Consider the world 30 years ago. Now, I admit that all I have to go on is what I’ve read or seen, as I wasn’t born 30 years ago. However, I don’t think anyone would disagree that music consumption and ownership was fundamentally different today than it was a few decades ago. In fact, I think we only need to go back 10 or 15 years to find a time that music consumption was fundamentally different. In the last ten years we’ve seen the rise and fall of the iPod classic, the massive popularity of internet radio like Pandora, and more specialized services like Spotify and Apple Music. I find this transition more interesting than any other change in music consumption in the last 50ish years and more fundamental in an crucial way.
When Apple launched Apple Music I almost immediately signed up for the three month free trial. I had toyed with Spotify but I didn’t like the interface. Also, I had a fairly significant collection of music in my iTunes library and no way to move to Spotify. In fact, in March of this year I signed up for iTunes Match. Since so much of my music was already in the Apple ecosystem I was eager to see if Apple Music could be my one stop shop for music. I had used bitorrent a bit but always felt that the artist deserved something for the work they created. At the same time I didn’t want to shell out ten dollars for an album that I’d end up hating. My hope was that Apple Music would provide a middle ground. I’d be able to try music and the artist would get a small payment for each stream. Then if I liked the album I could add it to my music. Everything sounded wonderful and it generally was until about 3 weeks ago when I had a realization.
My music library is part of my identity and Apple Music could destroy it.
Since my junior year of high school, when a couple of my friends got me into “good” music, my music library has been evolving. It’s part of who I am. I made an effort to download complete albums and I hesitate to delete any album as I never know what I might enjoy several years in the future. My music library has become almost a chronology of my life.
“Hey right here is where I first got into James McMurtry. He’s now one of my favorite artists.”
“Over here, that’s the Metallica album that everyone said was good and I tried and hated.”
“Oh that, yeah that’s Nirvana. I gotta dump that but too many people say it’s awesome so I think that the fact that I don’t like it is more my fault than Nirvana’s fault.”
“Those? Every Springsteen album or song ever written. I got many of those the day after I was in the sixth row at a concert on his Magic tour.”
Each piece of my library has a story and fits into my story. Since I’m now essentially leasing music, everything I’ve added to my library wasn’t really mine. It’s like if I had to pay ten dollars a month to lease an unlimited number of photos of my daughter. Sure, being able to take as many photos and videos as I wanted would be great, but that I wouldn’t actually own the photos would be a deal breaker. If I wanted to keep my albums I’ve added to my music library, I’d have to pay $10 a month until I died. And if anybody wanted to see what music I was into in October of 2015 they had better keep paying that $10 a month. As soon as the payment stops, to some degree, a part of me would be gone.
Let me get back to how this is a fundamental change from the past. Track back to when people could first record and compile music collections. I have no doubt countless hours of discussion have taken place around people’s record collections, cassette collections, CD collections, and all the music you loaded onto that 64gb iPod classic. There’s just something less authentic about leasing music and I hate it. Since my revelation, each day I think about how I can get out of Apple Music and go back to simpler time. I admit this isn’t that hard to do practically speaking, but Apple Music is incredibly convenient and with those conveniences comes a pull to stay.
I stand at a fork in the trail. If I go too much longer on the Apple Music train I won’t be able to get off. I’ll have enough music to make switching out akin to losing a piece of my hard drive. If I leave, then I go back to either paying for every piece of music I want or I take the bit torrent route. At this moment I think the latter option, although certainly more difficult and almost certainly more expensive, is the path I must choose.
You know, so that I have an identity.