We are at the point where the brick and mortar music stores are on the verge of extinction. Big box stores’ music selections have dwindled to the point of carrying maybe one or two aisles of CDs both new and old. That’s if you are lucky.
And let’s face it, with the exception of a few stations here and there, we are constantly hearing the same round of songs over and over again on the radio. Especially the classic rocks stations, which seem to be in the dark that popular rock music continued after 1989.
So I don’t totally blame people when they say that “there is no more good music being made today.”
Of course that is a popular sentiment, because the main avenues of where we find new music have drastically changed in the past 20 years.
But it is a change for the better, in my opinion, for the most part.
I will always miss the now-defunct record stores I worked in for about a decade. I discovered so many great bands and albums while working at CD Warehouse and the Electric Fetus in St. Cloud. On the other hand, through the power of P2P file sharing of the early aughts, I discovered just as many bands that I otherwise would never have heard of.
The Internet let the cat out of the bag that music can be transferred online in the late 90s. And it took the music industry 10 years to figure out how to combat that. And when streaming music started catching on around 2010 with the likes of Spotify, I saw then that this was not only a clever way at combating piracy, but an effective tool in discovering new music. The possibilities were endless. And let’s face it, there is no turning back to the way things once were.
With apps and programs like Spotify, Amazon Prime, Tidal and others, not only is discovering new music less costly to the consumer, but it allows the consumer to try out new music that they might not have bothered before — because let’s face it, handing over $10-$20 for a CD in the past that wasn’t very good was a real bummer. A couple of times being burned like that really made risking trying out new music a financial burden. With streaming music, we don’t have to worry about such a risk. If we don’t like what we hear, no problem.
Now we can discover — or even revisit — music and albums from our phones, computers, game consoles and even our TVs.
One problem now that I have experienced is with all these options, where do I start? I have the free version of Spotify (meaning I have to sit through ads every fourth of fifth song) and Amazon Prime, and they offer a lot of content.
Luckily, they are pretty easy to browse via genre, decade and Spotify offers — based on my past listening habits — suggestions that are in the same vein of what I have been listening to. This, for instance, allowed me to finally give the Minnesota band, The Jayhawks, a chance based on my listening to Uncle Tupelo and Wilco. And from there, it went to the Flying Burrito Brothers and other interesting music that I otherwise probably would never have given the time to.
Spotify also offers a “similar artists” choices for further options based on any given band or artist you type in.
Amazon offers a free download of many albums I have purchased, and they are available on my phone and computer. And from that, it offers me recommendations based on those albums I have bought and others that are available for free streaming.
So while it can seem a little intimidating at first, there are ways to get one’s feet wet.
Brave New World Has Its Downside
While streaming music is a great bargain for the consumer, artists are starting to be very vocal in their critique of the technology. Mainly, they claim they are not being fairly compensated by the streaming companies.
It raises questions such as: Are these streaming companies really shortchanging the artists? Are the labels the one doing the shortchanging because the streaming sites are paying them, and then they sprinkle whatever down to the artists? My guess is that it’s a bit of “all of the above.” Record labels have a long, rich history of screwing artists over, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the case here.
But it seems that the streaming sites are working on this. Taylor Swift famously pulled her music from Spotify and used a PR campaign to pressure Apple Music into giving her and other artists a fair compensation for the rights to stream their work. So efforts are being made on this end of things.
No Turning Back
There is no question that this is the future of music. Thankfully, these apps/sites are incredibly user friendly. And they do make it easier to discover new music.
I have argued with friends over the years, in regard to popular music and the Internet, that artists will have to up their game for people to be interested in their music.
Gone are the days when a band could put out a mediocre record and expect fans to buy it. I’m certainly glad of that, because in my high school years, I spent a lot of cash buying albums and discovering I wasted money for maybe one good track. No more. If an artist puts out a uninspired piece of work, they suffer and their credibility suffers for it.
And hearing something I might never have dared to invest the cash in in the past has allowed me to buy albums from artists because I was able to hear it first. It allows me to separate the wheat from the chaff, if you will.
And radio certainly isn’t going away anytime soon, but it is also (for the most part) not really promoting new and different music beyond the top 40 and college/alternative stations. Which is a sad thing, but perhaps this new era will finally break us free of having to hear the same Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd songs over and over again. These new sites also offer their own radio stations. Spotify offers a weekly “Discover” playlist that is curated based on past listening habits which make for a nice mix of new and old music.
So while I may still be bummed about the vanishing of some of the old ways of finding new music, I have embraced the new ways.