Investing in music

7th September 2010
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I spent hours in record shops browsing, talking and looking. More often than not, I’d then spend even more hours in my bedroom trying to work out whether what I’d bought was any good. I had to get my money’s worth.

Buying records was about so much more than hearing a song and heading to a shop. Of course that sometimes happened. But it was often for all sorts of other reasons too: discovery, adventure, identity, rebellion, conforming, being first, being frivolous, being deep, wearing a badge, making a statement, establishing a point of difference. Often, I’d buy an album due to the weight of critical opinion or because of my friends’ rave recommendations. I might buy something without ever hearing a note.

But the act of leaving a shop with a branded bag felt like an important ritual. I’d carefully make sure that everyone could see that I’d bought a record and would always hope to bump into a mate so that he or she would ask what was in my bag.

Then I’d get home, shut my door, turn up the volume and listen.

I wasted hours hoping to find some depth in music that had little to reveal (like parading that pretty but shallow girlfriend). That said, I still believe that the embarrassing mistakes are as important a part of your collection as the gems. I hate it when colleagues only seem to reveal perfect taste. That’s not real.

Thankfully, however, I spent an even greater amount of time discovering and falling for music that revealed more and more on every listen even if I didn’t understand it at first. Like meeting a girl who just gets more and more interesting the more you chat with them. They’re the ones you spend your life with.

I often think the very act of investing in an album ensured a reciprocal investment of time in listening. And, now with the ability to sample for free, I don’t feel the same necessity to invest time in listening and understanding the music. Why do you need to try to get your money’s worth if it hasn’t cost you anything in the first place.

If I hadn’t felt such a necessity to invest time in listening, I’d never have grown to love some of the artists that I now can’t live without. My job means that I get a lot of free CDs. However, they’re often the ones that get left unplayed. I still much prefer the ritual and adventure of buying an album, especially when I don’t quite know what I’m in for.

So, I guess my point is to urge music lovers to continue to buy music of all kinds and to sometimes resist the temptation to sample it for free. That’s not a soft sell to lure people away from the file sharing or free streaming sites.  It’s simply a proposition that it’s difficult to differentiate ‘free’ from ‘disposable’ and that some of the greatest music doesn’t reveal itself on the first, second or even the tenth listen. You might have disposed of it before that magical connection happens.

I don’t think it’s possible or right to try to reverse the music revolution that we’re living through. I do, however, maintain that one’s experience of music that is ‘valueless’ is different to that where it has a perceived value.

Go on. Try it. Buy an album that you’re tempted by and go through that rite of passage again. Sit with it. Spend some time with it. Play it over and over again, read about it and try to understand why it exists. You might of course choose a dud. But you might experience something amazing.

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