The invention and evolution of digital music has not only changed the way we listen to music, but it’s also effected the way we “obtain” music (buy, borrow, steal). At the root of everything involved are ethics and preferences. My first year of college happened to be the year Napster was started (1999). I have always loved music, but until that point in my life, I had to drive to the store and shell out 15 bucks or ask a friend to make me a tape of music they had already bought if I wanted new music. But now, with Napster, everything had changed. I could sit in my dorm room and by simply logging onto a computer program I was connected with other people around the country (maybe even the world) who were willing to share their music with me for free. It was an incredible new reality for me, and I took advantage like it was going to end the next day. I remember staying up until at least 4:00 am several nights that year because I kept thinking of songs I had always wanted (but never had the money to buy the entire album). All I had to do was type in the name of the artist and/or song and within a few minutes I could have the song downloaded onto my computer and a few days later, by giving a few dollars to a guy who lived in another dorm who had a CD burner (another technological breakthrough that I was in awe of), I could have those newly downloaded songs on a CD and listen to them wherever I went (which at that time was usually basketball road trips). I can remember being on the bus and having some of my teammates make a big deal out of it when I had TEN different burned CDs (they thought that was a lot). By the end of my first semester I think I had downloaded every song I could think of that I didn’t already have on a CD, which probably meant I had somewhere around 1,000 songs.
That same year, Napster became the center of debate in the music industry after several bands (most notably Metallica and Dr. Dre) filed legal complaints against the service for allowing users to download their songs without permission. Napster was definitely not legal, since users were literally stealing music (the artists and record companies were not getting a single penny while people were getting their music for free). The music peeps didn’t like this arrangement, but me and all my friends thought it was a pretty sweet deal (remember we were broke college students, the only thing better would have been a restaurant that delivered free pizza around the clock). Sometime during either my freshman or sophomore year, Napster reached an agreement that they would lock the doors to their music network on anyone who was pirating their songs. So, on a cloudy day in a dorm room on the campus of Luther College, I attempted to log on to Napster like I had so many times before, but rather than gaining access to a glorious buffet of free music, I was instead greeted by a message from Dr. Dre stating that because I had some of his music on my computer I would no longer be able to use Napster (ever!). This was not good news. The irony in this story is that I had just purchased tickets for a concert that coming summer in which Dr. Dre was one of the main acts (I think those tickets were around $60 each). Thanks, Dre…I can’t wait for your expensive concert!
Well, sometime between staying up all night downloading music, going to Dr. Dre concerts and wherever I’m at today, I began thinking about the ethics involved in my behavior as a music lover. Perhaps it has something to do with working in a church and going to seminary, or simply growing up and maturing (including some changes in my music preferences) – and I suppose having friends in the music industry and actually having money to buy music may have played roles as well – but today it’s pretty uncommon for me to get music in a way that is not legal. I’m not going to say it never happens, but it’s a much more rare occurrence than when I was 18. But even looking at this situation with the assumption that the ways most people get music today is legal; there are all sorts of other issues involved, including how individuals listen to music and their preferred methods of getting their favorite music from a CD, website or hard drive to their ears.
I have friends who vow they will never buy an actual CD again; they prefer to buy individual songs or full albums on iTunes. There are certainly advantages to this method of purchasing music. For example, all I need to do is look at all the shoe boxes full of CDs under my bed to realize that I could free up a lot of storage space if I had only bought those albums from iTunes or some other digital music store. Call me old school, but I still love buying CDs. I can’t imagine missing out on one of the greatest joys in my life; the new music experience. I love struggling to take off the clear wrapping around a new CD, fighting to remove that sticker label that runs across the top so I can open the case; and the pop-noise the disc makes the first time you take it off the little round prongs that keep it in its place, I love that sound. I love the smell of a new CD almost as much as I love the smell of the new shoes that came in those boxes where I now keep all my old CDs (but seriously, nothing compares to the smell of new shoes). I love looking at the photography and design of the entire packaging of a CD. When I first started buying CDs in middle school, I remember getting excited by all the new ways record companies printed graphics (and even pictures) onto the actual disc; and when they started making the entire case clear – meaning there was a hidden image to discover behind the CD – I thought it was just about the coolest thing ever. I love flipping through the album’s liner notes – and I still don’t understand why it’s so hard to get them out of the case the first time, but then gets easier every time after.
