Consumption of Music on Demand

Tivo and iPods (or more generally a digital audio players and a digital video recorders)  have changed the way we consume media.  It’s a pretty obvious statement I know – but hear me out.   I want to talk about music, but let me first say something about tv/film.

I was a late comer to both Battlestar Galactica and 24.   I didn’t start watching either one until a couple seasons in.  I recorded a bunch of 24’s with my DVR, and bought a few seasons of Battlestar Galactica on DVD.  Either way, I wound up watching entire seasons of a show in a week or two in contrast to the six or nine months it usually takes to watch a season of a show.

Watching habits were changed from when the network demanded it to whenever I wanted to see it.  In this, you could almost argue that the story itself behind the show has changed.    There’s no more downtime between episodes to think and ponder, and be on the edge of your seat about what happens next.

In fact, my DVR, Netflix, and DVD collection have changed my attention span on shows when I do have to wait to access them.  When I was watching my 24 marathon, I was really into it.  Then, when I had to wait a week to see what happened, I was less into it.  And now, I’m not even sure how much I care about 24 now that its been a whole year.

This is stark contrast to how we used to watch TV.  Either we were chained to our sets when our favorite shows were on, or our favorite shows just happened to be those that we had the specific nights free for.

The point is that having constant, on demand access to TV and film can ultimately change the story as we percieve it.  Watching TV can become more like reading a book.  You can rewatch/reread, read/watch when you want, and you don’t have to read/watch the whole chapter/episode in a sitting, or you can finish the entire thing in one sitting.  This is especially true as we can watch video on our mobile devices now.

Music can be a little more complex.  In addition to being short form, where consumption of a song can take only 3 or 5 minutes, there’s not usually a cliff-hanger or a compelling reason to listen to the next song on the same album for most people.

This became apparent when your single disc CD player became a 5 disc CD changer back in the 90’s.  I found it was easier to put my 5 discs on shuffle to get a little variety in each music listening session.

My car was a major place that I’d listen to music, and it was especially great to have my music on long rides.  My car, however, had just a single disc CD player.  That means when I put a CD in, it would stay in.  And because I was driving it, was a bit complicated to remove and change it unless there was a break in traffic.  I also only had a limited selection to choose from, as I’d usually only take the last 5 or 6 CD’s I bought with me on a normal car trip.

This means when I bought new music, I’d get very familiar with it.  I’d listen to it over and over again.

I suspect that most people’s music habits had the same limiting factors.  Either you listened to what the technology at the time allowed you to hear, or what the radio allowed you to hear – and each of these things led to the same thing, you’d listen to a song over and over again.

Of course with digital audio players with lots of storage this has all changed.  I have a Microsoft Zune with 120 Gigabytes of storage capacity.  This means that I can put my wife’s music collection and my music collection (probably 500-600 CD’s) on my Zune in its entirety 3 or 4 times over.  Many music players have at least 1 Gigabyte of memory allowing 10-15 albums at a time.

Suddenly, it becomes more convenient just to put every song you own on shuffle than to find the last albums you bought to listen over and over again – and given people’s tendency towards variety, a big shuffled list sounds more appealing when it comes time to listen to music.

So, listening habits have changed – and so has how we percieve music as a result.

Have you ever listened to an album or song, and didn’t really like it at first, but maybe after listening to it for the 5th time or the 10th time it’s one of your favorites?  It used to happen to me all the time.  But it really doesn’t happen to me much anymore.  Music listening has become sort of superficial to me.  I’d buy some new music, listen to it once, and then it appears on shuffle sometimes as I’m buying newer music.

It’s somewhat of a personal goal to give my new music a better listen from now one, despite the fact that my entire collection fits in the palm of my hand.

So as things are getting long, I’m going to continue things in a second post where I think about how people can listen to music on a less superficial level despite the technology we have.