One stand out memory was in 1998 (I was 14, you work it out). I worked weekend nights in my old man’s restaurant, and as a result, have a fair whack of expendable cash compared to my peers. There was a music magazine; I think it used to be weekly (it’s now s**t), that started doing a series of cover-mount CDs. I got totally hooked on a band’s track, so the following week I went out and bought one of their albums at random alongside the latest issue of said magazine, and no doubt some tooth rotting sweets.
During a house move at some point in the 90s my parents made the mistake of giving me their old hi-fi. It was as old as I was, but it was great. I got off the bus, wandered home with no real sense of purpose, went to my room and parked myself in front of the hi-fi with my sugary treats, magazine and CD.
One thing I never thought about again until I was punching barcodes on a label release is that there is a knack to getting cellophane off CDs. At 14, I didn’t know my arse from my elbow, so I no doubt made a dog’s dinner of it. Regardless, the CD was freed from its plastic prison and went into the CD player. As the first track started, I thumbed through the cover booklet looking at the photos and wondering (in my naive state) why a band would need an engineer. As the first track kicked in I was looking at a photo of the singer/guitarist (doing what I now understand as) laying down his vocal track. The look of energy and emotion in that photo, combined with the intense power and sonic brilliance in the song playing a foot away from me changed the way I listened to music. I didn’t know it then, but I sure as s**t know it now.
This is one of the things that I look back on and lament that the advance of technology and its social implications mean that future generations will never get the tactile experience that we got with CDs, or – for you older readers – vinyl. The Internet and music TV have cheapened music, along with other arts. “Back when I was a lad” was a quote I would often hear from my grandfather when I was young, and I don’t think I ever appreciated it, I just thought he was a lot older than me and could remember the war. But when I was a lad, we didn’t have instant access to songs, albums, biographies and countless information. It was coming, soon, and quick, but in the meantime, we had the excitement of the bus ride home with a bag of CDs or vinyl and the anticipation of getting back to our smelly teenage rooms to sample our wares.
Sometimes, we’d have to wait weeks to get an album, shops wouldn’t have it in stock, our pocket money had been spent on other teenage bulls**t, or we were at (or pretending to be at) school. This all added to the excitement of buying music. It meant something. Now, all people have to do to get and listen to an album is turn the computer on, type in a name, and four and a half minutes later you have a low quality album on your computer, or phone. Now, you can stream music from the Internet to your f**king TV!
Music, as I – if somewhat briefly – knew it, has been cheapened by the fast-food-I-want-it-now-and-if-I-can’t-get-it-now-I’ll-do-something-else culture – brought on by the proliferation of the Internet. I have bought one album through iTunes. It cost me £7 odd, took the best part of 5 minutes to download and felt like I’d been robbed. £7, for a compressed recording, no artwork, no sleeve notes, nothing to put in the CD rack, and I’ve got to listen to it on the f**king computer.
Now, don’t get me wrong – the Internet has its merits. Countless merits, and digital music is happening, so there’s no point in pissing and moaning about it. It’s such a big thing now, if you don’t embrace it, you will get left behind. The last 10 to 15 odd years has seen record labels of all sizes vanish into the ether or be amalgamated into one of the majors, because they panicked about how the technology was changing, what has historically been a very lucrative business, or ignored it as a technological fad.
It’s funny how things come full circle – vinyl record sales are on the increase, and labels, both major and independent, are taking advantage of this. The one recurring pattern being that the majors are slow off the mark. And who cares? The major players in the recorded music industry floundering at the starting post is giving the independent labels and shops more room to move.
Long may it continue.