I have great memories of trips to the local record store on Tuesday, seeking out something specific, or in many instances just walking the aisles seeing what catches my eye. My friend Gary Guzman and I used to make the half hour drive into Chicago to visit Rolling Stone Records, picking through the new vinyl, eventually making the change to CDs. It was a weekly event, right after work we jumped in the car. We would often have a list of what we hoped to find. I would mark my calendar with certain new release dates, like it was a holiday, so I would not miss them as well as count down the days. It was a pilgrimage.
There is a line in the movie Almost Famous that I love, “If you ever get lonely you just go to the record store and visit your friends.”
Where do you find your friends today?
For most of my life, buying music included a pilgrimage. The closest place that sold CDs took an hour drive to get there. I still have a few memories of the trips I would undertake on Tuesdays just to get my hands on a new album. While I never got to experience the thrill of waiting outside of a record store, hours before it opened, with hundreds of other fans clamoring to hear an album for the first time. The release of new music still represented an event to me; something to be looked forward to.
In the early days of file-sharing, downloading songs still had a process. You had to search out the album information, plug it into the engine, and comb through until you found the correct files. Then, you waited. It could take hours. Playing the songs for the first time constituted as an event too. There was still built up anticipation and the sublime feeling of hearing a song for the very first time.
That’s all gone now. Even file-sharing music isn’t an event anymore.
BitTorrent downloads music so fast that there isn’t any waiting. If a fan dreams something up, they can have in the matter of minutes. Then, they play the whole album. Likely, they’ll just play a couple of songs. After that, they may not listen to the album ever again; it will just sit in a folder. If they don’t like what they hear, they’ll probably delete the album instantly, never giving it another chance. When is the last time that you and three of your friends stayed up late, eyes pursed on the computer screen, in the hopes of being the first ones download an album?
It doesn’t happen. Those friends streamed the songs on YouTube or downloaded it off BitTorrent a month before it came out. In most cases, they know what the music sounds like. They’ll get around to buying it. But you can’t hug an MP3.
“No one will ever fondly recall the night they downloaded a new album. The ritual of standing in line at midnight to obtain a physical copy of a piece of music is now over. Thanks to MP3 format, ritual, nostalgia, traditional physical music spaces, physical forms and aesthetic value are all aspects of music culture that are dead or dying.” (Read on.)