Wednesday, May 04, 2011

How has the internet affected the behaviour of music consumers?

My Answer to a Quora question found here.

I once heard someone describe the diminished perception of the value of music this way:

Once upon a time, people used to buy their music recorded on vinyl discs called "LPs" In this medium, you could of course play your music, but you could also almost SEE your music. The music was represented in little tiny grooves pressed into the platter. You could easily damage the music you loved by scratching it with the very device intended to let you enjoy it.

A few years later, the disc became smaller and shinier. The compact disc converted the visible grooves on the LP to invisible pits on a ceramic disc. The pits were read by an invisible beam of light. The disc may (or may not) have been more durable than the LP, and access to the tracks were nearly very fast, the artwork and inserts became smaller, and more information could be placed on these little discs than the larger LP counterparts.

Finally, we have progressed to a place where an individual song has been reduced to a file on a computer. Files have little value. We drag them from place to virtual place, move them from hard drive to hard drive, they can be accessed and played instantly, but they carry no artwork other than a simple icon (maybe) electronically associated with it. The file can have varying degrees of quality that the artist and producer has no control over, and can even be edited by a user with a free software.

So from one generation to the next we move from music that you can hold in your hand and see on the grooves of a disc to music that has very little intrinsic value of a computer file-- even the EXACT music that may have previously existed on an LP. Music from the internet has been reduced to an icon on your screen.

So in one way, the internet has affected the behavior of music consumers by subtly devaluing the product itself, in part because the medium on which it exists has changed so significantly.

This may be one reason why it is so hard to convince younger folks that when they transfer a file from one place to another, they are stealing--but that's a whole other discussion.