I’ve owned a digital music player in many different formats for a number of years. In my youth, one of my favourite parts of the day was deciding what CDs to put in my bag to listen to during breaks and lunches. At the time of launch, the iPod had been just what I was waiting for; the idea that I could store what appeared to be a limitless number of songs on a device smaller than my bulky Walkman was more than convenient, it was extremely desirable. After owning several of these devices, I have come to own an iPod Touch 64GB. When released, it was announced as the pinnacle of the on-the-move listening devices, but on reflection, I’m still a bit unsure about why these devices exist at all, and why they have become so essential to so many people.
There are just so many bands that despite having organized their music so neatly to allow for the flawless album cover-browsing mode to have the full effect, I have never really taken the time to listen to them properly. In the J section, the musical acts Jean Claude Jam Band, Jenny Owen Youngs and Junior Battles all fit this description for me. I enjoyed the one or two songs I have by each of them, but why do I continually scroll past their band names when I have no intention of buying any more of their music?
Sometimes you have to stop and wonder: why was it again that I bought this device? The iPod, to me, is essentially the musical equivalent of a dustbin; it is half full of rubbish, and you are only ever motivated to empty it when it reaches its capacity. It doesn’t really encourage you to listen in the way other formats do. The constant visual signal that suggests the song has so many minutes left, that I can skip to the next track, that I can shake it to shuffle my playlist, all of these things, for me, interfere with my enjoyment.
However, there are many times that the iPod has come in very useful. For one thing, the free single track many labels allow you to download to sample the album do allow you to make more informed decisions when entering a music shop to look for new things to buy. More than once, I’ve handed my iPod over to the owner of my local store of choice and asked him to recommend me a few albums they have in stock. On another occasion, a particularly eager salesman in a music store wouldn’t leave me alone because he was intent on “recommending me an album that catered to my tastes.” This went on for a while until I decided I’d had enough, pulled out my iPod, scrolled to genres, and proudly challenged him to cater to the 48 genres on display. He backed off.
At the end of a small musical event hosted by some friends, there was no DJ arranged, so I offered to step up and play a selection of tracks from my iPod and entertained a room full of people. Also, in promoting your own music, carrying a device that you can upload a large amount of finished and unfinished songs to means if you ever bump into an important promoter or producer, you’ll be able to let them hear what you sound like on the spot rather than hoping they will remember to check you out online. These are just a few of my positive experiences with owning and using the device on a daily basis.
Even so, I’m still not entirely sure that the iPod has been a step forward. While I certainly appreciate that its portability allows me to carry the device everywhere if only to block out unwanted noise, but when I’m at home, the iPod sits in a corner untouched. It hasn’t, as many suggested, ruined my love for physical music; in fact, if anything, it has only made that love stronger. The occasions where the device has come in useful definitely comes close to outnumbering those where it has not, so maybe thinking of it as a replacement rather than an addition to the music aficionado’s means of consuming music is part of the problem.