Sorry not sorry to all the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers out there, but we Millennials are tearing up the ruins of society you’ve left us to inherit. And I have a sneaking suspicion we are going to leave things better than we found them, especially in regard to audio experiences. Music is being consumed differently than it was even 15 years ago. And while the music industry gripes and economists forecast various implications, the socio-cultural impact may be decidedly positive. The way in which Millennials stream and share music is creating a shift away from the type of proprietorship and permanence for which those older than us strove and suffered. There are multiple ways music streaming is changing our behavior and mindsets.
Owning vs. Accessing
Credit card defaults and home repossessions were just a couple ways in which Americana brought down our elders while we were too young to legally own almost anything. Maybe enough of us saw our parents laid off from a company they’d been serving for decades or watched the government shut down for weeks at a time to know the promise of permanence is … bullshit. Rather than seeking to own the latest albums from my favorite bands and paying $14.99 – $18.99 for an 11-track disk, I spend less than that per month to stream albums, playlists and radio on Spotify. It’s the difference between a little girl wanting a pony and the same little girl asking her parents to visit a petting zoo. There is something inherently less materialistic and greedy about digital music. Instead of me sitting in my room, holding my copy of Blink-182’s Enema of the State and whispering “my precious” to myself and the disc holder, I have become accustomed to not having access to any tunes whatsoever when Verizon 4G LTE drops off. That hour and a half on the 101 might be miserable, but it’s a valuable lesson: Music doesn’t belong to you, and anything that you think belongs to you (even the things you pay for) can go away, just like that.
Waste not, want not
Let’s face it: The majority of music is average, if not bad. The golden standard of owning music that doesn’t come encased in delicate, brittle plastic was set by Apple a long time ago. But, now we’ve taken it a step further. We don’t waste our money buying an entire album based off one song. We don’t waste space in our homes, cars or hard drives to simply access U2’s discography at the drop of hat (because we have that shit memorized, amirite?) Does anybody still have a binder of CDs catching dust in the back of a closet since 2007, and you’re just too torn to throw it away? Well, when the future-you realizes Taylor Swift’s 1989 is actually gratingly annoying and you want to get rid of it, rather than throw it away, you can just delete it off your computer. The only people who know you ever owned it are going to be the data analysts at Apple … and your current roommate, who probably hates you for playing it every time you’ve had one too many glasses of wine.
But, once you’ve made the decision to try a streaming service, where do you even start?
Are you going to download Pandora? Spotify? HypeM? What about the free streaming app for independent KEXP radio? Are you more of a Tiny Desk Concert viewer who enjoys discovering live musicians? It’s all out there, and you can create a piecemeal web of new, recommended, or catered music by dozens of cloud services, accessed by a flurry of passwords that need to be recovered every time one of your Apple devices breaks (I’m looking at a once-per-fiscal-quarter visit to the Genius Bar, myself).
But, with all this legwork/earwork comes new opportunities for individuality and discovery that has a ripple effect on the way we approach and follow through with media and more. How many of us will learn a programming language or French through a free service and/or YouTube video? The tech-savviness that accompanies our hunger for new and better music may perhaps shape the way in which we educate ourselves – as the pre-determined template of 4 years of college, followed by a decent salary, followed by kids/a pair of pugs obviously isn’t cutting it.
Sharing is … essential
And yes, it’s much easier posting a song to your Facebook or sending a link over to your friend than ever before. I might be one of the last generations to have burned CDs or created mixtapes for friends in order to share and distribute music. And either they loved it and you start envisioning what your kids with great musical taste would look like, or the more likely scenario occurs: they hated 60% of the album and it was a waste of plastic, effort, and the 45 minutes it took writing and illustrating the track listing. Don’t get me wrong: If you’re on SoundCloud and your friend is on HypeM, there might be multiple steps to finding the exact track they want you to hear … but that process takes a few clicks. Additionally, I can not only see what my friends voluntarily share on their SoundCloud stream, but what my co-workers and family members are merely listening to on Spotify.
Whether we like it or not, we are woven into each others’ lives through social media shares that get devastatingly creepier by the software upgrade. And while we may roll our eyes at those people who crowdsource the most mundane questions from their Facebook friends (Guys, how do I make a pancake???) instead of using their preferred browser, we seem to be there for each other as a whole. While large corporations, governments and economic systems may alienate us, we are engaging with each other unlike ever before. We are already creating more open-layout offices and embracing natural eyebrows, who knows where we could take the culture of sharing next?