magazine in the week and come Saturday go to a record shop and return with an artefact, something physical, with artwork and sleeve notes to peruse.

Although that first download was a contributing factor I don’t hold illegal downloading entirely responsible for the loss of romanticism, more the wider idea of digital music. Where once there was a physical artefact the vast majority now have an ‘iTunes library’ or something similar. Apple may call it a ‘library’ to give it a resonance and relate it something physical but in reality it’s a largely text-based catalogue, a binary coded index of songs you may or may not have paid for.

Music becomes a commodity, something ubiquitous with little discernible value. A physical single or album could be a limited edition, signed by the artist, printed with alternative artwork or even on glittery pink vinyl. Whereas a digital representation of the same music could be shared and copied with everyone connected to the internet within seconds. In having to go out of your way to a record shop and buy something you not only invested your money, but your time, thought and effort into that decision, and it gave whatever you bought an emotional value. You spoke to a human being, interacted with them and possibly got a recommendation on something else you might like.

Compare that to today’s music acquisition, the decision to (legally or illegally) get an album requires nothing more that a few clicks of your mouse, you have access to what feels like an infinite amount of music, but in having so much available, so easily, so quickly it feels far more dispensable, the couple of clicks that added it your ‘library’ can just as easily remove it again. If you came across new music it’s because a computer algorithm calculated you’d like it.

A CD or a record can be romantic in a way in ways digital music never could, anyone that ever bought a CD for someone they fancied to try and impress them or left their favourite record at their ex’s house when they split up and never got it back could testify to that. People can still fall in love to music, but are they still in love with music?


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