I miss listening stations at record shops.
I miss being able to have a shared radio experience with friends.
I miss new release listening parties that people actually show up to.
I miss having 3 opening bands and showing up early to see the bill.
I miss having a local digital music library that I can share with friends.
I miss my friends having a local digital music library that they can share with me.
Most of all, I miss human recommendations.
Streaming has solved so many of the music industry’s problems but has also created a generation of passive listeners.
I grew up listening to 97.7 WOXY in Oxford, Ohio. I’d tape my favorite shows and make mix tapes dubbing one tape to another. DJs would tell you what was coming before the commercial break and I’d time the 2 minute commercial break and *hit record* at exactly the right time to preserve the 30 mins I had per side of a cassette. There was an art to creating mixtapes. The DJs were people you could trust.
I’d make $20 per week mowing lawns and doing chores. Every Tuesday I’d ride my bike to uptown Oxford to Looney T Birds, the local record shop. I had limited funds and wanted to make sure that I was buying the best possible record that would provide maximum enjoyment.
I’d often find 2 records I wanted and would use the listening booth to determine which album I should be buying. If I was still stuck, I’d ask the cranky record store clerks. They’d often look at the records I had in my hands in disgust and decide it was “their job” to introduce me to a record I should be listening to instead. “Skip Collective Soul, you want to listen to Guided by Voices.” And they were right. It was an active experience and I miss their trusted opinions. Every time a Looney T. Birds or Other Music closes I can’t help but think of what artists/records I’m going to miss.
When I took my first role in the music industry at EMI, I’d communicate with other pals and we’d transfer records to one another through AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). The beauty of sharing music through AIM was that you were forced to keep the window active so that your transfer didn’t time out. I remember many late nights talking with my buddy, Kevin King, sharing music back and forth.
During the transfer I’d be telling Kevin all about the record I was sending to him and he’d do the same with me. We’d both be pumped as hell to listen to the record we were receiving. It was an active recommendation/listening experience that hasn’t been recreated through streaming.
Humans have gotten lazy because of that the DSPs have created better recommendations through AI. When it comes to artist discovery, I’d guess that the mass majority of fans discover new artists through playlists. We’re raising a generation that will be able to simply ask their AI babysitter to play “Baby Shark” 100 times in a row. It’s no shock that catalog releases are still kings in streaming.
It used to be only folks in the music industry knew the set times. Now everyone needs to know the set times. I get it. We’ve all got lives to live and competing schedules. But sharing set times does a real disservice to opening acts. It also allows fans to be passive.
Recently I saw Noel Gallagher at the Boston Opera House. The doors were 7pm and Noel started his set 10 minutes later to a half empty room. My friends and I walked in at 7:20pm and realized he was already on stage. I was angry for a minute but then thought more about what Noel was doing. He was setting the terms of the performance rather than allowing his fans to be lazy.
So what’s this post really about? We need to figure out how to activate fans again. There’s no excitement or build-up for releases any more. We’re not making recommendations to friends. We’re overly reliant on algorithms and while they are good, we’re missing the human element. We’re missing an opportunity to connect. We’re eliminating the social piece from music and no – social media isn’t a replacement.
So what can you do? Think about the best song or album you’ve heard recently and call or text a friend about it. Tell them why you think they’d dig it. Mention that you’re thinking of hitting the band’s show coming up and ask if they want a ticket.
I’m obsessed with a new band called Garcia Peoples signed on Beyond Beyond Is Beyond Records. They are a psych-focused jam band with fantastic songs and I’m planning to go see them during their residency at NuBlue in NYC. Grab a ticket and come along with me.