I have an iPod, so the first thing I usually do with a new CD is import it into iTunes and start listening to it on my computer, but it’s uncommon that I get through the first song before reading the artists’ Thank Yous (as well as the lyrics, but I always read the Thank Yous first). When it comes down to it, I think that’s actually one of the main reasons why I still buy CDs. Sure, it makes sense from a “just in case” perspective to own the CDs — just in case my hard drive should crash and I lost all my music that wasn’t backed up somewhere — and I realize that when you download full albums on iTunes you usually get a pdf of the CD liner notes (what iTunes calls the “Digital Booklet”), but it’s just not the same as holding the real thing in my hands and reading the song lyrics and Thank Yous. There’s something deep and meaningful that happens to me in that moment. Maybe I’m the only one who experiences this (and feels a need to re-experience this when it comes to getting new music), I’m not sure, but the only thing that makes new music more meaningful to me is when I get a CD after seeing that band or artist in concert. I love the feeling that I know a bit about the people behind the music, like they’ve let me into their life or world (or their reality of life in the world), even if it was just for an hour with a few hundred/thousand other people (depending on the size of the concert); but music is a deep and personal thing to me, and nothing is as intimate as being in the same room as people when they’re creating music that puts the thoughts, feelings and emotions of my life into melodies and lyrics. Augustine, the philosopher and theologian from the 4th and 5th century is quoted as having said that “He who sings prays twice,” and although I’m not quite sure what this means, it is clear to me that to many people, music (whether singing or listening) is a sacred thing. No two people have exactly the same taste in music, but regardless of the person, great music always connects with the soul of the listener; so whether it’s worship music, rock, folk, hip hop, country, classical or experimental, one of the greatest joys I’ve experience in life is getting to know the hearts of the people who make the music that connects with my soul. That’s why I love going to concerts. And that’s also why I will continue buying CDs as long as they still make them (and I wouldn’t be surprised if music went “digital only” during my lifetime).
Last night I went to a concert. It wasn’t a great show, but even a bad concert is (usually) better than no concert. I went with a friend and he had an extra copy of one of the artist’s albums, so I ended up seeing live music and taking new music home with me (one of my favorite combos). Since I got home late I didn’t open the CD until this morning, but as I was reading the Thank You notes – after following all the wonderful steps I described above – I found myself reading something I had never read before. Everything seemed pretty normal, as he followed the standard industry format – “Thanks to… God, Jesus, family, friends and anyone else who helped me make this album and become who I am today” – followed by the list of websites where people can “visit him.” But this is where my new music experience was changed forever…
After listing his website and myspace page, he wrote the following: “let me just give you my cell phone number… 555-123-4567! I’d love to hear you from! (And no, this is not a joke!)”
Seriously, this is actually what he wrote; and yes, I changed his phone number because I’m fairly certain the number he listed is his real cell number (although I don’t really know why I’m protecting his personal information since he already shared it with everyone). Honestly, I’m still not sure what to think about this. It’s certainly gutsy, especially in a world where privacy is such a big deal. I have no way of knowing how many people have actually picked up the phone to tell the guy “Hey man, I was just listening to your CD and I wanted to say whats up,” but it’s probably safe to assume that at least a few people have done it. (It doesn’t add a whole lot to the story to give the name of the artist, so I’ll only say that he’s a young male Christian singer, and while he’s no Justin Timberlake, I’m sure JT would never give his phone numbers inside a CD.) I’m intrigued by this invitation for interaction between an artist and his fans, and I’m considering calling him to ask a few questions about his innovative move, just to see if he’s happy with his decision (to find out what kind of response it’s created). If nothing else, it would give me an opportunity to find out if the number he gave is for real.
I never really know what I’m going to write about on anewdoxology until I sit down in front of my computer and start typing. I usually have a general idea because something has inspired me or got me thinking about something I want to explore deeper, but I never write something just to write something. I have to feel led to write before I start writing, and believe it or not, there have been several things I’ve spent hours working on that never made it online (and one recently that I put up for a few hours and then decided to take down). Writing is therapeutic for me and it helps me better understand how I see and think about things in the world. So this morning, I opened a new CD and went about a very normal thing in my life (with no intention of writing about it). I was struck by the openness of an artist to not only share his faith with others through the music he’s created, but also to share part of himself with his fans by giving them his phone number. There’s a lot of trust shown in this action, but if you really think about it, why are we so scared to trust other people with personal things about ourselves? I don’t just love music because of how it sounds, but because of how it makes me feel and the many wonderful ways it leads me to think and ask questions about the most basic and profound aspects of what it means to be a human in this world. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way…
Why do you love music? What specifically about music stirs your soul and leads you to thoughts and questions that drill to the core of what it means to be alive?