July 29, 2008

For The Record

When I was a kid, I spent an inordinate amount of time in Sound Warehouse, the big chain record store in Houston at the time. I'd go out to dinner with my parents then make them take me. After we moved to DC and I got my driver's license, I'd spend even more time at my local Tower (RIP). I knew everyone who worked there by name. Pathetic, really.

When I was 12, I discovered Genesis. Totally uncool, though not at the time, but they were single-handedly responsible for the musician and music lover I am today. The best time in my life as a music fan was the brief period after I'd seen them live for the first time. I scoured record stores, my dad as chauffeur, trying to find all their albums. I didn't really have a complete list of their albums to choose from. A couple were out of print, adding to the mystery and intrigue. Eventually, though, I had them all.

The reason this was such a cool time was because of the mystery and the discovery. Remember, these were the days before the internet. I could see the dates on the albums but, liner notes on cassette tapes being virtually non-existent at the time, I knew very little about the albums. I poured through guide books and album catalogs learning more. Most importantly, I listened to the albums straight through, absorbing each song and how they fit into the larger whole.

When music was available on vinyl or cassette - I'm dating myself here - albums were digested whole. Musicians, engineers and producers slave for months - even years (or decades if you're Axl Rose working on Chinese Democracy) - trying to make the perfect album, not slapping together ten or twelve songs and hanging a title on it. With records and tapes it was too much of a pain in the ass to skip songs so, at least on the first few listens, we listened to albums in their entirety and processed them as 45-minute long pieces of music. Starting with the CD, it became convenient to jump around, to play producer, to abandon songs without giving them more than a cursory listen.

The internet is now my reference. There isn't an album I can't find information about. There's no band whose history I can't read up on. Nearly any song by any band is available to me without leaving my home. If not, I can order it from anywhere in the world with only slightly more effort. I can pick and choose what songs I want and skip the ones I don't like with the click of a mouse. And the increased pace of our lives has had a impacted the way we listen to music. Music is available in easily digestible chunks. Albums can be navigated in seconds. The album as a concept, while not completely dead, needs some substantial life support. And the mystery is gone.

I'm not complaining. Well, not too much. But I do miss being a kid, trying desperately to find music, absorbing it, being in awe of it. Part of what made it enjoyable was the suspense and the effort it took to find it. Now most of that is gone. But hey, it's easy to find.

How has technology changed the way you listen to music? Or, impacted you the most? And what experience do you think technology has ruined?

Posted by Chris at July 29, 2008 6:34 AM

Album covers. When you bought your music on vinyl (or as my children call it "big CDs"), the album cover was a part of the experience. The sleeve itself and the sleeve liner or if you were lucky a GATEFOLD sleeve. You lay on your bedroom floor listening to the music and reading the sleeve, which usually had much more on it than just the lyrics and who did what on which tracks. Bands like Marilliion turned their sleeves into art forms. CDs and downloads just can't do that. Sigh. I am old.

Posted by: Loth at July 29, 2008 7:17 AM

I remember when I was a young tike and my sisters (all whom were 10 years or more older than me) bought me for xmas my first 2 vinyls....The Stray Cats and Men at Work. The first casette tape I bought was N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton and the first CDs were Guns and Roses - Use You Illusion I and II. As you may have noticed, my musical taste has changed a lot over the years. But my love for music did not. As far as technology, copying casette tapes was great. I remember when my parents bought me a boom box with "High Speed' dubing...those were the days.

Posted by: harrylips at July 29, 2008 7:32 AM

I miss the artwork that used to go into an album cover. I have memorized Elton John's "Good-bye Yellow Brick road" album cover. There was artwork to go with every song when you opened it.

The other thing I miss is a band/artist being known simply for their voice/talent and not what they look like. Now, the talent is secondary to their celebrity ability. Neil Diamond would never make it today. Barry Manilow either.

