As an avid follower of pop culture I thoroughly enjoyed and share Mitch Albom’s perspective from today’s Detroit Free Press: “It’s Oz but it’s just not the same.” His premise in the wake of viewing the new Sam Raimi film: TV and movie programming are just not as special today as in pre DVD and DVR days when you could only see particular programming once a year when it ran on the networks.
When it comes to music, however, I would argue that the ability today to preview virtually any potentially downloadable song online at any time is a drastic improvement over how things used to be. And though I often lament the disappearance of the record store and (many would argue) the decreased popularity of terrestrial radio, modern technology is actually a good thing for music lovers.
Here’s why: Greater variety and more access. In the very early days of radio, DJs basically played what they wanted (or were paid to play). Juke boxes featured a range of songs but inspired Top 40 radio when the originators of the format noticed certain songs being played over and over during an afternoon at a juke joint. Top 40 AM, in fact, is what I grew up with. And, while the format was largely “color blind” (I used to hear Led Zeppelin next to Earth Wind & Fire next to Barry Manilow), you only heard 40 songs over and over. FM would come later, of course, with a greater variety of album cuts in its early heyday.
Today, Pandora, Spotify, iTunes and the like allow for almost unlimited musical discovery, radio or not. With a recent affinity to “angst rock” bands such as Breaking Benjamin and Red, I have since branched out further, through iTunes recommendations and favorite-artist stations on Pandora to uncover scores of incredible music by similar newer artists – from Verve Union, Chevelle and Nine Lashes to Ten Years, Ghosts of August and 30 Seconds to Mars. I’m even finding some of my old favorites, including Richard Page (Mr. Mister) and Steve Walsh (Kansas) have more recent solo offerings. Who knew?
I would also suggest that our ability to sample before we purchase also keeps the artists honest. Long gone, of course, are the days of purchasing an LP for a single or two only to find the rest of the album is crap. Bono of U2 once suggested that the music industry was suffering not from illegal downloading but bad music. In this case, technological progress is a good thing.