Nadia Elkharadly: Musical Discovery in a digital age

Nadia LogoWe live in a brave new world.  Our phones are portable and more powerful than our first computers ever could be.  Print media is a dying breed, or a dying art depending on your point of view.  You can go days without talking to another human being face to face and still somehow feel connected to the people around you.  And musical discovery has become easier, and much more difficult at the same time.The digitization of music has led to what I think is a strange and kind of sad phenomenon – the picking and choosing of songs, and the disregarding of others.  This piecemeal music selection is another reason why I’m falling more and more in love with my growing vinyl collection.  There’s no picking and choosing, there’s only listening and discovering.

IMG_00002767I recently got a chance to chat with Nick Koppel of Kops Records (stay tuned for my interview with him in Addicted Magazine!)  I asked him if he thought vinyl was coming “back” or if it had never really gone out of style.  A collector and lover of records since his childhood, he adamantly told me that vinyl wasn’t trendy, that it had always been around for those who sought it out, and there were many.  After all, that’s how he and his family have kept Toronto’s oldest record store in business, and have been able to open a second location to boot.  In the course of our conversation we talked about the pitfalls of digital music consumption, and it really got me to thinking about how different my musical upbringing was from those of the youth of today.

When I was in my early teens and first discovering this wide world of music that was my favourite thing about the process: the discovery.  I remember saving my pennies, IMG_00002775sometimes literally, to buy the latest Soundgarden, Alice in Chains or Pearl Jam cassette tape.  Later I upgraded to cds, but the process was the same.  I’d hear one song on the radio, or get wind from the latest issue of Rolling Stone that a new album was being released.  I’d run to the nearest Sam the Record Man, HMV or Sunrise Records (the Yonge Street locations being my favourite shopping destinations) and I’d pick up that latest musical treasure to add to my growing collection.  Once I’d transported my newest acquisitions home, I’d insert the tape or CD into my Sony Stereo system in my bedroom and prepare for another adventure in music.  I’d listen to each and every song on the album, sometimes over and over again, poring over the glossy paper insert that came in those little plastic jewel cases.  Music was my sanctuary, my nirvana, and I loved those moments of solitude with nothing but the music flowing into my ears and seeping into my soul.

The best thing about this entire experience was that usually I’d have very little, if any, prior knowledge of the music I was bringing home.  On some occasions all it took was hearing a single on the radio for me to run out and buy the full album.  In many, many other cases my extreme love of the band or artist was enough to drive me out of the house and into the waiting cash taking arms of the nearest music shop.  But I absolutely loved discovering what the rest of the album had in store.  What I loved even more was when songs that may never have made it to radio or television fame became my personal favourites.  Songs like “Tighter and Tighter” from Soundgarden’s Down on the Upside, or the Lovemongers’ cover of “Battle of Evermore” from the Singles Soundtrack; these songs are relatively unknown to the average music consumer, but they are songs that are near and dear to my heart, all because I took a chance on an album, a whole album, that I listened to from start to finish.

With the infiltration of digital downloading in today’s musical consumerism, that chance taking on albums is no longer a necessity, it’s now completely optional.  If you hear a song on the radio that you can’t get enough of, all it takes is a few keystrokes and mouseclicks on a computer, or even easier, a few swipes on a touchscreen phone, that single, and ONLY that single, is instantly a part of your music collection.  No sacred time with a jewel case insert, no discovery of new and secret songs.  Remember secret tracks on albums?  That moment where your breath is taken away because you realize your favourite band has left a tricksy little present at the end of their latest itunesrecord?  I always LOVED discovering those little moments that bands shared with their fans.  Is that something that’s even done anymore?  You can’t exactly advertise a secret track as part of an iTunes catalogue.  And that, to me, is tragic.

More and more I’m hearing that artists are foregoing making entire albums anymore.  Writing, producing and selling singles one by one is a more cost effective way to get your music out there, and it’s more in keeping with how fans are consuming music in this day and age.  It’s not a universal thing, but it’s definitely a phenomenon that’s becoming more widespread in today’s music business.  In a time where people are only streaming songs here and there, or worse pirating music, it’s not hard to believe that artists are both unable and unwilling to invest in the entire album making process.  But it really does make me sad for the state of the music business today, and for what the younger generation of music lovers is missing out on.  But, on the flipside, it also makes me extremely happy that I’m discovering vinyl, and also discovering how many people also love vinyl, whether they’re recent converts like me, or lifelong aficionados Arctic Monkeysof this warm and tactile musical format.  Like cassettes and CDs that I would buy with no prior knowledge, buying a new record brings me right back to that feeling of discovery.  Whether it’s a classic Zeppelin record that I know has one of my favourites on it, or the new Arctic Monkeys album with that single I can’t get enough of, I buy the whole record for one song, or even no songs, and listen to the entire thing from start to finish, reveling in the new music my ears hungrily devour from the air around me.  And it reminds me of why I love music as much as I do.

Until next time,




Nadia’s column appears every Wednesday

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DBAWIS_ButtonNadia Elkharadly is a Toronto based writer with a serious addiction to music. Corporate drone by day, renegade rocker by night, writing is her creative outlet.  Nadia writes for the Examiner (.com) on live music in Toronto and Indie Music in Canada.  She has never been in a band but plays an awesome air guitar and also the tambourine.  Check in every Tuesday for musings about music, love, life and whatever else that comes to mind.

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