January 28, 2006


Zoilus has a little round-up of articles on the influence of the iPod on how people listen to music. One of the pieces takes the issue of music as a commodity in a slightly different direction. Basically, as more and more labels release alternate tracks, old bootlegs, and complete sessions of albums, our enjoyment of the original releases is reduced.

If you're one to fetishize albums — spending hours staring at the cover art, reading and rereading the liner notes, forcing your friends to listen to the same tracks again and again — I can see how this situation would be a problem. To maintain your obsession with the album, you have to keep yourself in a perpetual state of ignorance about how it was put together. You may say you want to know "how it all happened," but by exposing yourself to the banality of the circumstances, the mystery will disappear completely.

If you give into the temptation to hear the original demos and studio sessions, you can't romanticize the process of creation any more. It becomes evident that the music you love was birthed through hard work. As the PopMatters writer pointed out, you realize that the Beatles recorded a lot of duds. When you hear the official release of SMiLE, you wonder whether it was worth the 30-year wait.

The article does not touch on the segment of the music listening population that wants to know what it takes to put out an album of legendary status. You know, wouldbe songwriters, producers, and probably a few composers. Beyond the simple lesson that hard work and dedication go a long way, you can piece apart the sessions and learn how the tracks were put together. You can examine multiple versions of songs and figure out what made the final version so great.

Artists in other media get copious opportunities to pick through the creative process. At a big retrospective exhibit of a major painter, you usually get to see sketches for his magnum opus, along with any canvases he may've done that didn't pass muster. Do people who see these "lesser works" go up the ticket window and ask for their money back? Pop music fans should be thrilled that this kind of opportunity is now available on such a large scale.

As far as the impact of iPods go, I don't think the situation is as dire as it's made out to be. Among any population of self-proclaimed music lovers, you'll have two groups: people who say they like music, and those who actually do. The people who only say so are put up to it by the same social pressure that foists any other kind of fashionable behavior on them. The other group, whether they're into it for the artist worship or the admiration of craftsmanship, will never give into a music-as-wallpaper lifestyle, no matter how much technology gets thrown at them.

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