Music Listening in the Modern Age


A friend of mine recently asked what platform I use for buying music these days. She was concerned about her support actually supporting the musicians themselves, how to find new music, and feeling a bit angry and confused about having lost access to her iTunes library recently.

As in most of life, there are no easy answers. But by declaring what is most important to us, we can strike a balance that suits us and helps create the world around us that we want to live in — at least in our own little ways!

So first let’s tease apart the issues here:
  1. supporting musicians
  2. finding new music
  3. keeping the digital music you bought in one place.

These are each very different things. No one platform does all three well.

For support, Bandcamp or CDBaby kinds of solutions are good. But only if the musicians themselves are on those platforms. Most aren’t, these services cater to indie musicians.

For discovery, the bigger the better as platforms go (Apple, Amazon, Google) and the smaller the better as recommendations go (ask a friend!). I’m happy to share with you some of the new music I’ve found if you care to return the favor :)

For keeping your library yours, always download what you buy, and if you can’t then don’t buy. Keeping your music on the cloud means that cloud can and will eventually drift away. Put it on a drive and you can drive it where you want it. That also means you can lose it, as fires, floods, and disk failures do happen. Yes, you could back it up to an offsite location or back up to the cloud if you want. _But if you didn’t do it with your CDs in 1999, or your tapes in 1989, or your records in 1979, do you really need to do it now?

As for music streaming services, which don’t return significant revenue to the musician and don’t allow downloads, the line I draw is a living one. I only stream dead people. When I find something I really like and want to have, I get a physical CD on eBay or in a discount bargain bin when I come across one. Then let’er rip!

Traveling Music

So okay then, I’ve got all my music in somewhere of my choosing. How do I get it back out again to listen to it when I’m in my car, or at home, or at a friends place, or at the gym, or on a plane or train?

Again, these are actually pretty different questions, and not ones that we previously had a way to solve previously with physical media. You couldn’t ever jog with a record player. Your cassettes took up a ton of space and you only took a few of them with you places. If you were to burn your entire music library to the standard 74min CDs, you’d probably have too many discs to fit in your carry on luggage for the plane.

One solution is to be selective like we used to be. Certain music for certain spaces, or on certain devices. Workout music for the gym is likely not the same as the long trip traveling music or the soundtrack for that lovely dinner party. You can choose to just keep it separate.

I’m working on a more integrated solution for myself that’s not up and running just yet, but should be early next year. It’s my own music server, using free and open-source software, streaming to me from anywhere with an internet connection, but also syncing different libraries to different portable devices of my choosing for personal offline use. I’m hosting it on an old PC that was lying around from 2003, but with a new 5TB hard drive that I back up to another every so often. I’m sure I’ll be posting about this more when I get it done.

Should everyone go to such trouble? Probably not. But in a world where you are either the product or the owner, I prefer to own the things that are important to me. Music is that important to me.

Here’s one of my favorite bands in recent years, Dirtwire (which my friend Evan is in), and I am very happy to support on Bandcamp. If you’ve not supported artists on Bandcamp before, this would be a great opportunity to explore the options.

How important is music to you?