From about the age of 10, i was given £5 pocket money each month. And every month, i would walk to the record shop and buy a new album, which would always cost me £4.99. Since i could only afford one album, i would take a lot of time choosing, looking through perhaps hundreds of LPs before finally deciding. This monthly experience was really exciting for me – all the more so because of the context in which it happened: i had to wait for it, then i had to journey to get it, and finally bring it home – and it took all my money to buy it. i believe there are two qualities that this approach has helped to instill and nurture in me.
The first is to understand the value of the music. i don’t here mean the price; i’m talking about the fact that, for me, it was my once-a-month opportunity to encounter new music, to explore something fresh. Of course, i wanted to do that more often – and i did, regularly raiding my mother’s large record collection – but i had to wait, i had to be patient. And, of course, once the day had arrived, i was so ecstatic finally to own a new album that it meant the world to me. We could perhaps call it a ‘collaboration’: i was granted a new album, but it demanded of me a sacrifice, of my time and of my money. i certainly understood the personal value of the music.
Second, it made me an extremely attentive listener. It would be impossible to go through the experience described above, and then not really care what the music was. So i would sit and focus all my attention on what i was listening to – and i would listen to it over and over again, absorbing it, hearing it afresh, understanding it from more and more angles. The result was that i assimilated the music, it became part of me; i could hear it perfectly clearly in my mind, i would sing it to myself without realising it. And so, overall, i cherished the music, i valued it, i knew it, i understood it, i absorbed it… i loved it.
It strikes me that, today, the trend towards downloading music – illegally, i mean – is a major contributor to people losing a love of music. When i see people downloading music in vast amounts, any pretence at love soon vanishes. First, the music becomes valueless; to them, the whole infinity of musical creation is at their fingertips – and so it should be, they no doubt feel. They can locate a track, even a whole album, within moments, download it in a few more. No patience is required, and certainly no effort. To obtain this music has required no sacrifice at all. It is hardly surprising, then, that they become fickle listeners, forever switching from one thing to another with reckless abandon (sometimes, amazingly, barely seconds into the music, already bored), feeling all-powerful at the controls of their media player, within the bowels of which they notice, with glee, they have sufficient music to keep them occupied, constantly, for several years. Each track is reduced to a statistic, and takes its place within a library of maybe tens of thousands of tracks, like so many anonymous workers in a factory. As long as none of them tries to claim too much attention, or be too individual, all is well.
It is completely ironic, that those who consider themselves to be extremely passionate “music lovers” (something they would no doubt prove by the sheer quantity of music they have and listen to) are, in fact, nothing of the sort. They are utterly ignorant about the majority of the music they hear – and can there be anything more laughable yet pathetic than someone listening to something completely unaware that, despite the filename, the music is absolutely not by whom they think it is? They have become mere collectors of music, amassing mp3s like specimens in jars.
Some would say it’s nothing to worry about: surely the majority of people who download illegally are teenagers – what does it matter? Everything is wrong with that question. For they are not the only ones falling out of love with music in this way, neither will they be forever more – is this not a condition that, regardless of its present state, will grow and spread over time? Without wishing to sound apocalyptic (and with no concern for the financial implications of this in my mind), we are at risk of all music becoming stripped of all it has: its value and its content. We will want it for nothing, and will treat it accordingly, as worthless, giving it none of our time or our effort.
For music to continue to be loved into the 21st century (and beyond), we need to re-capture something of the sense of value and attention that music not merely requires, but demands – and that means from each of us a sacrifice. Only then can we begin to fall in love again.