How We Listen to Music: Now vs. Then

music musings, beaverdamusa.comA few musings ago, I contemplated on how the music industry has changed over the years .  As usual, one thing led to another in my noggin and I started thinking about how listening to music has changed in my 50+ trips around the sun.  Keep in mind that I have lived through LP’s (twice), 8-tracks, cassettes, and digital files.  So in no particular order (other than how they popped in my head), here is a trip down memory lane:

  • Singles – Not the dating kind, but the music kind.  It used to be that the radio was the only place to hear new singles and it seemed that beach destinations got them first.  With the Internet, listening to new singles can be like drinking from a fire hose.  From artists’ websites to iTunes to streaming services, new songs are plentiful.
  • Order – When you purchased your new album (vinyl, cassette, 8-track), you listened to it in order.  Several artists took pride in the fact that the album told a story.  Now with shuffle on your iPod, very rarely do you listen to a complete album.
  • Fade Out/Fade In – For those who are old enough to remember 8-tracks, you undoubtedly remember how the tracks would change in the middle of some songs.  Luckily, the song with the change would not be the hit, but some deep cut.  There are certain older songs, like Styx’s Castle Walls, where I can still “hear” in my head where the track changed.  I always thought that would be a great concert idea – while playing one of those songs, fade out and back in at that change point.  The older folks would get it.
  • Easy to Find – Previously, you had to go to a record store or the local dime store to purchase singles and albums.  Let me tell you, Kuhn’s in Waverly didn’t have a large selection.  When we went to Nashville and went to Cat’s Records, it was heaven.  Now, all I have to do and download it from the web or order it online for delivery.
  • Portability – If you wanted to play music in your car – you had to purchase tapes or record your vinyl to tape.  Then you had to find a way to store them.  I remember having tape cases the size of small suitcases and it was a point of pride to have the bigger case than your friends.  Now – it is on your phone or iPod and thanks to Bluetooth, you don’t even have to have a cord.
  • Headphones – The life cycle of headphones seems to have come full circle.  Old headphones were gigantic bug-eyed looking things that gave your neck a workout.  Then they went small and even to the point of becoming things (earbuds) that went in your ear.  Lately, the trend has been to go back bigger with over-the-ear models.  However, the sound quality has definitely improved.

Things do change and most of the time for the better – while I do miss my 48 slot 8-track case, I don’t miss some things:

cassette pencil

The older folks will understand the relationship between the two.

Musing in Nashville

Zach

Just Put a Coin on the Needle and Jam

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”  This could very well be changed to “How do I listen to thee? Let me count the ways,” when talking about my music.

If you're over 40, you've probably put a quarter on the needle. (Photo by Rama [CC-BY-SA-2.0-fr (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/fr/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons)

If you’re over 40, you’ve probably put a quarter on the needle.

I was unpacking a turntable I recently received as a present the other night and it brought back a lot of memories. First of all, this turntable has a radio, CD player, and even a cassette player. You can record from any of the functions onto a CD. Luckily for me, I had held onto my albums, so I had plenty to play. While taking a walk down memory lane with my albums (Frankie & the Knockouts?), I realized that there are many albums that I have had on basically every media form except reel to reel tape. 8-track – yep. Vinyl – yep. Cassette – yep. CD – yep. Digital – yep. When my wife and I married 20 years ago, we combined our album collections, so it is interesting to see which ones are duplicates. Maybe that should be a pre-marriage test – combine your albums and see how many are duplicated. The more duplicates, the more compatible. Hmmm…

As usual, this line of thinking led to another one. Thinking about all the quirks with the different ways music media has evolved over the years, there were some things that would make today’s kids really shake their head (RSTH).

  • 8-tracks – First of all, it was kind of large and bulky. Then you went to play it and right in the middle of your song – the song would fade out and “ka-chunk” and the song picks up on the next “track”. Occasionally, during a period of silence you could hear a song from another track. Of course, this was cured by wedging a folded sheet of paper under the cartridge.
  • Albums (vinyl) – These were really bulky and really didn’t fare well if left in the direct sun. Of course there were the two universal arguments – leave the plastic on or take it off and store them flat or on end. It also seemed that if you looked at an album it would inevitably develop a scratch right at your favorite guitar lead which would send the needle sliding across the remaining songs and end up at the paper in the middle. Speaking of needles, those things attracted dust worse than a hardwood floor in a cat lady’s house. You would have to clean it off and then if it started jumping on the album because of the
    The old, trusty 8-track. (Photo by H. Michael Karshis from San Antonio, USA (Jesus Signed my 8-Track!) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

    The old, trusty 8-track.

    vinyl being warped; you could put a coin on top of the needle to hold it down. The vinyl was the best media type for album artwork. There was a lot of space on the outer cardboard sleeve and then you had the inner sleeve for lyrics, etc.
  • Cassettes – Wow, these were smaller and therefore much more portable than the clunky 8-track players or non-portable albums. It seemed like an eternity to rewind a cassette or at the end of a side, you could eject the cassette and flip it. Then came the mother of all cassette inventions – “auto reverse”. This feature allowed you to put a cassette into the player and simply push a button to begin playing the other side. Also, it never failed that the tape would hang up on something inside the player and then when you ejected it, you had two or three feet of tape that you had to re-wind using a pencil. If you are over 40, you know what I am talking about. The small case limited the amount of liner notes you could include with a tape unless you had one of those inserts with three or four folds. Also, you could record albums onto a blank cassette. Pretty cool since cassette players were developed for cars.
  • CD’s – It is basically a mini-album, correct? Except for the fact that the audio quality is way better and you can record on it. You could scratch (physically, not rap) them, but it was harder to do than an album. Some artists even got fancy and would include small videos or pictures on the CD itself. With the advent of the MP3 digital format, you could even make your own mix CD without too much of a hassle.

The electronics industry made money off me because I had to have the latest and greatest in my car or at the house. Like fashion comes back in style, vinyl is making a comeback. Audiophiles proclaim the pureness of it. Collectors are now dusting off their old LP’s. Electronics companies are producing modern turntables again.

The circle continues – now to find my Louisiana LeRoux album.

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