Music’s Medium Through the Years

I look back at my relatively short life and am amazed at the changes in how I listen to music. I don’t go back to the days of vinyl records or 8-tracks, but I do clearly remember the days of cassette tapes. I remember having several briefcase-like containers that I could insert my tapes in. I bought several tapes as a youth and spent hours mixing and making my own tapes. Many of the boomboxes of the late 1980s and early 1990s had dual cassette tape players meant for people to record whatever songs they wanted on blank tapes. I made tapes for road trips, for working out, for relaxing, and so on. You name the activity and I had a mix tape for it. But of course, CDs had gained in popularity while I was still young and soon tapes became difficult to find. CDs were great because a listener could easily skip to the track they wanted without having to rewind or fast-forward. Options such as ‘repeat’ or ‘random’ became music necessities.

In 1998 as I was moving to Japan, CDs were still popular and, thanks to computers, people had begun to ‘burn’ music they wanted onto blank CDs, much as I did with my tapes. While in Japan I was confronted with mini disc players, or MDs. Although similar to CDs, MDs were smaller and enclosed in a hard case. They were also recordable and I swapped many MDs with friends during my two-year stay in Japan. When I returned to the U.S. I thought I would be at the forefront of technology with my state-of-the-art MD player only to find that the U.S. had skipped MDs all together and had gone straight to MP3s. Napster was still in nascent operation in 2000 (albeit illegally) and I obtained an education in digital file sharing through friends in college. Just for the record, I did not own a computer and did not download files illegally, but did receive burned CDs from friends from their music library.  

While in college I found Internet radio. Tired of listening to the MDs or CDs I owned at the time, I recall plugging in my headphones to a library computer and working for hours on end while listening to various stations online through Live 365 or MSN Radio. It was refreshing to be able to have access to countless genres of non-stop streaming radio whenever I wanted. Later in life, while in law school, I received an iPod and became familiar with iTunes. I copied my entire CD collection onto my iPod and for the first time became familiar with podcasts, then just becoming popular.

Today, I still listen to my iPod almost daily as I commute, but have found that I am generally tired of spending money for music. I doubt I will buy another physical CD ever again. If I want to listen to music these days beyond my iPod, I can access Pandora or Slacker Radio for free on my phone. And in the near future, Spotify will finally be available in the U.S. and will allow anyone to download any song on their computer for free. I can’t imagine how my children will listen to music. Really, what could be next after this? Smaller digital music files? Better quality streaming without any lags? Unlimited skips on free Internet radio sites? Music is here to stay, but the way we listen to it will forever change. My failure to imagine the next possibilities, I guess, is partly why I am not rich.

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