Posted by: Debbie at July 29, 2008 8:01 AM

The tree hugger in me loves to download music rather than buy cds (Soapbox moment: PAY FOR YOUR MUSIC, PEOPLE - not only do the artists work hard to create music, but the writers, the engineers, the producers, etc... I think stealing music is pretty low. Okay. Done venting). I think it's great that I can get the same music that I love and not have all that packaging, waste, and know it wasn't shipped from x to y to get to me.

Another plus in the digital age is that I buy a lot more of a diverse kind of music. Getting to hear snippets of something first - I've been able to branch out more and listen to things outside my normal realm. That's COOL. I love that - finding things I might not have found otherwise if I had to buy a whole album to check it out.

But. I miss liner notes. I love when an iTunes release has the digital book that goes with an album. I love reading who the artists thank (and I love how everyone has a cool nickname - everyone is all Joe "Cool Nickname Here" Smith). I also miss sitting down with an new album with the lyrics in front of me, reading the lyrics for the first listen of the cd. It kind of made the whole experience whole for me...

Posted by: sarah at July 29, 2008 8:11 AM

I used to totally beg to go to the local Tower Records when I was young! I loved that place!! I loved to pour over the album covers and listen to the different things the workers chose to play, look at the mix of freaks, er I mean people who hung out there.

I guess the biggest impact that technology has brought as you said was the ability to find out what I want about a group or individual at the click of a button.

I miss vinyl and album covers. It just seemed so cool to pull a record out of its cover and set it on the record player, drop the needle and let it spin.

I do have to say my most favorite thing out there right now is Pandora because I can get to know multiple artists that might be similar to one that I like already.

Posted by: Christina at July 29, 2008 8:32 AM

It's not about music - though I do think about that frequently as well - but Zach and I were having this conversation recently with regards to his relatively new passion for beer brewing. He belongs to homebrew forums, can look up recipes on line, order all different kinds of hard-to-find ingredients, and readsreadsreads verociously on anything and everything having to do with beer. And as a result he has brewed 70 amazing gallons in the past few months, and has become known among our friends and family for his delicious elixirs.

And yet. Without the internet, he probably would have been limited to the phone book, trying to find a local store that could sell him what he needed -- and then relied on that store to maybe help him find some kind of mail order catalogue, or another store in another part of the country he could call. Maybe he would have been forced to become part of a homebrew social group sooner than he did in order to swap ideas and expertise.

It's strange and fascinating to stop and think about how much technology drives our daily lives. Which I guess is why it's so humbling when, say, the power goes out :)

Posted by: Caitlin at July 29, 2008 8:49 AM

I think technology has ruined the thrill of figuring out lyrics for yourself, in those instances where liner notes were unavailable or incomplete. Even when there were no lyrics included, liner notes used to be about half the fun of getting a new tape for me.

Posted by: Fraulein N at July 29, 2008 8:54 AM

I find that even on songs that I listen to a lot, I often don't remember the lyrics, and in some cases have trouble remembering the song titles without the visual interface of the album cover and printed lyrics to reinforce memory.

Or maybe I'm just getting old :)

Posted by: COD at July 29, 2008 8:54 AM

For me, it's just more accessible. I was somewhat apprehensive to buy a CD back in the day because of the chance I could hate 90% of the songs and have wasted money. I stuck to just a few bands that I adored. Now, I feel like I know what I'm getting when I buy an album and I rarely go wrong. I buy more now.

I do think that with all of our improvements, we lose something. I think technology has taken away the sheer excitement that a new model of big-wheel or bike can bring to a neighborhood. I think that "discovery" of toys and fun things from your friends and neighbors is lost due to the Internet.

Posted by: Brad at July 29, 2008 9:28 AM

I love the new technology in music! I am able to Google any song and then download it to my iPod! I actually just ordered a Bose docking station (I know, I'm only like, what? 5 years behind everyone else?) so I can add that to the 2 other electronics in my house...

