The Digital Age of music is a Golden Age
While music purists love to go on endlessly about the current state of music, and how digital downloads and sales are “killing real music,” when you really break things down to their core parts, from the perspective of both the fan and artist, we have finally entered into what can truly be seen as a golden age of musical enjoyment. Now more than ever, we have more freedom and access, and more ways to ensure that our hard-earned money is only spent on music we will love.
First and foremost, with a vast majority of music being available to stream either in part or full BEFORE the point of purchase, consumers can at least get a taste of an artists new music or a classic album before committing their money to the product. Not even twenty years ago, while one or two songs may have been released in advance, it was a very rare occasion that you could access an album in its entirety beforehand to see if it’s something that tickled your ear. Granted, there were some albums that would be revealed in full via radio under special circumstances, but this was an uncommon instance, and often times, the broadcast was not done at a convenient time.
Whether it’s done via a formal video release, short-term streams through a variety of websites, free tracks being made available with pre-orders, or a long list of other possible avenues, there really is no excuse for anyone to be buying music and then complaining that it did not meet their standards. The tools are in place to avoid this on an overwhelming majority of both new and old releases.
Along with this access, there is just that: access. Thanks to technology, if you live in Peru and want to stay up-to-date on the pop music scene in Sweden, or perhaps you live in Belgium and have a passion for Japanese psych-rock, with a few quick clicks, you can have all you need of your sound of choice. This also has provided hours and hours of life footage that most people would never have been able to see, and for bands that made their name from their live performances, this is perhaps the biggest advantage of the age of digital music.
Turning to the side of the artists and musicians, the shifts in technology have also worked massively in their favor, as the struggle for major labels to stay relevant and necessary continues to be very well documented. Though they may not like it, the current reality works very much to the benefit of artists, as they can use various digital distribution channels not only to keep more money for themselves, but to have the complete freedom to release albums how and when they see fit.
There are countless stories all across the eras and genres of bands that were “forced” to alter their albums to appease The Suits at their record label, and a number of bands have since re-released album with “corrected” track orderings and additional songs. Thanks to places like Bandcamp, Soundcloud, or even the larger digital stores, if an artist wants to release a single song, a brief EP, or an epic album that goes on forever, there is no longer anything preventing them from presenting their art in the exact manner they wish.
Along with this, we have moved into in age that is almost “beyond” album covers, as thanks to enhanced media capabilities, if a performer wants to add a some sort of visual element to their release, or perhaps make them interactive in some way (see Björk’s Biophilia), again there is nothing preventing them from such expression. This is a reality that has never before been available easily to artists, and as it becomes more the norm, the level of imagination involved becomes endless.
The final piece that makes the age of digital music the most exciting is that thanks to compression techniques, the amount of music you can have on hand at any given time is truly infinite. Whether it was clunky cassette cases, huge and heavy books of CD’s, or milk crates of records, transporting music was never the easiest task. The fact that a lightweight music player can now hold tens of thousands of songs has revolutionized the personal listening experience, and as technology continues to progress, the only issues with this format begin to fade.
Many will argue that digital music lacks in quality, but whether you’re dealing with uncompressed audio files, FLAC, SHN, or the PONO format coming next year, there are a number of different ways to enjoy digital music without losing any frequency due to compression that you find in mp3’s. Some will say that it is a sense of warmth or a mood that becomes lost when you break it down to “ones and zeroes,” but from the viewpoint of access and convenience, the fact that you can experience these same songs without losing any tangible quality becomes the trump card.
The fact remains that hordes of music fans love to spend endless hours going on and on about how the age of digital music has completely ruined the art form, and that “real” music only exists in small, underground scenes. However, the reality stands that thanks to these same technological breakthroughs, for both the music fan and the music maker, the creative process and the act of listening to music is now easier, less constrained and accessible than ever before.
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