The Value of Music in the Age of Streaming

Nick Heer:

One more thing: I’ve never found CDs or cassette tapes to be particularly valued ways of listening to music. CDs, in particular, are a brittle delivery mechanism for music that sounds basically the same as what you’d get from iTunes. This is only a smidge less corny than talking about the warmth of vinyl and the way it friggin breathes; but, for me, a vinyl record is a fantastic way of expressing the personal value of an album.

One of the first formats I listen music to when I was a child were cassette tapes and I hold absolutely no nostalgia for them. Frankly, they were a terrible format prone to degradation of audio quality due to their very physical design. I have experienced too many tapes gone bad due to the summer heat of the Middle East.

Audio CDs are a tad bit more useful to me in so far they are more resistant to physical degradation and I get to rip a lossless copy of the music on it for archival and easy listening.

All of this preamble brings me to a point I want to make is that I don’t really find any value in the physicality of the format music comes in. Vinyl, cassette tapes, audio CDs; doesn’t matter, what I actually care about is the music itself. I have a small collection of audio CDs that I only purchased as it was the only way to purchase a lossless copy of the music I wanted. The CDs themselves have no other value to me, in fact I don’t think I’ve opened any of the jewel cases after I was done ripping the music. I could sell them or give them away without feeling much about it; in fact that is something I should be doing more often to reclaim the precious and limited physical space I have for myself.

Which brings me to another point I wanted to make which is that the value of music in the age of streaming is..the music. Streaming strips down the physical barriers to listening to a piece of music and brings it to a minimal financial cost. They focus on what I care about most which is discovering music I want to listen to and then listening to it.

I have been using Spotify ever since it became available in Canada and ever since that access was granted to me I have listened to more music than was ever possible even when I had access to large sources of pirated lossless music (RIP Discovery is much much easier with the advent of custom generated playlists like Discover Weekly and Release Radar.

I would be amiss if I did not mention one of my other sources of music discovery which is Bandcamp and their daily blog which surfaces all sorts of interesting music across genres and regions. Seriously, go check it out, you might find something you enjoy. Honorary mentions go to the /r/HipHopHeads and r/listentothis subreddits as well.

To conclude: I think that music streaming services (and also just digital music files) really strip music down to its core and lets the music stand on its own artistic merit instead of physical trappings like the warmth of vinyl or the cassette tape sound.

P.S – I do understand and respect the argument that the physical format can be in service to the artistic expression of the musical artist but all of that sound can be replicated in a digital file and I don’t need a goddamn cassette player in the year our lord 2019 to experience your lo-fi beats.