Posted by: Mymilabean at July 29, 2008 9:53 AM

In college, AJ and I wanted to create a machine that allowed you to pick and choose songs and burn them onto one CD. We envisioned something in a retail store but obviously you can do this at home now. I feel like technology has really advanced my taste in music. It's a hell of a lot easier to find new, good music than it used to, especially if you lived in a podunk town like I did. There was one good indie station and sometimes, they were more miss than hit. I buy CDs by the artists I truly enjoy because I believe in that experience of putting them on and letting them play. There's nothing like a first run through of a new CD by someone you love. Sadly, the last time that happened was in like...some time in 2007 when Matt Nathanson's "Some Mad Hope" came out (incredible CD by the way, I highly recommend it).

Posted by: Sparkle Pants at July 29, 2008 9:56 AM

I don't quite go back to the days of "His Master's Voice" or recording cylinders but I don't miss it by a lot.

I grew up with 78's. 45's came in while I was in high school and I remember what a big deal they were and how excited I was to be able to shop for them. I had a tiny portable radio that picked up WSM in Nashville and WWVA in Wheeling (from upstate New York) and went to sleep listening to one or the other. Back in those days, I loved country music and already was a big classical and opera fan (told you I was weird). I could hear all that on my little radio.

Then it was 33-1/3 vinyl (and t.v.) and I could listen to an entire symphony on one record. Amazing. 8 tracks, cassettes, cd's followed more rapidly than I could imagine.

When I lived in San Francisco during the 60's, I had one wall of my living room decorated with album covers. I can't remember how I stored the records they'd been in.

Now we can carry our music with us in a gadget the size of a small wallet (and getting smaller).

Technology will always have critics, often justifiably; however, I'm sure that when the phonograph and radio first came out there were those who ranted that they would ruin live performances and put musicians out of work. I'm even more sure that some were positive they were the devil's handiwork.

I love the internet. I subscribe to Rhapsody and can find almost anything I want for about $10/month. I can google lyrics (drives me crazy when I can't understand them and my hearing isn't what it once was); I can watch (and tape) performances on t.v. and on YouTube.

I still buy the occasional cd but not that often. It has to be very special.

Sorry. I didn't mean to write a book. Bottom line I suppose is remembering technology is our slave; not the other way around.

Posted by: Ann Adams at July 29, 2008 10:09 AM

Back in the day, music was recorded on wax cylinders. The number of copies that could be made was dependent on how many cylinder recording machines you had. Then came the flat-disk victrola, which turned electric. And 8 track, of course.

My first Walkman had three buttons: Play, stop, and FF.

A few years later when I got my first walkman *with a rewind button* I was on top of the world.

Enter in the portable CD player some years later, then of course the iPod.

There's something kinda cool about the fact that the iPod's primordial parents were made out of wax.

Posted by: jessica at July 29, 2008 10:19 AM

Music is a great example. As a classical music freak, picking and choosing is sometimes necessary, so places like the iTunes store and Amazon that let you download certain pieces or movements rather than the entire CD is a bonus. I agree, though, about the sad demise of the album/cassette. Especially outside of classical music, it seems a shame not to give every song your ear, rather allowing a catchy riff to monopolize your attention. The other good thing about technology (the internet in particular) is the social aspect. I've met some pretty impressive people that I never would have otherwise.

By the same token, technology has ruined some of the face-to-face socialization that used to be so important and prevalent in society. It's too easy to just sit and type to some faceless avatar instead of going bowling or hanging out on a porch next door talking.

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at July 29, 2008 10:42 AM

remember when you realized that there was that crazy cow artwork behind the black plastic in your tool undertow cd? aah. cd covers. good old memories. and mix tapes were pretty damn cool, too. i EVEN have memories of recording songs off the radio onto a blank tape if my parents wouldn't take me to the store to get it quickly enough...

