This is just a reflection I make due to recent happenings at home:
When I was a kid in primary school, I had no access to music at all. We had no turntable or cassette player, let alone any kind of hi-fi music system. Then, in 1981, I moved to a small town where there was actually FM radio. That was like discovering El Dorado for someone as me, even if at the beginning I was restricted to commercial, mainstream radio. Then, in 1984, I moved to Córdoba, and discovered independent FM radio stations. A year later we purchased our first hifi system at home. That was several universes beyond El Dorado to me, as I suddenly discovered Prince, The Smiths, Trevor Horn, Scritti Politti, Prefab Sprout and on and on and on...
Those years I heard on a daily basis a radio show focused on good new music. I always had a cassette tape ready to record any song that sounded interesting to me. Still I keep a large library of those cassettes, which I know by memory. They constituted the vocabulary of my music tastes. It was all pretty artisanal, including often awful drafts of recordings later released in albums. Besides, I had also many recordings of local bands who were promoting their music in order to get a contract and an album published.
By the time, I had made a few friends with similar music tastes to me (with some exceptions: I never had a purple pal to share my love for Prince music...). And we were often purchasing LPs, which were then recorded onto tape to share with friends. So whenever we were planning to buy an album, it was kind of a shared effort, resulting in access to a number of albums which would be impossible on a personal basis. At the time, an LP costed the equivalent of 6 euros, and I remember saving every penny I could in order to get a brand new LP every couple of months or so. Take into account that my teenager "weekly salary" was the equivalent of 3 euros at the time...
That situation provoked a feeling of cherishing every album or tape. We were very cautious before purchasing a new LP, as when most songs were not good enough, it meant wasting a good amount of money (for our standars, that is). Furthermore, every new album was heard many times, and after just a few days, I knew every bit of it. That applies for countless classics from those years, including SOTT. And exactly the same happened for tapes of albums I could not purchase: they received the same attention, and if the albums was very good, I quickly tried to buy it in vinyl.
Music at the time was serious business, it costed big bucks taking into account the budget of a teenager, it was difficult to listen to good, minority music, and it required a strong effort to discover and get that good music at home. Bear in mind many of my favourite albums were released only as import or locally by small labels. For instance, the first LP I purchased from Cocteau Twins was a truly awful edition by a small, independent Spanish label, and still it was a priceless treasure to me. I remember listening music at home at loud volume, with my parents looking at me with the gesture of "what have we done to deserve a crazy son like this".
And why I am writing all this?
Well, as I wrote recently, my first daughter seems to be so interested in music as I am (with rather different tastes, may I say...), and so I am witnessing in first row what happens today in her situation. She's almost 13 by now, has got her own computer, and a second hand mobile set enabled for music playback. Besides she's got a small music system (simple but with good audio quality). And besides she's got access to our home music system, which is old but still sounds excellent.
Well, I tell you what happens.
First, besides the point music discoveries due to her father, yours truly (such as Gothye "Someone I used to know" or The Original 7ven "Trending", to name two recent examples), her music findings come from school friends (awful music in the vast majority), the even more awful music promoted by Disney (the likes of Justin Bieber etc) and videos she watches on MTV, including good and bad stuff. She listens to commercial radio but not very often, and I have the feeling that she does not find new music there.
When she wants to listen to music, she does not think in buying the CD, or a download; furthermore, she does not download illegal copies of the album (although sometimes she asks me to do so): surprisingly (to me, at least), all she does is to look for the music video in youtube and listen to it in the crappy computer speakers, where calling it "can sound" would be an overstatement. Furthermore, even in albums she has got on CD, you will see her very seldom using her personal CD system. It's either the video on youtube, or what's even worse, the same song transferred to the mobile device and played ON THE CRAPPY MINISPEAKERS OF IT... that truly makes me angry, as the audio quality is well bellow miserable.
As you can imagine, the kind of attention she spends on music is quite different to the one we used, thirty years ago. I'm not saying it is worse: I realize she reflects my own behaviour at her age, only that it is updated by thirty years. She's got free access to pretty much any song she would like to listen, and that would be a dream for myself at her age, when you had to wait for many months before getting an album.
But on the other hand, the attention they spend on music is nowhere near ours, because it does not require work or effort or attention to get it and appreciate it. She is not saving money to buy albums. And whenever she gets a new album, it is no big deal whether it is a collection of mostly excellent songs, or only a bunch of filler around a good single. That's a huge contrast for me. But then again, even if she gets a good album, she will focus most attention on one or two songs, rather than spending loads of time to explore and enjoy the rest.
The second contrast is that, having different audio playback devices of different audio qualities, she uses most the worst of all (the mobile phone), and I guess the reason is that it is a trendy touch screen one. And this is, I think, quite a general situation. Weirdly she does not give a shit about its phoning capabilities: she uses it almost strictly to listen to music. And this is, I'm afraid, not a general situation.
The third difference (although I realize this might be due to her age) is that she's not tried yet to go beyond the most commercial stuff. Although she seems to be interested in those: I was delighted when she asked, a few times, about "daddy how did you discover this song?", addressings songs from, for instance, Sufjan Stevens which never appear on the radio or MTV. But still, I have the feeling that "rare music" (meaning simply music that is out of the radar of the commercial channels) is far from the interest of most teenagers now.
Anyway, I just wanted to stress how different it is the overall experience of a music lover who is entering the teenager years, in 2011, compared to another who was in the same situation in the early 80s. And I see both good and bad sides in the comparison, of course, although one conclusion is clear to me:
The perceived "value" of music is much lower now. And I'm not speaking only about economic value: the fact that "music is for free" and that it requires no effort to listen what you want, means that you give it low appreciation, even if you are a music lover. Or at least, that is my perception of the current situation.
And that is an unexpected outcome, since in principle, if you explained the current situation to myself in 1981, I would say it was plain paradise for music lovers. Yet it's not exactly "paradise".