Why does music change? What makes it mutate within time?
It is not because of one single reason. Music changes because of a complex structural framework where different agents converge in different measures: sociocultural contexts, market economy, aesthetics trends and technology, to name just a few. Among these many reasons, there is also the audio format, be it physical or digital.
What we listen to is determined by where and how we listen to it.
In that sense, Youtube, as the main music consumption channel today, will have a huge influence on music evolution. Actually, it already has.
PEOPLE DON’T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT MUSIC ANYMORE
Since Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph cylinder in 1877, music as an emotional, aesthetic and sensory experience has suffered a progressive devaluation due to its lost of exceptionality. Before it could be recorded —which is, captured and saved for subsequent playings—, music had an almost ritualistic aura, as it could only be experienced under very particular circumstances: a concert, a popular festival, a religious service. Once people were able to listen to music wherever, whenever and as many times as they wanted, its uniqueness started a slow but continuous erosion. Until today.
THE PHONOGRAPH: THE DEVICE THAT CHANGED OUR RELATIONSHIP TO MUSIC FOREVER
Before the internet, the ‘music experience’ uniqueness was still preserved by pure physical reasons: if you wanted to listen to your favorite songs you were limited by time —not EVERYTHING was always available: many records got withdrawn from the labels’ catalogues—, space —you had to GO SOMEWHERE to get a record, be it a shop or your friend’s place—, and money —most of the time you had to PAY for your records. But in the www-era, when everything has turned virtual, listeners are no more limited by any of these issues. You can listen to ANY music ANYTIME without having to get ANYWHERE. Everything is available. Just a couple of clicks away. And it is free. What’s so unique about it, uh?
The mp3 meant a total integration of music in our daily activities. We mostly HEAR, not really LISTEN TO, as we do not focus on the act of listening as an experience per se anymore.
THE EVOLUTION OF PORTABLE MUSIC PLAYERS
WILL YOU EVER REALLY LISTEN CAREFULLY TO YOUR 160 GBs OF MUSIC?
On the other hand, new circumstances create new dynamics. When everything is available and free, when distance —both literally and metaphorically speaking— is no more an issue, our sense of time changes drastically. We are less patient. We have got EVERYTHING and we want it NOW. Beyond technical limitations —data transfer speed—, our waiting threshold gets shorter and shorter. We do not even wait for a song to finish.
YOUTUBE IS YOUR NEW DADDY
A few days ago, I had an argument about dirty socks spread all over the bedroom by my 11 years old daughter. I got quite upset with her I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude, so I ended up yelling “from now on, you’ll wash your own socks!”. She turned back and I asked: “Where do you think you’re going?”. Her answer: “I’m gonna check out how to wash socks on Youtube!”.
Youtube is the new bellwether figure for the young. Everything you need to learn is there. It is your new mum and dad. And most importantly, it is your new older brother when it comes to discover music.
In a recent interview on DJ Mag, Andrew Morrison, aka The Cyclist, explains how he got in touch with what would be his main influences: “Morrison did what so many artists of his generation opted for —he went online to seek inspiration. ‘You can find any kind of music from the ’70s and ’80s online, my influences are from all over the world,’ he says.”
Strictly speaking, Youtube is not a format but a platform. A “place” to find information. Like shops, libraries, radio stations and TV channels used to be.
Youtube is the Library of Alexandria of the post-digital world. A universal repository of the audiovisual virtual EVERYTHING. Almost every single bit of sound and image ever recorded is available, just one single click away. This endless, free of charge access to this digital archive has changed dramatically the way we relate to information and culture.