I am not sure why I felt inclined to rediscover one of my favorite bands, Styx. Of course "Come Sail Away" is a perennial favorite of classic rock stations. But I can't recall the last time that I intentionally listened to one of their albums. Last night, I listen to "Grand Illusion" from start to end and loved every minute. For those of you a bit younger than me, Styx was one of the most successful progressive rock bands of the late 70's and early 80's. They had four, triple platinum albums in a row!! Although I am sure that there are some other superstar artists that have had this accomplishment. I am quite confident that it is a very elite club.
Aside from the excellent music (all done without the aid of computers, sequencers or autotune!), I was reminded of when I purchased this album. As with most of my other record buys, it was stimulated either by radio play or friend recommendations. Occasionally, a record store clerk would suggest a new artist or release. But, generally speaking, I already knew what I wanted when I entered the record store.
As we all know, the overall music business has shrunk drastically. Digital downloads have not replaced the decline of CD sales and subscription services have failed to be the savior everyone has predicted they would be. Online radio and music discovery services like Spotify, Pandora, etc are ubiquitous now. But their revenue streams are still not able to sustain the music industry. I know that many music pundits, much smarter than me, have written volumes explaining the lack of music sales. After listening to Styx and remembering my old buying habits, it suddenly became clearer to me what happened.
The one thing that has not changed since my youth is the "pride of discovery". To discover a new band or some new music was as much a marker of coolness as it is today. Back then, we shared our musical discoveries with cassette tapes or listening parties or just one-on-one. Today, we share our discoveries with playlists, blogs, and other cool tools like the new "soundtrack your life". Helping expose your friends (and, now, friends of friends of friends) to great music is real sense of accomplishment. I'm not sure exactly why. But it always feels great to know that someone else is enjoying music you helped them to discover.
The biggest difference between then and now is not the "pride of discovery". It's the "pride of ownership". Back then, in order to share any music, you had to own it. That is, you had to go down to the store and actually buy a physical product. You could make a copy of a cassette loaned to you. But after a few generations, these copies would be unlistenable. So eventually, you bought the album. It was only after making such a purchase that you could then fully enjoy the music as well as showing your friends how cool you are.
Today, there is no requirement to buy anything in order to show how wonderful your musical tastes are. You can blog about new albums (as some of my staff do). You can create and share playlists. You can share Pandora stations. You can send links to full length streams in Soundcloud. You can repost music videos from Youtube. The methods are many and practically endless.
The one common theme here is that none of these techniques require any purchases. In other words, there is no longer any need for a "pride of ownership." I think that the desire to find and share great music is no less than it was 30 years ago. The only thing that has changed is that the requirement to buy music before you expose others to it has disappeared. The entire music industry has been struggling for the past fifteen years to figure out how recapture the pride of ownership. So far, it has not succeeded.
I'd like to challenge my readership to share your buying habits and, possibly, that of your kids:
1) What was the last album that you bought?
2) What format was it (e.g., CD, digital, 8-track, etc.)?
3) When did you buy it?
4) Why did you buy it?
Please post your answers in the comments section and let's see what develops.