What is it about music consumption that elicits a feeling of ownership? Why do we refer to our personal collections of files, records, CDs (or recordings from a streaming service stored in the cloud – hello, 2018), as “my music.” It was written, performed, and recorded all by people who are not you. And yet, because you have picked it and deemed it to be enjoyable to your ears, it becomes yours.
I can’t find an analogous example in other art forms. We don’t get prints of our favorite pieces of art, hang them in our homes, and proclaim them to be “my art.” While we may refer to a stack of books or DVDs as “my books, my movies,” the same ownership context isn’t attached.
And let us not forget the judgement attached to the ownership. For serious music fans, meeting someone who doesn’t share *your* love of the same type of music can be disastrous. We all know those who look down on others who we feel do not exude the same standard of taste, because clearly, “our music” is better than “their music.”
Herein lies my theory: I think that the inherent ownership of music is routed in the consumption. First, let’s take live music off the table – that deserves a separate discussion. Recorded music is cheap, and often free. It’s everywhere – aural wallpaper when you go to a store, the background to your conversation in the car, your phone ring tone. Music fills in the silence. And because it’s everywhere, it’s not valued the same as other media, and other art forms. Why would we value something that permeates our lives?
I do not mean this as a disgruntled rant against the music industry. As someone “in it,” whatever that means, I am perpetually interested in how people consume music and claim it to be worthy of their time, money, and interest.
How did we get here? It can easily be pinpointed to the rise of downloading music, both legally and illegally. The iPod made music so portable, it decimated the radio industry. And sure, the rise of Napster et al. blew up the traditional model. But is it that simple? For sure, movies and books can and are downloaded, but not on the scale of music. Further, you have to sit down and read a book, watch a movie, look at a piece of art. It interrupts you and demands your attention. Music can do that, but it just as easily can not do that, if the listener so chooses.
I offer no solution here, because there isn’t one. This is simply how we live with recorded music, at least right now. I think I’m more interested in what others have to say. What is your relationship to recorded music? How has that changed over the years? What value do you place in recorded music, if you can be completely honest with yourself? Feel free to write to me using the contact form. I truly want to hear from you.