Keep Up: Music, iPods, and the End of Enjoyment

I’ve been reading various articles from the past couple of years concerned with the effects of MP3s on music. Most of the articles concentrate on the business side of things, while others make a pseudo-informed argument concerning the quality of different playback mediums. If I understand this multi-faceted debate at all, this summary may be sufficient: MP3s are either killing a Paleolithic industry or reducing the audio quality in a way that is apparently going to effect how music is eventually produced.

The former concern is laughable at best; major record labels are, for the most part, vestigial organs of an archaic system and the increasing ease with which one can distribute music is a boon to listeners who have access to the internet. The latter concern is somewhat more interesting, but I wonder if any of the critics writing such complaints ever had access to a portable tape-player or, better yet, an FM radio (you all remember what that is, right?). In any case, I’m surprised to see the incredible lack of research or information concerning how MP3s have cheapened music in an entirely different way: by making more music easier to get and in a fashion that requires as little digestion as possible.

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be dedicating some time to this topic, perhaps posting thoughts here on the site when I find anything interesting, but I’d like to know what all of you think. Have MP3s, and the ease with which one can acquire them, made music cheaper and less valuable precisely because of its overwhelming availability? Think of all the music nerds you know and the massive 500 GB hard drives they have packed full of music; how often do they listen to what they have? Can they recite the lyrics to any of these new albums? How much is being a music lover determined by how much music you’ve been able to get through in the last month?

Send me e-mails, leave comments, call into the show – I’d like to hear some reactions to this basic question.

More later.



  1. Interesting question. If mp3s do cheapen music, that could be a good thing. People will probably develop wider rather than deeper musical tastes–anything that gets people to try new things is probably good. If this means less fetishizing of particular bands or genres, that’s okay.

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