Posted by: kati at July 29, 2008 11:03 AM

was your introduction to Genesis pre or post 1976 Genesis? it's important :) my first intro was post-86, i later found earlier stuff and decided they were a different band.

my first music was on cassette. i remember staying up late listening to the local alternative station recording stuff with my boombox. and even when i started getting CDs i still sat and read the liner notes while i listened to the whole thing straight through. only after i'd given it a couple honest playthroughs would i start skipping around.

when i was in college i was electronic music director for a while. about half the stuff labels sent me was on vinyl. it was glorious. that's how i got into drum and bass, and i still have my turntables and a crate or two of vinyl in the closet. speaking of, i need to find a table to set that up on...

i don't really think technology has made any negative impact for me. i still give the first couple listens all the way through, and instead of liner notes i read wiki or the artist's site. the biggest and best change is that since my music player has gotten smaller and can hold a lot of music i now have music everywhere all the time. which is rad.

Posted by: Jared at July 29, 2008 11:33 AM

finding music has become WAY too easy!

Posted by: ali at July 29, 2008 11:38 AM

I wish you could see the angsty, 12 year old tear that is forming in my left eye as I type this. He GETS it! Someone still REMEMBERS.

If you ask me, the one true recording art-form remaining is the mixtape. Yep, I said mixtape, and I meant it. I'll bet you know what I mean.

I remember being a little girl, turning all the lights out, sitting in front of the glow of a few orange lights coming from the Marantz, listening to scratchy albums on the record player. I remember just laying on the floor, soaking in Echoes, or I Robot, or Days of Future Past. THAT'S the difference, if you ask me. We don't soak in music like that anymore. We don't have to, we're not even supposed to, try to find a story in the music. Albums don't tell stories anymore, unless you're Radiohead or Jill Scott.

Technology has made me fight for my music a little. It's made me less willing to experiment, and made me more choosy. Because quality? Got harder to find.

Holy chapter, Batman. Sorry.

Posted by: Mr Lady at July 29, 2008 12:03 PM

I always knew that they based the movie Empire Records on your life. ;)

I haven't actually bought a CD in years. I download (legally) all of my music. Saves me so much space and time.

Posted by: Issa at July 29, 2008 12:22 PM

Well me...I love the fact that I can now carry most of my music library with me in my purse. That rocks...and keeps my car from becoming a cd case wasteland in the backseat. It also keeps me pretty much frustration free.

I do miss cd covers...I was one of those weird people who actually read all the liner notes. I mean there were there for a reason right?

And guess what...I actually still own some vinyl myself...33 and 45s!

Posted by: Amy at July 29, 2008 12:37 PM

Yeah, so my story is pretty much your story. Except I'm younger, so I was teased for it.

When I was growing up, we didn't have the internet because we didn't have a computer (a vital component of having the internet, yes?) and we bought cassettes and vinyl because we didn't have a CD player.

In 8th grade, my dad and I became obsessed with Queen and scoured the city buying up records and listening and quizzing each other on trivia.

Music was more fun then.

Posted by: caleal at July 29, 2008 12:47 PM

Ahhh man LINER NOTES! One of the greatest downfalls of the music industry is their demise.

I am a bit older than you, so for me it was the now totally uncool Elton John, but when Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy came out, with not one but TWO complete booklets of liner notes, including Elton John's actual journal notes from 1967 before he was Elton John, I spent days, not hours, reading them. It changed the entire experience for me, and I regret that my kids won't know music the way I did.

Posted by: Candy at July 29, 2008 12:48 PM

I remember 8 track tapes and records. I missed most of this as all I had was a boom box. My hubby on the other hand had a massive love affair with albums.

He got rid of his album collection shortly after we had our boy as he didn't have a turntable and regrets it to this day.

We get most of our music downloaded now and I miss reading everything the most.

Posted by: Diane at July 29, 2008 12:53 PM

Technology has ruined picking out a album based on the cover and song titles and taking a big chance only to find out that

a. it sucks donkey dicks
b. b. it’s the most amazing music you single-handedly found on your own merit..go you!

Technoglogy has the same affect on book purchasing. If amazon.com doesn't give it a four stars I'm not bothering and I'm sure I've missed lots of books I might have loved...

