B.B. King once sang “The thrill is gone,” and when it comes to the current state of music, I have to agree. I’m not one to compare one era to another and declare either greater; music is an art form that must forever progress whether we’re fans of those changes or not. When I say the thrill is gone, I’m talking about the way we, as fans, interact and consume our music. Let me explain.
I’m a member of a unique generation. I was born into what some people only a few years younger might call a world of Luddites. LPs and turntables were the norm, but as technology marched on, our music became portable. As is usually the case, what we sacrificed in quality, we made up for in convenience.
But what makes my generation unique is that we entered a world with technological limitations yet embraced any and all advances. Today, I love my ipod. I admit it. The prospect of thousands of songs at my disposal is fantastic, and let’s face it, hauling crates of records, not to mention turntables, amps and speakers, along with me is just plain unfeasible. Still, awash in a sea of MP3s, torrents and burned CDs is the very lore that made music such an integral part of my life.
Albums, complete with the cover art, jackets and liner notes, were more than just a collection of songs. They served as a personal introduction to countless artists, doorways by which you felt a deeper connection to their music. Every album was a case study where you’d follow along with the lyrics in that perfect marriage between the written word and melody. You learned who wrote the songs, who produced them, where and when they were recorded and any other bit of information you could store away in your memory banks. Even the sequencing, that little nod from artist to listener that said, “This is how I’d like you to hear my music” was important. Listening to music was an active pursuit, hardly a passive afterthought.
Now we’ve traded song titles for track numbers, cover art for skins and perhaps the worst of all, quantity for knowledge. There are a number of albums I’ve discovered in the past year that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, but beyond a name of a band and maybe the name of the album, I don’t have much for you. I can tell you which tracks are my favorites but to name them would just be an educated guess. I couldn’t pick them out of a magazine. I can’t even tell you their names. They are faceless, nameless, a mere collection of riffs. I can pick and choose the songs I like, destroying the lost art of the album. The thrill, B.B., is indeed gone.
If there is tragedy in digital music, this is the sad denouement. It’s not the measure of quality but of the lost sense of a shared culture that we experience through music. The mere analytics of equalization, discussions on clipping or RMS measurements belie the argument at hand. They’re a red herring, a path that only leads to true heartbreak. I want my music to have heart again, to have a soul, to be mine. I want it to be human again.
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