Theme Week: Music - Day Four

Present Day: Mike writes about things slightly more current than in the past few articles and tries to set the stage for his final theme-week entry.

The Mobile Music Generation
or, How the ipod destroyed the world

It is evident that the "personal digital media player" has changed the way people listen to music. Just as the advent of the CD changed the way people listen to albums (instantly skipping through one or more tracks of an album -- sort of makes me think that cassette tapes** were something of a backwards step in musical media evolution), the MP3 generation now picks, purchases, and downloads individual songs in a manner much more quickly and efficiently than the days of "vinyl 45s."

[**My kids, when they can someday read, will say: "Cass--what, daddy?"]

Does this make us better music appreciators? Or does it foster a sense of attention deficit and instant (musical) gratification? Both, probably. Arguably, it empowers the listener to rip off their favourite artists (through piracy, not that I know anyone who does that) while at the same time bolstering the international exposure of those very same artists -- which is why we see artists fighting the "Fight Against Piracy." Smaller artists claim they would never garner as much attention without the advent of the digital music age, while more established artists fight for the marginal revenues of one more album sale. Is it possible that the larger artists are just trying to reclaim a little royalty real estate after hefty cut taken by their own labels?

Portability of music and its seemingly seamless integration into our lives means that we can turn-on in the house before our commute to work, travel the entire distance, debark from our vehicle of choice, and make our way into the office with nary a soul which which we're forced to communicate. On the way home, we unplug the earphones and plug it directly into our stereo (or we have a dock that happily embraces our iPod and fulfills our home entertainment needs). Radio programming takes a back seat to podcasting, short(ish) shows put on by amateur DJs whose shows rarely have commercials. Designer, custom-made playlist services are now in the marketplace (I heard the President of the USA has someone who makes playlists for his iPod.) Video iPods can be used to bring downloaded video content (pictures, movies, music videos) to the big(ger) screen at home.

The iPod fast-tracks what began in the early 1980s with the Sony Walkman. Infrequently did we see someone wearing headphones (and stylish ones, I might add), tuning in something personal while tuning out the rest of the world. From walkman, to discman, to mp3 player, you're now as likely to see someone with little white ear buds jammed into their heads as you are to see someone wearing a hat, or earrings. To the listener, it can be an exercise in self-liberation -- freeing oneself from the social construct that we should interact with those people with whom we make eye contact when traveling the streets. People leave their earphones in just so that people will think they're incommunicado. We can reclaim our personal and mental space by using a wire and two doo-hickeys stuck in your ear. (Note to self: market fake earphones as "chatty-people repellent"; that's got to be a million dollar idea.) It works in the stores. It works at the gym.

But these personal listening devices have become more than just tools or toys - more than just the latest in personal entertainment. They're the basis of a new social construct, one which begs (demands?) the consumer own, display, accessorize, and then own some more. It's fashion. It's function. It's product branding which has become consumer branding. Which generation are you? Are you original iPod? Are you Mini? Are you shuffle? Are you Nano? The vast array of models and accessories is enough to illustrate the pervasiveness of the overall idea. And yes, I'm now part of the trend / epidemic although I try shun outward displays of my role in the iPod generation, and just enjoy it for what it is. But the trend is alive and kicking, and it's hard to miss. Surely there will be anthropological studies based on the sheer ubiquitousness of the device. Nobody will read them, but they'll be written.

Will it change the way the music industry operates? Has it already? Perhaps it will bring the ruin of the full-length CD as some have suggested. Some artists will abandon the whole-album concept and concentrate on only the mass-media-friendly tunes which bring in the bucks (in $0.99 instalments, no less). Or, perhaps the iPod generation will be short lived (like the Television generation?) and people will return to their old ways, paying for their music and sharing it modestly and inconspicuously (especially if RIAA has anything to say about it). Personally, I think the album is more than a vehicle to get the songs out in a convenient format. The marketing and artist-exposure value of the periodic recording release is an important aspect of staying fresh in people's minds. Without the album, single songs would get lost in the vast sea of new releases.

One thing this digital music generation has allowed me to do is reclaim my old collections while expanding my repertoire. It may not keep me on top of the latest musical trends (who wants to be there, anyway?), but as I mentioned, it allows me to sample new stuff before making the big purchase, and even revisit some of my old favourites -- something that's as embarrassing as it is nostalgic. The classics come back with new life as I hook into the mainstream, the independent, and the just plain weird. I take recommendations as easily as I give them, and ultimately benefit from all the musical leads and tips.

Only time will tell just how far this trend will go, but be assured that this listener is happy to employ all the wonders and advantages of my iPod - for as long as I can continue to get replacement parts, that is.

Generation i ?

a quickr pickr post


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Posted bythemikestand at 9:00 AM  

4 stepped up to the mike:

Jess Riley said... 5:05 PM, February 08, 2006  

Well-written, insightful, smart...say, are you a journalist?

Belinda said... 5:53 PM, February 08, 2006  

Nicely done. My only real complaint with the iPod is that some of us have tiny ears, and the ear buds do not fit. Other than that, poifect.

themikestand said... 6:40 PM, February 08, 2006  

jess riley: Thanks for the compliments. In fact, I'm not a journalist -- if you'd have guessed journalist before the "insightful" remark, I might have thought it a barb. I do, however, write (stuff) for a living, but nothing overly creative.

belinda: I don't find the standard-issue iPod earphones very comfortable either. Plus, there's the whole "damn, I lost those foam pad/covers AGAIN" issue. Definitely something to go aftermarket on, in my opinion.

Brianna said... 10:22 AM, February 10, 2006  

i had the too small ears problem as well and got these:

which have different sized ear buds -- the're awesome.

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