Genesis changed a lot for me musically too....

Posted by: Kristy at July 29, 2008 3:39 PM

So here are the things I miss:

Surprise tracks:

Where the artist is tired or silly or drugged up and does something very, very strange. Take the last song on Disraeli Gears. Or the Holocaust of the Carrots by Tool. They are those gems that are just not going to happen anymore, because people will just opt not to buy them. But they're what made me connect to certain bands, see them as people.

More than three songs on heavy rotation on radio stations:

To be fair, I think this might be a location thing. I went back home recently to Buffalo, and the radio stations were playing all sorts of different music (Bless Canada!). However, here in Minnesoh-ta, it's 20 songs a day. None of them older than 18 months. Yes, MIA is older than all the songs up here.

I still do mix CD's people. C'mon, it's not ALL doom and gloom!

Posted by: alektra at July 29, 2008 4:15 PM

In my opinion, music is like anything else, you get out of it what you put in to it. Take a vacation to CA and spend a day (or three) in the music section of Amoeba (I'm partial to the one in San Francisco myself). Just because the technology is available, doesn't mean you have to use it.

Posted by: fauve at July 29, 2008 6:20 PM

I have to say I practically squeed with delight when I first heard of this wacky thing called the mp3 and the fact that you could download ONE SINGLE TRACK! Whilst in some ways I think I probably do miss out on some excellent album tracks by not purchasing an album in its entirety, I was so fed up of having to buy a whole album (which back in the day was about £15) for just a couple of songs that I LOVED and couldn't live without.

The only other alternative was listening to the radio with my finger primed on the record button, ready to start taping as soon as I heard the opening chord of a song I wanted. Which pretty much sucked.

Now I can download a single track for 79p (my days as a criminal mastermind with Limewire constantly on the go ended before I hit my mid 20s) AND I can preview the rest of the tracks to get a sense of whether I might want to download the entire album.

If an artist I really love releases an album I usually do still purchase it on CD. And I do worry sometimes that the majority of my music is electronically stored and susceptible to viruses or hard drive crashes. But generally, I'm embracing the technological revolution.

Wow. Apparently I had a lot to say on this subject!!

Posted by: starrynite at July 29, 2008 6:35 PM

I have to say I practically squeed with delight when I first heard of this wacky thing called the mp3 and the fact that you could download ONE SINGLE TRACK! Whilst in some ways I think I probably do miss out on some excellent album tracks by not purchasing an album in its entirety, I was so fed up of having to buy a whole album (which back in the day was about £15) for just a couple of songs that I LOVED and couldn't live without.

The only other alternative was listening to the radio with my finger primed on the record button, ready to start taping as soon as I heard the opening chord of a song I wanted. Which pretty much sucked.

Now I can download a single track for 79p (my days as a criminal mastermind with Limewire constantly on the go ended before I hit my mid 20s) AND I can preview the rest of the tracks to get a sense of whether I might want to download the entire album.

If an artist I really love releases an album I usually do still purchase it on CD. And I do worry sometimes that the majority of my music is electronically stored and susceptible to viruses or hard drive crashes. But generally, I'm embracing the technological revolution.

Wow. Apparently I had a lot to say on this subject!!

Posted by: starrynite at July 29, 2008 6:35 PM

Sorry i am so late. Yes, technology has altered how I absorb music. Sadly I think. But technology has also had an affect on "how" music is produced. You know so much of today's music is mechanically altered. Give me the Beatles any day!

Posted by: Maribeth at July 29, 2008 7:25 PM

Wow, I'm having deja vu reading this post. I went to Sound Warehouse in Dallas all the time as a kid. That was a dream job I got rejected for.

I miss learning the WHOLE album and hearing a song end on the radio and knowing what the next song on the album would be....

Posted by: Wendy at July 29, 2008 7:58 PM

I love this post. It reminds me of my time spent at record stores that don't exist now. I do buy digital, but for the most part I still look for the CD at my fave record store. If I find my favorite band put out any vinyl, I'm there. I was the teen looking at 45's then cassette singles. I do love being able to buy my own "singles" and load up the iPod. I think technology has made finding new music and buying it easier (Pandora and iTunes for me).

