Musical Philistine


Is music a commodity? Albums were designed to be one. There was a period where people would buy albums and go home and consume them the way they would consume a novel: admiring the cover art, reading the liner notes, and listening to the entire thing on repeat for a few weeks. If I listened to music this way today I would probably be very willing to plop down the cost of a matcha latte for an album on bandcamp rather than listening to it on Spotify.

Certainly more than enough people have scolded me on social media for not purchasing music, and I do feel guilty about how little artists get paid from streaming services. But here’s the thing, I don’t consume music in this way. I may be a musical philistine, but I suspect that I’m a philistine in much the same way as a large silent majority out there, most of whom are embarrassed to admit it. I rarely listen to anything more than once. In fact, I’m often happy to use the algorithmic playlist to select my music for me because (with a few exceptions) I generally find the variety it produces more enjoyable than the monotony of an entire album by the same artist. Or, even better, sometimes I listen to public playlists made by friends or people I admire, like Teju Cole.

To be honest, most of the time music is background for me while I work. I’m not really LISTENING in a way that musicians or music lovers listen to music. The one exception for me is avant-garde jazz from the sixties and seventies. I do listen to entire albums by folks like Mingus, Parker, Coleman, etc. over and over again. But they are all dead, so I don’t feel bad about not buying their albums. (And I did buy their albums way back when, in the age of CDs. Coleman, at least, was still alive then.)

So, if I buy an album from a friend on Bandcamp is basically a gift, charity, or an act of appreciation, but it isn’t because I’m buying the music as a commodity. And I will generally only do this on very rare occasions, because I will be unlikely to listen to what I have bought more than once. (No offense.) I know this isn’t great for artists, and I do feel bad about that, but I don’t know what the solution is? I’m pretty sure it isn’t scolding people like me on social media…