Phil Gifford tracks the music delivery revolution.
Vinyl may be making a comeback, but those CDS of yours are (almost) history.
They had a hi-fi phono, boy, did they let it blast. Seven hundred little records, all rock, rhythm and jazz. “You Never Can Tell” by Chuck Berry
AS AMAZING as it seems, if that song – released in 1964 and featured in Pulp Fiction’s famous dance scene – was written today, the young married couple in Berry’s imagination might still be dancing to records.
Vinyl is making a brave little comeback. But Berry was a razor-sharp observer of societal norms, and if he were alive today, it’s much, much more likely he’d write, “They had a hi-tech iphone, boy, did they let it blast. Seven hundred little playlists, all rock, hip-hop and jazz.”
How we listen to music and how we buy it in New Zealand have changed dramatically in the past 10 years. Kiwis now get 73% of their personal music online. In contrast, in 2008 we picked up 85% of our music in a physical form, mostly on CDS. But CDS are now heading the way of cassette tapes, which were the first practical format that allowed music nerds to record their own favourite tracks off vinyl at home.
In its early 1990s heyday, British music magazine Mojo devoted three pages an issue to suggestions for C90 mix-tapes, based on (I’m not making this up) such titles as, “The 22 greatest bass
parts in history”.
None of us knew it at the time, but when the first commercial CD, The Visitor by Abba, was released in October 1982, tapes were basically doomed. By the start of the 21st century the cassette tape was dead, and vinyl looked on its last legs.
CDS had a lot going for them. You could record on them at home. They didn’t unspool like tapes or become more scratchy every time you played them, the way a vinyl record does. With 80 minutes of recording time, one CD could accommodate a vinyl double album. And record companies soon realised how cheap it was to reissue albums on CD, because the studio costs had been covered years before.
For a golden period in the 90s, you could buy on a CD almost every album you’d ever missed or had wrecked at a party in the 60s and 70s. I can still remember the almost visceral delight of finding the first two albums by my favourite band, The Amazing Rhythm Aces – long since deleted on vinyl – released together on one CD.
But the web is now doing to CDS what the shiny little disks did to tapes. Today, most music in New Zealand is found on Spotify, itunes and Youtube.
The attraction is easy to understand. There are, for example, 20 million songs on Spotify. You’d need to pack every room to the ceiling in 100 average-sized houses to keep that much music on CDS. The music libraries on itunes and YouTube are also vast.
You can access Spotify and Youtube for free, while on itunes you can pay to stream music, or buy it song by song, which means you can download and transfer it to a CD, for example, if that’s how you still feel most comfortable listening to your music.
As a technophobe who uses Spotify, itunes and YouTube (there are many services, but these are the big three), I’ve had to address several issues. If you’re in a mature age bracket and want to make the leap to streaming, these are some of the questions you may want to consider.
I. Do I need to be online to stream music?
Yes. If you’re not one of the 89% of active internet users in New Zealand and don’t have a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone, but want to listen to your own music, then cherish and care for your CD or record player.
II. What devices do I need to connect with Spotify and itunes, and watch Youtube?
In basic terms, for Spotify and Youtube, virtually anything that’ll get you online, whether a computer, tablet or smartphone. For itunes, you’re best with anything from Apple that connects to the internet.
III. How difficult is it to connect?
Not very hard at all, if you’re reasonably computer-literate. Google the names of what you want and follow the instructions on-screen to get the apps. But if the “webnet thing” is a mystery, find a family teenager (or borrow one from a friend).
IV. Once you’re got the music platform you want, how do you listen?
Plugging headphones into your computer or phone is probably the simplest way. If you want to connect wirelessly, then the Bluetooth function in your smartphone or tablet can be used with modern, wireless- ready speakers. You can stream to your big- speaker home system from the 1980s via a wireless adapter or simple cable from your device (Google’s Chromecast Audio “dongle” is a cheap and popular option). Or if your smart TV is fairly new, it may well be ready to connect wirelessly, so you can play music through the TV speakers; you may even find Youtube and Spotify already loaded.
V. What about in my car?
Many new cars are dropping CD players but have Bluetooth connectivity, so it’s possible to play music stored on your phone. It’s like the system used for “handsfree” mobile phone calls. Other cars have a slot for a USB flash drive or memory stick that can be loaded with MP3 songs from your computer (again, you may need a teenager to set it up).
VI. What? They’re not putting CD players in cars anymore?
Afraid not. It’s estimated that in three years’ time, roughly half the cars sold in America won’t have CD players. Giants like Ford stopped putting CD players in their new cars last year. My wife discovered too late that the Honda Jazz she bought in 2015 didn’t have a CD player.
IF YOU’RE feeling a touch of future shock from reading that, here’s something nostalgic and comforting. Records are making a comeback worldwide. Graham Norton doesn’t hold up a vinyl copy of his musical guest’s latest album by accident. In Britain, vinyl album sales have jumped from a low of just 205,000 10 years ago to 4.1 million last year. Here in New Zealand, of the 27% of music today that isn’t sourced online, a startling 19% ( around $ 4 million worth) is sold on vinyl.
You don’t have to be a hipster to like vinyl LPS; they are sold at The Warehouse (Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is a big seller). Mainstream retailer JB Hi-fi has 14 turntables listed on its website. And, as my four-year- old granddaughter and I have found, you can have a lot of fun with vinyl. Play a Linda Ronstadt 45 at 33rpm and she sounds like Roy Orbison. And Roy, at 78rpm, sounds like Linda on helium. Try doing that with an iphone. +
Above: A 60s nightclub singer relaxes at home with her singles and LPS.