Play It Again, Sam.  Or Not.

Published April 20, 2014

I like the band Franz Ferdinand.  Several months ago, they released a new CD.  I found it on Spotify, listened to it once or twice, thought it was pretty good, saved it to a playlist, and... that's kind of it.  

Today when I booted up my computer and Spotify loaded up, the Spotify home screen reminded me about the band, and I remembered I had only listened to their newest CD a few times.  And I started thinking, why do I know all their other albums fairly well, but this one fell off my radar?  The answer is Spotify and the Internet.  

Twenty years ago, if we were interested in learning more about a band we had to go to the record store and buy the CD to listen to a bands music (if your friend didn't already have it, of course).  Now with Spotify and other Internet sources, that's no longer necessary.  We can preview clips of the material very easily before deciding to buy it, we can download a few songs for a fraction of the cost, or most likely, we can stream it cheaply/for free.  But the trade off is that we no longer have this feeling of desiring to get a return on our investment (ROI for all you economics types.)  That is, after buying the CD, saying to ourselves, "I just spent $18.99 on this new Paul McCartney CD...  It's kinda meh.  Well, it's not the Beatles, but I want to enjoy this music I just spent so much to buy, I need to keep listening to it until I like it."  (To put this in further perspective, what cost $18.99 in 1995 would cost $28.26 in 2012, according to the inflation calculator).

As everyone knows, we are a turbo charged society nowadays.  Compared to twenty years ago, we can communicate quicker and easier, have access to information quicker, our media access is on demand, instantaneous, and overwhelming.  And because of this, our time frame for getting into new music and allowing it to grow on us is affected.  Sure, nothing is stopping us from listening to a recording we recently discovered over and over again until it grows on us.  But when we have immediate and cheap/free access to 100 years of recorded music , we're more likely to cut short listening to whatever doesn't immediately grab us and find something that does.  Not to mention we have more entertainment options now than ever before - YouTube, Facebook, etc.  While we have more entertainment options than ever before, we don't have more free time to devote to pursuing it.  And while comparing music and YouTube may seem like comparing apples and oranges, they're both in the category of entertainment for most of us.  So we're not as likely to invest our time in discovering new music like we had in the past when we have all these other diversions today.  

The idealist in me would say this is bad - we're giving (ostensibly) quality music short shrift - we don't give it a chance like we used to.  Yet I wouldn't go back to the old days.  I *like* having all these options and having quick and easy access to all kinds of music.  Perhaps it is at the expense of not having those repeated listenings to CDs.  But I certainly don't miss feeling obligated to like some crummy Robert Plant CD because I spent the money to buy it, telling myself I should love it since I love Led Zeppelin.  

I suppose the most common effect of all of this is that we're not as likely to become as intimately familiar with any given piece of music as we once were, for better or worse.  At least when it comes to me and Franz Ferdinand's latest CD anyway.


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