Doves, Klaxons, Badly Drawn Boy, Arctic Monkeys, Lilly Allen - The Changing Face Of Music Consumption.

Thomas Bath 03/01/2008

Wanted: The Sea EP by Doves. Name your price. Desperate to hear it. Or so my internal classified ad went many moons ago in the last century. I'd heard the lead track 'Sea Song' on Steve Lamacq's show in the wee small hours and was blown away by it. The trouble was, back in those days, the internet was nothing more than a twinkle in Bill Gates' wallet. It took me two fruitless trips to Manchester's 'Vinyl Exchange' before I finally tracked it down in an independent record shop in my hometown of Stoke-on-Trent, whereupon i was temporarily overcome with borderline hysterical excitement. It cost me the 4 I had in my pocket; and it also meant that I faced a long walk home due to spending my bus fare. A meagre price to pay I thought. I've still got the EP, and every time I listen to it, I get a small swell of satisfaction that I managed to track it down. A feeling which transcends the song itself and makes it one of my all time favourites. I put some legwork into getting that song.

Which brings me neatly to the point of this article. The kids of today are missing out on such anecdotes. Are they going to tell their grandkids that they couldn't find the new Klaxons single on Limewire so they had to go through the utter rigmarole of downloading Soulseek and getting it off there instead? The internet has had a myriad of positive effects on music. More so than ever now, the music you want is available at the click of a few buttons. The videos are on You Tube, the songs are on My Space and the albums are on i-Tunes. As consumers, we are spoilt for choice, and anyone with even a basic web knowledge can access tracks by their favourite artists. What John Cusack's and Jack Black's characters in 'High Fidelity' would make of it I dread to think. Being true vinyl junkies they'd probably fail to acknowledge the existence of the web and continue with their top five songs to boil eggs to list. (The number one of which is clearly I Am The Walrus).

I'd like to think that I could do the same. But I can't. The net now dictates my listening habits. Not being blessed with much disposable income, I can't afford to buy many albums. Why should I spend twelve quid on an album when I can illegally download the tracks I want and spend the money on essentials like beer and gigs? I daresay there are many people like me up and down the country and all around the world.

A downside, or possibly upside to this, dependent on your point of view is the lack of 'battle scars' from your record collection. By this, I mean crap albums that you've bought. Which, I believe can be tremendous character building tools. Nothing in life thus far had prepared me for the shock of spending a tenner on a Delakota album in 1998, that was, to coin a technical term, pants. I'd heard the two singles, which I loved and decided to risk buying the album. The lesson for the distraught seventeen year old with a cd containing two decent tracks and far too much filler? Life's not all sweetness and killer singles. Of course nowadays, this is a highly unlikely scenario. There is the option of listening to an online stream of the album before purchase. People may save money through this, but the soundtrack to their life is missing those anomalies where they took a risk in the hope of finding something magical.

I suppose every generation throws up change like this though. As they say, technology drives culture. My old man has regaled me many many times with stories from the northern soul scene. Where imported 7 inch white-labels were the main currency. “You young 'uns don't know you're born with your cd's and your HMV's. The dj's wouldn't even tell you what songs they were playing if you asked them in The Golden Torch. They used to cover the labels up so no-one else could play them. We had to order records out of the back of magazines from America. And I'll tell you this for free, these modern bloody footballers could learn a thing or two from Georgie Best as well.” As soon as I pull my finger out and have kids, they're going to get told about the mystical pre-internet days whether they like it or not.

One thing I really miss about habitual record purchasing is poring over the sleeves and inlays for facts and information. For example, did you know that Badly Drawn Boy's EP3 (A cd with a tale nearly as epic as The Sea EP by Doves) was engineered by The Away Team at Courtyard with drums and percussion by Adrian Dacre? It's the Adrian Dacre's of this world that are now being forced out. More often than not, music is now just a series of binary codes in Windows Media Player. John Squire once remarked about the early Stone Roses records that you got a free Jackson Pollock painting with every single and album. Something tangible to be cherished.

The internet isn't solely evil with regards to music though. The birth of My Space has afforded more or less every band in the world the opportunity of a potential worldwide audience. The Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen used the site to cultivate large and passionate fan-bases long before any labels had started to sniff round them. The downside to this of course, is the saturation of the market. Bands with a My Space page can, in theory, reach millions of people. Although they are vying for people's affections along with the other trillions of bands.

My most favouritest thing about music on the web though, is the fact that I can listen to any song I wish, whenever I feel like listening to it. Which is an excellent way to sample any guilty pleasures one might have. I quite like a couple of Carpenters tunes. I have done for years. The simple clicking of a mouse now means that I can indulge in a spot of Rainy Days and Mondays without the ignominy of having to stand red-faced at the counter of HMV whilst muttering words to the effect of “it's my Nan's birthday, honest!” Good old Soulseek.

The capacity to access music for free has shifted the goalposts for artists and record companies alike. To the point where Radiohead recently gave fans the chance to download their new album for as little as a penny. A noble gesture I'm sure, but they've still previously sold millions and millions of albums and can command forty quid a ticket for their concerts. Cd sales have dropped twenty percent in the last year, and who knows how much further they'll continue to do so? This can only be put down, I think, to downloading. Whether above board or illegal. Clicking a couple of buttons is infinitely easier than getting a train to Manchester in the blind hope that someone will have that limited edition Ian Brown/UNKLE collaboration in stock. It may be more convenient to click, but it's not nearly as satisfying or as much fun. As soon as I've got some cash to spare, I'm getting on a train for another fix.

How do you feel about the changing face of music consumption? Will it kill the music industry? How much do you download music?Or do you prefer the physical product on Vinyl and CD? Is the digital music revolution a positive thing?