Saturday, 3 January 2009


I've mused before about changing habits when it comes to music and I will, no doubt, do it again. In the olden days you had a big 12" vinyl record in a cover with space for pictures and lyrics and you listened to it at home with the album cover handy to glance over, read, whatever. Then cassettes (remember them?) made music more mobile but the covers held less content. Then CDs which could include slim booklets and now, increasingly, digital downloads with, often, no hard copy of anything.

I have a bookcase full of CDs in my hallway, a couple of dozen 12" and 7" vinyl records for old times sake, loads of burnt CDs for downloads (for some reason I still feel the need for hard copy) and over 90% of my music is held on my laptop (I must get round to copying it to an external drive soon). I sometimes play CDs on my CD player but I use it mainly for radio listening. I listen to music via my iPod or laptop.

That means:

1. I tend not to look at CD sleeves, credits or even the names of songs which means I sometimes don't know what I'm listening to, particularly on shuffle;
2. Playback quality is much reduced and, although I don't really notice it, I assume I'm potentially missing some wonderful sonic moments.

The same thing is happening to films and TV programmes. Once you could only see films in the cinema, then, a few years later, they turned up on telly, followed by owning them on videotape and now DVDs appear a few months after cinema release. And you can get mobile DVD players so you can watch your films or telly shows wherever you want. Books are, at least, still books and in broadly the same format as they've been for centuries, but for how much longer?

Does any of this really matter? Probably not. Business changes and so do our consumer habits. I find it a bit odd talking about music as if it's like cornflakes but I suppose that's what it is. Or at least that's what some of it is. We've had music in our lives for millennia, it means something, it can take us out of ourselves and be something to treasure. That's why I still have some vinyl records despite not having a proper record player - I treasure those records and still have my first ever record, 'Lola' by The Kinks. I suppose that's also why I still buy hard copy CDs even though I rarely play them or look at the booklet. I like the physicality of them despite listening, almost exclusively, digitally. When I download an album I'll burn it and make a cover for it, which is even odder since it's then just filed away and not looked at again. But I still do it.

It's sad that record shops are closing. I enjoy browsing among the CDs in the big Oxford Street branch of HMV - you never know what you might find, old records being released on CD or new bands just emerging. I browse round MySpace but it's not the same thing. No, it's not the same thing at all. Whatever next?

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