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I was born in a generation of the dying video rental stores. Blockbuster’s business peaked in 2004. Then it declined. The rise of RedBox, Netflix, and the On-Demand alternatives crushed the rental business. In middle school, I spent afternoons roaming the aisles of my local video stores. I could stop in once section and see all the tapes in a single series. I spent many nights binge watching all the original Star Trek, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars films. At the video store, I would find a section I liked and grab as many videos I could fit in my arms. I used genre to discover videos.
I was also born into a generation with frictionless access to music. My siblings’ generation were apart of the Walkman revolution. I was apart of the music industries transition to CDs. The rise of Virgin Music. This was the shift of the vinyl from a music listening device to a vintage item. This was the Napster generation. The rise of Kazaa. And the growth of iTunes. My ability to access music changed over a few years.
In elementary school, I couldn’t answer questions about music. My classmates would have favorite bands. They would talk about the concerts they went to with parents. I couldn’t relate. My favorite CD’s were movie soundtracks. I listened to the Matrix soundtrack on repeat for months. Not because I though it was the best music, but because it was all I knew about.
When P2P networks began to rise, I started discovering music through individual song downloads. I would search for bands I had heard of, and download any of the returned results. In middle school, I discovered House music and started downloading music based on genre. I would search in mass for keywords associated to my taste. After downloading songs, I would burn it on a CD and listen to it on the way to school. I rarely shared CDs. I felt like the music I listened to was unique to my tastes.
While driving with my friends parents, we would listen to the radio. We would listen to the Oldies channel. I rarely heard anyone who listened to the House or Techno music I liked.
Torrenting changed the way I consumed music. Instead of downloading individual songs, I began downloading discography’s of bands. I wouldn’t download the individual songs I liked, but instead I would have every song ever released by an artist. I remember going through an intense Rage Against the Machines, Wu-Tang Clan, Nirvana, and MF Doom phase. This was because I was able to get the discography and listen to every one of their songs.
By having the discography, I found it difficult to find the quality songs by a brand. P2P services acted as a indirect rating service through the number of upload/downloads happening. Torrenting services acted the same way, but the files downloaded were much larger. Through a P2P service, the trafficked files were important. Discography’s didn’t show me the best songs or albums by an artist. As a result, I started having more music than I would ever listen to. I even had bands that I didn’t like because I never heard their ‘good’ songs.
My problem wasn’t about access, it was about identifying quality. P2P networks worked because people download one song at a time. If there was high traffic on a song, it was good. With Torrents, the good songs were no longer clear. I didn’t care enough to research a band after downloading their discography. I was more interested in the feeling of having all the songs.
iTunes was a game changer. It wasn’t about making music accessible. I had all the access I needed. It wasn’t about the instant access. As a high schooler, I had all the time in the world to find how to download an album or song. I would scour IRC boards, download forums, or torrents. iTunes was a game changer for me because it reintroduced the ability to distinguish an artist’s quality songs. This was missing before.
I had a discovery problem. In video stores, I discovered content based on genre. I would go to the “editor’s picks” section if I was in need of inspiration. For music, I started out with movie soundtracks. Napster and Kazaa made music accessible to me. Before, I felt that music was a foreign world. After, I could learn from the presence of an existing community of consumers. Torrents gave me access to everything I wanted in bulk. My issue was not about access. I didn’t know how to identify the quality. iTunes reintroduced the ability to discovery quality.
When I discovered Hype Machine, I became ecstatic. Hypem surfaces the internet’s most popular songs by tracking music blogs. Hypem lets you listen to music through a online stream, without advertisements. I would listen to the Hypem most popular and if I heard something I liked, I would find the artist in iTunes and buy their songs. I discovered many artists I love through this methods.
Discovering new music is great. I love finding a new band that I can share with my friends. I also love having a variety of music playing in the background. When Im in the mood for something new, I use Hypem. This is the best part of the passive music listening process for me.
And now, Spotify is my new boat. A band I haven’t listened to in a long time will resurface in my memory. When this happens, I turn to Spotify. Spotify is my go-to music access tool. In contrast to Hypem, I use Spotify when I know exactly what I want to listen to. Today it was Spoon. Yesterday it was The Faint. Tomorrow, who knows. Regardless, having a tool to discover new music and another tool to resurface old music are crucial.