From Vinyl to iPad: How music listening has changed and I along with it

As most of you have probably already heard, the iPad 2 came out last week. It’s exciting. But honestly, every time a new technology or update comes out, I can’t help but get nostalgic for the technology I grew up with. Remember those days? Back when the “Zach Morris phone” didn’t seem so big, video rental stores posted signs that read “Be Kind Rewind” and you could look anyone up in the white pages to get their phone number. (Remember those?!) Now, I’m not recommending that we go back to the way things were, but I think we should take a moment to appreciate how we got from there to here.

Music is a great example. My quick Wikipedia search tells me commercial music purchasing all started with records (for the record, I knew that but I wasn’t alive in the 1920s when gramophone records first came out so I had to double check.)

Then, the 8-track popped on the scene but was ultimately brought down by the cassette. Then, I was born and so my first memories with music are tied to cassette tapes. I remember driving to the dump with my dad in our Volvo 240 station wagon listening to “The Big Chill” soundtrack. Much to my dad’s dismay (and probably the tape’s), I would rewind the tape over and over again to listen to the Temptation’s “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” When CDs became popular in the mid-1990s, I was flabbergasted by the ability to skip to the next song. I spent my weekly allowance buying CDs to, get this, make mix tapes with my boom box to play in the Volvo.

Can we pause for a minute? The mix tape: there’s nothing quite like it. More often than not, I was listening to the radio while doing my homework, waiting for my new favorite song to come on so I could jump up and hit “play-record” with my middle and index finger. Inevitably I would accidentally record a commercial and have to rewind to prime the tape for the next song and miss the beginning by a few seconds. I loved making mix tapes and I made them for every possible mood or time of day: sad, happy, dance, sleepy, etc.

Then came MP3s. Tons of music on the computer! I loved it. Suddenly, I didn’t have to hit “play-record” but instead just had to “drag and drop.” Better yet, if I wanted to take my new fun mix with me, I just burned a CD. The only problem with my “dance” mixes was that it was hard to dance with a Discman on my hip – the CD would always skip.

What solved that problem? The iPod. Not only did I now have a portable way to listen to my mixes without them skipping, but I also had my ENTIRE music library in my pocket. I could listen to any mix and even add songs to the mixes with a few clicks of the click wheel. Crazy! Then, as we all know, the iPhone, iPod Touch and yes, the iPad with a built-in iPod, came next – giving us the ability to touch the screen to select our songs.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love and appreciate my iPod and iPhone. But the fact of the matter is I don’t make mixes in the same painstaking manner as I once did. The magic of “play-record” just isn’t there anymore. Sure, my mixes don’t miss parts of songs like they did on my cassettes, but I also don’t get as excited when a song “comes on” either, because I can always skip to it.

Maybe you’re not nostalgic for mix tapes, but I don’t think I’m alone in missing technology from the “good old days.” Is there any technology you miss?

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5 thoughts on “From Vinyl to iPad: How music listening has changed and I along with it

  1. It’s not so much the technology I miss, but being of the boomer generation that grew up with the LP, I miss albums!! When I observe how my kids collect and listen to their Ipod collections, they just select songs they like and like you said Elisa, just create these gigantic mixes.

    I think there’s nothing wrong with that, but I still believe the best musicians put together albums and that the music is meant to be listened together, with the total product being their creative vision. I think the MP3 generation has missed out on that for the most part.

    This doesn’t mean I don’t play my Ipod on shuffle when I’m working out etc, but I’m old school when it comes to listening to a full album for the full impact!

  2. The only technology I truly miss is the good old rechargeable AA battery. Klunky, yes, but it gave people more autonomy over their own possessions. Most if not all of my friends have gone through more than one iPod in the past 5 years or so. There is definitely something to be said for easily exchangeable power sources!

  3. There is nothing like that moment of sheer surprise and delight when a song “comes on” unexpectedly. Perhaps it just takes some vigilance and self-restraint to just let the old ipod shuffle through so that joyous moment of rediscovery never ceases. Also, it seems just as difficult to dance with an ipad on my hip as a discman. Are we moving backwards?

  4. Elisa, nice piece! I loved mixed tapes too and miss them, but I really miss grabbing a bunch of records (I even had a little vinyl carrying case for my 45’s) going to a party and everyone DANCED to the music together, looking over the albums, marvelling over big gorgeous pix of Mick Jagger on 33 1/3 size cardboard album covers, hunting up the next song to add to the mood in the room and we knew how to throw them on a turntable, crank them up.

    The technology involved with simply sharing music at a party now is a little challenging — will the people throwing the party have a way to broadcast my iPod tunes? Do they even want to share my music or have it all programmed with their own choices already? Will they have a CD player (another technology soon to become a total dinosaur.)

    These new ways of listening to music privately — think about the early iPod ads with the figure in silhouette DANCING ALONE — are the opposite of social interaction.

    I know many have written about this, but your mention of the Big Chill demonstates this very thing — how we used to actually socialize to music. Check out the link to the Big Chill Dancing Scene.

    The movie shows a bunch of people dancing together to loud music in the kitchen while preparing a meal together. The music rocks the house. The mood is upbeat and this is after a funeral of one of their friends. It speaks to us — showing us how music brings people TOGETHER in tough times. Does our music do that now?

  5. Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments!

    Barry, I agree wholeheartedly with you about the beauty of an album. Although I do buy my music in MP3′s now, I love when an album flows from one song into another demonstrating the band/musician put thought into the listening experience. It’s true that through mixes and randomization, we are beginning to lose sight of that magical experience but hopefully artists will continue to conscientiously lay out albums in the same way for those of us who want to listen.

    Jess, I think you bring up a good point. I wonder if some of this new technology has made us more of a “throw away” society. I hope not, but it’s a hard question to ignore.

    Liz, the excitement and delight of a song “coming on” is something I hope we never lose. The initial “yays” and subsequent dancing/sing-a-longs might just be the secret to world peace. I think you bring up a good question about going backwards, though the visual of someone dancing with an iPad on their hip is something I’d love to see… 🙂

    Halley, that is my favorite scene from the “Big Chill” so thank you for sharing it! Who knew music could make clearing the table so fun!? Maybe that’s what I’ve been doing wrong. I hope music still brings people together. I think it does – it’s just different. You’re right, it seems a lot harder now to swap music in or out. It’s also gotten a lot easier to listen to the song/album you want with an instant ability to buy music and listen to it right away. Though I wonder if we’ve gotten to the point of instant gratification that we forget to appreciate the artist and the music they made for us to enjoy?

    You’ve all given me a lot to think about so thank you! It’s also great to hear I’m not alone in my nostalgia, whether it’s the way we listen to music or the technology that is no longer…

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