I insist on owning my music, even in the age of streaming
Sorry, Spotify — I have no interest in your streaming. When it comes to the music I love, I’m possessive to a fault. I want to own it all.
Legit just purchased a digital download album like it’s 2007 but y’all KENDRICK
— Brett Williams (@bdwilliams910) April 14, 2017
I wasn’t alone in buying “DAMN.”, but after a quick poll of friends, I was among the only ones without an active streaming service membership. I don’t often buy digital albums, but I insist on keeping all 7,928 songs I’ve accumulated over my musical lifetime on my iPhone. That’s just a few short of the 30 million-plus available instantly on Spotify — but every single one of them is mine.
Streaming is cool, but…
OK I’ll back off a little bit. I’m not some snob with my nose totally upturned to streaming — as I type these words, I’m jamming out to my Ryan Adams station on Pandora. I love discovering new jams via algorithm, and Spotify’s new music page is one of the first things I check out on Friday mornings.
I can appreciate the power and convenience that comes along with streaming music. It’s intoxicating to be able to pull up just about every song ever recorded instantly, wherever and whenever you want. That’s one of the reasons streaming overtook digital sales last year for the first time ever — physical music sales were left in the dust back in 2011.
But for me, that power is too much far-ranging, and too impersonal. Everyone can have that same experience, while I still think of music I dedicate my attention to as mine.
The way that I listen to music makes me more likely to want to own it, too. I’m not a playlist fiend like most of my friends — I tend to listen to albums all the way through, in the gym, at home, everywhere. I appreciate the care that went into the organization and presentation of someone’s art.
It’s not that I’m a format snob. MP3, MP4, FLAC — they’re all a mishmash of letters and numbers to me. I’m as happy listening to a sketchy download as a vinyl record on my stereo system.
I’m not on some moralistic kick about buying my tunes so that the artists get a bigger cut, either, although the affect streaming has on the industry’s unsung contributors like songwriters is definitely problematic. I don’t make it a point to support artists on principle, other than records I’ve purchased by friends from college who are hitting it big (shoutout to Pinegrove and SPORTS, go Lords).
Sharing is caring
It’s the ability to really share something with someone that makes ownership important to me.
I got into vinyl when my best friend and I shared an apartment together, after developing our music tastes together from the time we were 13 years old through dozens of burned CDs. Even though I live across the country now, we still buy each other records, which remain my most prized possessions.
When my parents found out we got a turntable, they pulled an old crate of records from the attic and we spent an evening shuffling through the musty, faded sleeves, as they thought back to the exact time and place they were at in life when they first laid eyes on the record.
I love sharing music with everyone I can — but that particular experience was only possible with a physical item.
If something isn’t yours, how do you really share it?
At each evolution of the medium and as technology has improved, we’ve ceded more and more of that experience. Sure, the opportunity is still there to forge connections through music with the modern equivalent of the mixtape, the Spotify playlist, but the personality is gone. You can make a highly personal mix and share it out to one person, but at the end of the day it’s only just another page to open on their phone or computer that they can transmit to the internet at large with just a click.
We share so much now on our various platforms — statuses, pictures, stories, everything you can imagine, really — so the individual meaning and power of a specially selected song is lost.
If something isn’t yours, how do you really share it? Instead, you’re just showing someone something you find interesting.
My music means more than that to me. Call me a snob, call me a Luddite, call me anything you want, really. I won’t be able to hear you over The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, because that album is mine, a part of who I am.