I read the other day that Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” is now the top selling digital country single of all time. It’s been downloaded 6.33 million times. Many of today’s stars are making the most of the digital realm by offering less music more often. Case in point: The Zac Brown Band. Their philosophy is that no one buys albums anymore so why wait for a complete album when releasing small batches of songs simultaneously is just as profitable. Like it or hate it, it’s the way things are done now so we might as well embrace it, right?
Naturally, this got me thinking about the way music used to be. It blows my mind to think that my daughter, who is only a few weeks old at this point, will probably never even understand the concept of CD’s. Remember when it meant something to be first in line to pre-order a new “album,” as we used to call them, for fear that their might not be any left if you didn’t? Remember what it was like getting your hands on the shiny, new packaging for the first time, not wanting to get finger prints on the disc, while you carefully opened it up to read the liner notes? Having a tangible object to listen to somehow made you feel connected to the music.
We certainly can’t forget how cool it was to hear your favorite song on the radio. No where is this idea more clearly demonstrated than in the following story:
Picture, if you will, a quiet Saturday afternoon at a radio station. It’s 1976 and the DJ behind the mic is playing the most requested song of the time, “Stairway to Heaven.” (A convenient move on his part because “Stairway to Heaven” is like 10 minutes long. He has time to go to the bathroom before he has to be back on the air).
The request line starts to ring, and the DJ picks up the phone.
“Hello,” he says.
“Yes um….could you play ‘Stairway to Heaven?” the caller said.
“I’m playing it right now.”
“Yeah I know. Can you play it again?”
Perplexed, the DJ says, “Can I ask you a question?”
“Is ‘Stairway to Heaven’ one of your favorite songs?”
“Oh yeah!” he said.
“Do you own a copy of ‘Stairway to Heaven'”?
“Of course!” says the caller.
“Well how come you don’t listen to it whenever you want at home?”
He says, “Cause I want to hear it on the radio.”
That pretty much sums up everything you need to know about the role of radio in delivering the music we wanted to hear. Radio used to be the source we turned to for new music. A song really wasn’t popular until you heard it there first. (Note: This incident actually happened. The DJ was Rick Moranis of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids fame. He worked as a DJ before he became famous as an actor.) In a Pandora, iTunes and YouTube world, a musical experience such as this becomes obsolete. But it’s not entirely a bad thing (Though it does pose a challenge to FM music stations, which is a subject for another time!)
I remember getting a portable CD player for my birthday one year. (Yes, those were actually cool once!) I was particularly excited because now I could listen to my music while I was jogging. I’m sure I was quite a spectacle trying to hold the CD player just right so the music wouldn’t skip (one of the downsides to CD’s that my daughter will also never experience). Of course, the “skipping” only got worse if you didn’t take care of the discs properly. My biggest pet peeve was seeing people touch the shiny side of the disc and scratch it up. I was meticulous at preserving the crisp “newness” of the albums I owned. I would always make back-up copies to a cassette tape so I could listen to it on the tape player in the old family car. I would also burn a copy to a blank CD for everyday use. The original album would always stay on the shelf.
On top of the skipping, CD’s were not economical either. I paid as much as $20.00 some times for 11 songs!
I was taken back to my high school days when I received Garth Brooks’ new CD boxed set for Christmas this year. Once again, I was careful not to damage the CDs as I burned them into my iTunes library. (I guess old habits never die.) I can’t help but smile to think that I can share the music I grew up on with my daughter using mobile devices instead of discs…And I can let her pick the music without being worried that she’ll damage the disc. So I guess music in the digital age is something to embrace.