Music’s switch to digital formats has changed the way we listen to and interact with it.
What used to take up a shelf in the living room is now housed within our pockets. And instead of searching for bootleg recordings, there are now downloadable leaks and files that don’t involve years of crate-digging.
Although some people, myself included, still love and collect vinyls for their unique sound and novelty, digital audio files and the internet make it incredibly easy to stream pretty much whatever you want to hear without having to physically own it like in the past. Unlike CDs and cassettes — inferior, dead formats — digital files open up countless more options for listeners.
Take, for example, Kanye West’s recent album The Life of Pablo.
Before putting it up to stream on major services like Spotify, West made a variety of changes to both the mixing and the track listing of his seventh album. If he were dealing with a physical release, he would have been forced to issue all these adjustments through remixes and reissues, a less efficient, lengthier process. For a while, West featured the album in an analogous way to how video games feature a “beta,” where West listened to feedback and responded accordingly until the final project stood stronger than its drafts.
Reducing songs to kilobytes instead of brittle discs also allows for longer releases, such as deluxe editions or complete sessions. A standard vinyl LP holds 40 minutes per side and a CD holds 74 (a length chosen to accommodate Beethoven’s 9th symphony). However, digital suffers from no material limitations besides gigabytes and gigabytes of memory.
This development is convenient since music recorded for an album that fell short of making its final cut can now be streamed online without any trouble. Miles Davis’ 1969 LP In A Silent Way lasts only two 20 minutes tracks, but the complete session release, clocking in 210 minutes, can be seamlessly played on Spotify, rather than a three disk set. Furthermore, compilations and rarity releases like the posthumous Nick Drake comp A Treasury or Nirvana’s three disk box set With the Lights Out also enjoy this luxury now, making digital a prime tool for issuing and experiencing long releases.
Not constrained by the permanence and limited space of prior mediums, artists and compilers now have a greater amount of freedom to work with their selections in the digital realm. Songs and albums now have the opportunity to emerge exactly how the artist or band pictured conceived them without abridgment.
And because of that, we the consumers end up with a surplus of guitar riffs, bass grooves and verses. It ultimately saves us money, as well, much to the dismay of music shops and commercialized retailers.
So, in closing, I ask if there are any music fans out there who wouldn’t want this excess content in favor of tradition?
The answer: Probably, but that’s their loss. The times we live in are exciting, so why not check out everything that’s new and now-possible? It might be cool discovering some of your favorite artist’s deep cuts or bedroom recordings without having to know a chain of people to get a copy.
Luke Furman is a sophomore studying journalism and a reporter for The Post. Do you have a favorite extended release? Tweet him @LukeFurmanOU or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.