Today is the World Music Day. Every year, June 21 is celebrated around the world as the World Music Day. It first started out in France in 1982 as the Fête de la Musique but is now a worldwide event to honor the existence of music, as it has been, for centuries. Sure, the true music lovers among us would be enjoying music every day. It is what motivates us in the morning, pushes us while we exercise, it keeps us sane through the working hours in office or at home, calms our nerves in the evening after an unnecessarily hectic day, is the soundtrack to drinks and dinner, and can lull us into a peaceful sleep. Everyone has their own way of interacting with music. How we have interacted with music and experienced it has changed significantly over the years.
In the time that I have had some sort of recollection of what went on, I remember the steps that include cassettes (I did arrive after the LP records had taken a back seat) which required some maintenance but they delivered on hours of music listening pleasure through what we lovingly called the “music system” at that time. For the younger crowd, the music system was basically a mighty piece of audio equipment sitting in your home, usually a center console flanked by two speakers—and the bigger, the better. In school, there often used to be the debate about whether person X’s 1200-watt PMPO Sony music system is better than person Y’s 1,100-watt PMPO Sansui music system, because the former had dual cassette playback. The music systems took up a prime spot in our homes. Also, as a status symbol. But those were simpler times. No one would say as much.
When the compact disc (the CD) landed in due course of time (this was around 1998, if I remember correctly), there was the inevitable urge to upgrade to a “Discman”. Those legendary things were versatile and could even be connected with your existing music system thereby giving it the biggest upgrade in years. None of this came cheap though. Back in that day, each CD would cost anywhere between Rs 300-Rs 500. And that is after you would have splurged close to Rs 7,000 for a discman.
The CD digital format did usher in the dark ages of music piracy. Sources aplenty online to download new music and not have to pay for a new CD, everyone was busy ‘burning’ new CDs with the music they had downloaded. CD-R, or CD rippers, were dirt cheap, because manufacturers also saw a market. The reasons for piracy remain multi-pronged, no matter how much the music industry may want to deny it. And the primary reason for that was the cost of buying new music off the shelves. Or even online, because frankly, a lot of the downloaded music was shared between friends because internet lines were just not fast enough. To be honest, no one who grew up in that generation could absolve themselves off the responsibility and everyone indulged in piracy, directly or indirectly. Those of us who had dial-up internet connections relied on someone else. Napster, as big a name in that era as perhaps WhatsApp is now, was sued and finally fell in 2001. But it is important to understand that the generation grew up with an ingrained love for music and wanted to try out every possible new music album released at the time—not because they could somehow download it for free, but they loved music. Pocket money during school days wasn’t enough to cover the costs.
It was also in the early 2000’s (memory fails me this time, I do apologize) that I used a software then known as Fruityloops. That was for an inter-school digital music making competition. That was also when I met what can safely be referred to as the first of the many that were loved and lost on the way. Absolutely no regrets. Anyway, I digress. Quite significantly, now that I think about it. Just as a note, Fruityloops is now called FL Studio 20.
Things remained this was for what seemed like a very long time, but in essence, the shift had started in 2003. With the Apple iTunes Store, that also plugged in well with the growing popularity of the iPod portable digital music players. The idea was to sell individual tracks for $0.99 and full albums for $9.99 each. A lot of others got into the game eventually, but few have remained since.
It wasn’t the smoothest of starts through for digital music. The problem as with the DRM, or digital rights management. This restricted the methods of music playback. For instance, music downloaded from the Apple iTunes Store would only play on the iPod media players, and eventually the iPhones when they arrived a few years later. Then there was Sony BMG, which did something that would be labeled in today’s world as a massive privacy breach—they secretly installed copy-protection software on PCs when people played CDs and digital music from the label. This was to prevent users from copying the same music and sharing it with others. Go buy your own CDs or get your own downloads, the music industry was trying to say. Incidentally, it was incredibly hard to remove this piece of software from PCs.
In 2007, Apple started selling DRM-free music and by 2009, digital music became DRM-free.
The way we carry our music has also changed. I remember those folios and disc sleeves, which could hold 10, 20 or 30 discs safely. A scratched disc would mean the end of the journey for that particular media. I may have one of these sleeves still lying around somewhere. The era of the iPod, the line-up that eventually went on to include the iPod Classic, the iPod Nano, the iPod Shuffle and the iPod Touch, in a way switched us from the bulk of physical media to something that was conveniently pocketable. And incredibly cool.
That is something we carry forward till today. Music playback capabilities are a core function of every single smartphone or tablet that you can buy right now. And if its high-res audio, even better. Audio companies are spending every possible moment trying to find the next big upgrade in Bluetooth speakers, headphones, earphones and wireless earbuds. Audio systems and speakers are a thing of luxury now, with people spending six digits or more in money terms to acquire what they feel is the best.
The era that we are living in right now is blending the past, while looking at the future. We have the comeback of the LP record players, as something that is quite priceless. We have retro designs very much in vogue, pushed by the British audio company Marshall and American audio brand Klipsch, for instance. We have music streaming which is now the default standard for listening to music, thanks to the much improved 4G mobile networks and even faster home broadband—Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Prime Music, Google’s YouTube Music and many more. You are spoilt for choice.
What we are also witnessing is the shift to voice-based usage. With the smart speakers by Amazon, Apple and Google, you now simply need to call out to a smart speaker, and it’ll play back the music you have demanded from the music streaming service it is linked to. And not to forget the true wireless push with the wireless earbuds, a category that has been booming for a while now and people are really hooked to the idea.
On this World Music Day, we don’t really know what is lined up for the music consumption patterns. But safe to say that where we are at right now, with a lot happening in terms of music streaming, smart speakers, smartphones and content, this is not a bad time to be a music lover. You have everything on your fingertips. Be thankful. There may never be a better time to be a music lover.