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Miscellaneous - What Does the Future Hold ?

  by Mark Rowland

published: 16 / 10 / 2004

Miscellaneous - What Does the Future Hold ?


The culture of MP3 has come more prominent in recent months with improvements in its technology. Mark Rowland asks if it continues to grow if it will eventually lead to the downfall of the CD

It’s ironic that at as the British record industry clamps down on serial uploaders on MP3 file sharing systems. The culture of MP3 is coming more and more prominent. There’s even specialist magazines now, letting readers know which tracks to download from the latest releases. Albums are no longer rated by stars or out of ten. They’re judged on how many tracks there are on the album "worth downloading." This is tied with improvements in MP3 technology. People can now take up to 10,000 songs with them wherever they go, in a box that can fit in their pockets – a large section of anyone’s music collection. I have recently bought myself a 20 gigabyte MP3 player, which stores about 5,000 songs. Though still working out how to use it properly, I soon got the hang of the basics, and have managed to get about 670 songs on it so far. It also can be used like a digital Dictaphone, which is great for me as a journalist. For music lovers, an MP3 player is a great little gadget. I’m a person that likes to listen to music while travelling, but I’m not very good at choosing which albums I actually want to listen to, especially if I’m not really sure what kind of mood I’m in music wise. With an MP3 player, I can just set the whole thing to shuffle – that way, you can get a bit of everything. For example, you could start off with a song by the Kinks, then get a song by British art-core punks Million Dead, a bit of Sly and the Family Stone, some Aphex Twin and end with a track by American Music Club, getting a nice variation without the hassle of making a compilation. More specific random selections can be made by shuffling songs by genres, artists or albums. Compilation making itself becomes much easier with an MP3 player. All you need is a program to make playlists on your PC. For the real music nerds (like me) however, there’s something much more fun to do: create your own definitive versions of those classic double albums that go on that wee bit too long. The Beatles ‘White Album’ is one of the most obvious of these – many a muso has spent hours in pubs arguing why ‘Glass Onion’ could never be taken off the album, or why ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ just takes up unneeded space. If it proves too difficult to cut it down, at least you can take out ‘Revolution 9’. So, as a gizmo to transport all of your favourite songs and albums, the MP3 player is the best thing since sliced bread. Look at the bigger picture, however, and it’s difficult to know what to think. It is becoming more and more obvious that the MP3 could take over the CD as the primary way that people purchase music. Web "shops" like Napster and iTunes are getting more and more popular with music buyers, and it’s easy to see why. A lot of chain stores charge way too much for albums, while downloading a recently released album from the internet usually costs about £7. Being able to save quite a bit of money on albums is obviously a very good thing, and could allow people greater access to different forms of music. I want to be able to totally embrace this, to join in properly with the digital revolution, instead of standing at the back pretending to get involved, but I don’t seem to be able to do it. I don’t want to think like a traditionalist when it comes to MP3s – after all, the music is the most important thing, not the format it comes in – but I can’t help it. The thought of losing the concept of the album as a physical thing is too painful. I know it will take a good few years for this to happen, but it still seems such a shame. There’s something about getting a new album from a real shop - the smell of it, the artwork, the excitement of putting it on when you get home – that you just can’t get from downloading music. It won’t really affect us, but the thought that generations to come won’t experience that feeling is saddening. Maybe in the future, collecting records will become a very underground thing, through record and CD fairs, and we’ll be the sad old bastards flicking through the ultra-rare Sub Pop 7 inches and ancient Warp CDs. Maybe by then, Busted will be seen as the most important rock band of all time. Then again, maybe not. But who knows? Crazier things have happened.

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