Did iTunes Change Music?

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I am addicted to iTunes. Well, not iTunes specifically, but to the concept of purchasing individual songs. Since my tastes are extremely wide-ranging, and I listen to music all the time, I need regular infusions to keep things fresh. It’s why I’m constantly on the lookout for new songs, and why I absolutely relish the fact that music has become a Big Deal on television, in movies, and even at retail stores and restaurants. Quite frankly, there is more amazing music out there than one person could listen to in a lifetime. But I try.

It’s not unusual for me to scoop up a handful of new tracks every week or so, and each time I click purchase on something, I’m silently thanking whatever/whomever was responsible for selling music the way I want to buy it.

In the old days, I had to purchase complete albums in order to get the one song I wanted. Sometimes this was a blessing in disguise because I’d discover I also liked many or all of the other songs, but more often than not, the album just contained a lot of filler. There’d be one or two great songs on it, usually the ones that made it to the radio, and then the rest would fall somewhere between mediocre and “Awesome, I just paid $18 for one song.”

For all I know, this may have been a by-product of the music industry at the time. Maybe there wasn’t motivation for bands or labels to finish the thought, as it were. Maybe things were being pushed to market faster than musicians could create, so albums went out the door with a few strong singles and the rest got padded with filler. I’m not sure the reason, but I feel like there was a lot of this going on.

Fast forward to today and the iTunes revolution, where the focus is on individual tracks instead of whole albums. Did this change how music is created? Now that listeners can pick and choose which tracks they like, and download them individually, does that mean more thought now goes into each song, making sure it can stand on its own?

A lot of the artists I follow create an album like a story being told from beginning to end, where much of the music is similarly themed or connected somehow. This is awesome. One might even argue it’s the purpose of doing an album. But even though an artist may think in terms of a whole album, does the iTunes concept still force them to change their mentality from “package deal” to something more along the lines of “15 mini albums”?

I don’t know. I’m not a musician, so I’m afraid I have to leave that open ended. But my sense is that yes, iTunes has changed how music is created. I also feel like it has raised the bar in terms of quality and expectation. With greater visibility than ever before, artists have the opportunity to hook me by offering their best possible work on every track. And if that inspires me to go back to buying whole albums instead of cherry-picking, all the better. At least this time we’ll both get what we came for.

Do you think iTunes changed music? I’d love to hear other perspectives on this.

2 Comments Did iTunes Change Music?

  1. Alan

    itunes undoubtably changed the landscape for music.

    It changed the whole approach to licensing and rights to what we buy, and how the public view their music, everything, everywhere, all the time.

    Where we used to buy CDs and Singles, ie stuff you can hold in your hand, now we buy music. We’re even happy to let other people ‘hold’ our collection for us. In fact we’re so comfortable that now we do the same with film.

    itunes also threatened to wrest control from the music labels. I think they saved it but the balance has changed.

    Finally, I’m not expert in the field, but it seems to me musicians have suffered, in that it’s now easier to self record and release but harder to succeed and make a living. Which may be why Kate Bush is going on tour?

    Reply
    1. Kristin Smith

      Yeah, I can definitely see that – the fact that it’s easier for musicians to record and release, but not necessarily succeed. It’s the same sort of situation in publishing. If you do it yourself, you miss out on the distribution channels from the big houses. On the other hand, sometimes you don’t want to sacrifice your art to pad the palm of a greedy corporation. The main thing I wondered, which I didn’t explain well in my post, is that I wonder if iTunes has changed how musicians create their music – specifically, do they approach things more thoughtfully and focus on the album as a whole, or knowing that people are going to buy singles, do they just focus on each song individually (i.e.: 12-15 mini albums instead of 1 complete thought)?

      Reply

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