I do miss the CD long box though....

Posted by: Bea at July 29, 2008 8:01 PM

Technology has definitely had a positive impact on how I listen to music. Now, with Myspace (ugh) I can get on a band's page and listen to their songs and decide if they're worth another listen. It's especially awesome because I go to a lot of concerts, and I can check out, say, Dave Barnes (opening for Hanson in October) before I go see him at the show and figure out what he's about.

Plus, I download music (that's right, I do, arrest me!) and having so much music available for download has opened my ears to so many different bands and genres, including wizard rock (which I recommend if you are into Harry Potter).

I barely remember the days of cassettes (sorry, old man), so most of my exposure to music has been through CDs, although I do remember playing with my parents' records when I was little.

Posted by: Stephanie at July 29, 2008 8:24 PM

Oh how I miss Tower Records, I used to love to go and flip through all the records - actual vinyl ones. I miss looking at all the artwork and the names of songs I didn't know. Feeling a bit nostalgic now.

Posted by: Mandy Lou at July 30, 2008 12:16 AM

That is sooo me too. My first job was in a record store and I loved the discovery of any and all music.

But now that I am old and lazy, it's nice to have the ease of it too.

P.S. Growing up in Maryland, WHFS made a huuuuge impact on my musical life too.

Posted by: Aimee Greeblemonkey at July 30, 2008 2:13 AM

Technology has changed the way I listen to music both positively and negatively.

The fact that I can carry around 60 gigs of music, on my person, in my car or wherever, that is AWESOME!

However,the advent of the mp3 has all but destroyed my knowledge of song titles. I remember waaaaay back in the early 90's when I could rattle off all the songs in order on most anything I owned.

Now...not so much. I find myself describing songs to friends as, "You know it's the one that comes after the song that starts off with the wicked drums and the DUN DUN DUHHHHH part...."

progress is perception in my opinion.


Posted by: JackassJimmy at July 30, 2008 4:41 AM

technology has ruined that wonderful, serendipitous moment when a song you loved came on the radio unexpectedly.

Posted by: Gayle at July 30, 2008 8:09 PM

I love iTunes and my iPod(s) and the instant gratification of downloadable music. Also the fact that it takes up no space in my living room and lessens my environmental footprint. I love having the core of my music collection in my pocket everywhere I go.

The first music I owned was the Bonnie Tyler cassette with "Total Eclipse of the Heart" on it. I was like, 10. The first thing I bought was Survivor's "Vital Signs", also on cassette. When I was low on cash I bought LPs instead, so I have a bunch of those, plus 45s and cassette singles. I do miss poring over the shelves for imports. I miss ogling the hot guys that worked at record stores in the 90s. I miss showing up at the crack of dawn on Sundays to buy concert tickets from the BASS outlet (represent, Bay Area!) at the Wherehouse.

I'm glad I have the memories, and I'm glad I lived to see the technology.

Posted by: Brooke at July 30, 2008 8:24 PM

First of all I love my iPod. The music geek in me loves that I have 37 different version of Even Flow from as many official bootlegs. So I adore that.

But I do miss finding that rare CD. I remember Record Runner on Rideau St. and the hours I'd spend searching through the indie Bins. Great finds like Billy Bragg's Talking to the Taxman About Poetry (still fabulous.) I miss the trip for records and CDs even. But I will admit to still buying albums but I do, from time to time buy songs. I miss the chase of the rare.

In my case "rare" has become those clips from shows that rare performance -- like PJ doing Love Reign O'er Me and The Real Me at The Who tribute on VH1. (That's now the good stuff.)

But yeah, I miss record stores.

Posted by: Nat at July 30, 2008 10:27 PM

I was just talking about this a while back... Very much agreed:

Posted by: Kate at August 21, 2008 1:36 PM