Free weekends used to be spent rummaging through new and used records to keep up with the latest and catch up on things I missed or misplaced (or things sticky-fingered by former friends).
Imagine how surprised I was when I found there is an entire generation of people who don’t know what a record store is, or even a CD for that matter.
I spent more than a decade in music retail, even managed a store for a year or two. I remember meeting many artists, getting product from many reps and selling much music – lots and lots of music.
For those who don’t know, music stores were places your parents (or in some cases, grandparents) used to hang out to buy music. We bought LPs (long-playing records) that were played on turntables, which were usually attached to an amp or receiver that was wired to large speakers (the bigger the better). Sometimes we bought cassettes, eight track tapes, reel to reels and 45s, depending on what our mood was and how our stereo (the big thing that use to sit in the living room until you got married and your wife said the speakers couldn’t stay in the living room) was configured.
Then came the CD in 1982, and well, you know the rest.
Yes, I’m old enough to remember all those as well as DAT (digital audio tape), minidiscs, Super Audio CDs (SACD) and DVD Audio.
Soon, there will be a generation that doesn’t know what any of those formats are. We can thank technology and innovation for this, and, more specifically, the late Steve Jobs and Apple. iPods changed the way we listened to music and iTunes changed the way we bought music. If video killed the radio star, surely Apple has done the same for music stores with its download technology and required hardware.
Portable music players were around long before the iPod. Boom boxes from various manufacturers made most people cringe during the late ‘70s and mid ‘80s, blasting rap and hip-hop on buses, street corners–just about everywhere. Then came the portable Sony Walkman, which let everyone listen to their cassette of choice without blasting the whole block. Walkmans were amazing–the music sounded great through headphones. Walkmans eventually evolved into portable CD players and again the sound improved.
The iPod was different. It didn’t (and still doesn’t) need any of the physical storage media of old. There were no moving parts (except for the click wheel) – nothing to insert or remove other than you earbuds. You just ripped music stored on your computer hard drive to your iPod.
Again, not new. MP3 players were already around and so was Napster, a theft–I mean music sharing–website that allowed people to load “free” music to their computers. It wasn’t really free. People didn’t pay for it so the artist got ticked off and the lawsuits started flying. iTunes avoided the controversy by selling the music to customers. Thus was born the great Apple ecosystem via which you shared music for all your devices, which now include iPhones, iPads, iMacs and iAnything else Apple will come up with.
Sadly, this was also the demise of most music stores. People no longer needed the physical media – just the download. Who needs album artwork or that feel of paper or plastic in your hands? No need to go somewhere to browse for hours through dusty crates or crowded shelves packed with artists from decades ago t0 today. Who does that?
Yes, I’ve met the digital age. I’ve owned a couple iPods (the first Shuffle and the first two Nanos). I even have Netflix and XM radio.
But I’m still a throwback. I like owning the stuff I can hold in my hand. I’ve still got a few cassettes. My last eight track disintegrated and my album collection is dog-eared. Yes, I can take that crackling sound coming through my speakers, not headphones. The sound is warmer than some CDs, unless I’m playing the few DVD Audio or SACD CDs I own.
But that’s another story.
Yes, I’m lamenting the loss of Jobs, who was a genius, but I’m missing what was once a weekend ritual. There are still a few music stores in my area but they don’t have long.
Now there’s this iCloud technology. You can store music from some remote site and call it up whenever you want on any Apple device you own that accepts the technology. It’s not even stored on your computer. It’s out there in the atmosphere somewhere. OK, it’s actually on a huge bank of servers in rural North Carolina but you get the picture.
Is this a good thing? Maybe. Natural resources can be preserved and there is no garbage from discarded CDs, records and tapes to deal with, but the thought of not being able to take a Saturday afternoon to visit a record store and browse makes me really, really sad.
Jobs, I’ll miss you and as an Apple fan I’ll use your products for years to come. I’m not happy to see my beloved music stores continue to disappear. That I may never get over.
W. Cross (firstname.lastname@example.org)