Graham's Blog Archive

Is There Too Much Music Around?

Posted by Bob Wood (aka "morris_minor")
December 12th, 2012

A simple answer to this question is No. As someone with good hi-fi gear, I can never get enough, but this isn’t really what I meant.

Those of a certain age – which I’ll say is those who were growing up in the 1960s – have seen an explosion of music use, and the ease of obtaining it has increased many times over.

When I was about 11 years old I can recall walking into our local branch of Woolworths with my pocket money and buying my first 7” single – “She Loves You”, which I played to death on my Dad’s Ferguson Radiogram. The BSR autochanger had more rumble than a Central Line tube train, wow was the feeling I had as the pickup arm clonked down onto the disc for the first time and flutter was something the girl next door did with her eyelids. But it was great. Very, very slowly I built up a little collection of singles and the occasional Long Player.

On TV at the time there were, I think, just a handful of music shows – Ready, Steady, Go, and Juke Box Jury come to mind, and then of course there was Top of The Pops. Outside of these, music on TV was confined programme signature tunes. If only that was the case today. Background music is present on virtually every programme, it seems to me, and no quiz show (University Challenge excepted) is complete without music stings to signal the end of rounds or to ratchet up the tension during the interminable wait for some inconsequential score to be revealed. We get urgent-sounding music under news headlines to grab our attention, as if without it out the news wouldn’t be as important.

Everywhere we go there’s music: shopping centres, waiting rooms, lifts. Our cars have better stereos now than most people had at home 20 years ago, because we just can’t be without music.

Not only has music use exploded, it’s now so easy to come by. No need to walk to your local record store – you remember, the one where the enthusiast running it knew you and your likes and dislikes, and would greet you when you enter with news of a new release he thought you might like. No point in going anyway, as the shop will be long gone, a casualty of the Internet. First there was online shopping for CDs – the vast selection online making your local store’s inventory seem paltry. Now we have downloads. No walking, no waiting. Instant (well almost instant) gratification.

Do I get the same pleasure from the process of clicking around a computer screen a few times as I did from walking into Woolworths with my pocket money for the latest Beatles record? No. Is the anticipation of thrill to come the same? No.

I never really liked CDs as a product (with the notable exception of World Circuit releases – these are Works of Art) – and so ripping all these to a server was a release from the nasty little silver discs. The downside (to the many upsides, it has to be said) is that, with Squeezebox network streamers in virtually every room, playing the “CDs” has never been easier. Music on tap. Smart-phone control. Effortless.

There’s a nagging feeling I have from time to time, that the ubiquity of music and the ease of accessing it has in some way down-valued it. If you don’t need to make an effort to listen or play it, can it be worth it?

Maybe this is one of the reasons I still buy vinyl? There’s the anticipation waiting to get it home, and then the effort needed for the ritual of playing it. That it can still sound as good as, or better than digital is the icing on the cake. This is when you can’t have too much music.