How to Listen to Music in the Contemporary Age

Several years ago I never imagined that my father, a farmer, would carry a portable mp3 player into the field. Now, in between weeding the grass or taking care of the chili plants in the fields, he have a new hobby: singing while listening to his favorite music, from Koes Plus, Rhoma Irama, to Javanese gending. “So it’s not too lonely in the fields,” said the father.

This of course happens because of the cheap digital music player technology. Cell phone sales outlets also provide copying services for thousands of digital music collections in mp3 format at low prices, regardless of legality matters.

A decade ago my dad could have listened to music in the fields. But with a rather troublesome preparation. He had to carry a transistor radio with a non-rechargeable battery. So, my father listened to music at home, playing his collection of Lokananta tapes on our old tape deck.

I remember that old tape deck of ours. An assembled model made by a home industry, not made by a large manufacturer. My father and I took turns playing music according to our tastes. My dad, with Indonesian pop songs from the 70s and Javanese music, I was still in love with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sheila on 7. Sometimes my mother would add to the playlist with Haddad Alwi or Ratih Purwasih.

Sometimes small fights are unavoidable when I want to prance with System of a Down while my mother insists on listening to Betharia Sonata. Put on a slightly fierce face, my mother accused the music I was listening to is satanic music because I screamed incoherently.

At that time, in the 2000s, mp3 was a foreign item to us in the village on the slopes of Mount Lawu. Perhaps those in the city are familiar with the digital music storage format, the result of ripping compact discs that they can afford to redeem. For those of us who were in the village at that time, celluloid cassette tapes were the most reasonable and affordable music product because the price was still affordable.

Now, my father has piled his collection of tapes on a corner shelf, leaving it dusty. He prefers to listen to music on a digital player. If he are bored with your music collection, he can easily replace it with a new one. With just a few tens of thousands of rupiah to the song filling booth, he can replace The Best of Koes Plus with all of Wali’s discography.

Just like my dad, a few years ago I also kept my cassette collection of hundreds in a cardboard box at my parents’ house. This is because I am of course following a new way of listening to music that is more common in today’s era: streaming. Through the Swedish app Spotify, I was able to explore the 70 Million songs available in their catalog.

Because listening to music on Spotify is very practical. Only by paying approximately 50 thousand rupiah per month, we can legally listen to so many songs that are available. Compare with if we have to redeem a cassette or CD! The same amount of money will only make us redeem one album only.

However, later when I was returning to my parents’ house on the slopes of Lawu, I left Spotify. I re-opened my collection of cassette tapes in cardboard, and played them on a tattered tape deck which luckily after 22 years old still works fine. My dad was surprised and asked, “Did you hear the cassette? Do you usually listen to music with your cellphone?”

I answered firmly: for nostalgia, dad. Remembering the heyday of cassette tapes.

Actually my answer is longer than that. Listening to music on the cassette is one of my attempts to understand more about how technological developments always have pros and cons.

The sophistication of cloud computing such as the Spotify or Apple Music applications for example. Although practical and profitable listeners. There are many things that can be criticized from such an application. Starting from how they pay royalties to musicians unfairly because they are of very small value, their algorithms that uniform music tastes and make people stop playing the same music, to the compressed sound quality that makes music sound less clear in clarity.

It’s interesting to see that in this century the way we listen to music has changed completely. The development of music recording technology has changed the way music lovers listen to a work. Before recording technology was invented, music was a live performance. The listeners must be present in person on a stage, they live the moment of the moment, listen to the music played by the musicians, and absorb the beauty of the moment.

When recording technology was invented, music suddenly became everywhere. In 1906 Appleton’s Magazine published John Philip Sousa’s most famous—and scathing—article The Menace of Mechanical Music. In it Sousa predicts that recording technology will reduce the essence of music to mere unaesthetic mechanical twists.

Of course, many practitioners of modern music do not agree with Sousa’s ideas. They consider this opinion out because Sousa is a classical music musician and he feels threatened his life is usually able to perform live.

In his book Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music, Mark Katz explains that major changes in music are inevitable because of the birth of new technologies such as recording. At first it was a plate, music could be pressed onto a round plate medium which was then played on a gramophone. Over time the music plates were made of vinyl, and LPs were born which were famous because they were considered as the medium for storing music with the clearest clarity.

Long story short, after vinyl, celluloid tapes, CDs, and digital formats such as mp3 were born. For the latter, it may be considered the most revolutionized music format in the world of music. This technology allows a song to be stored in digital form with a small file size, making it easy to store, or share.

Mp3 went through its heyday in the 2000s when Napster, a site for sharing free—and illegal—music files came into existence. Napster’s new technology has angered executives at record labels and musicians because music listeners can get the music they want without paying.

Long story short, Napster finally had to disband because it was legally defeated by an invasion of record company associations in America and several musicians who also sued. One of the most famous is a famous metal musician, Lars Ulrich. Yep, Metallica’s drummer.

The late 2000s marked the birth of something revolutionary: the iPod, and iTunes. Steve Jobs and the tech giant Apple offered solutions to make music accessible, and sold at affordable prices so that listeners could legally access it.

Ipod and iTunes inevitably trigger a wave of production of mp3 player products on a large scale. One of them is a product made in China that my father owns.

Entering the modern era, the era of streaming, it is undeniable that Spotify, Apple Music, Joox, Deezer, or YouTube Music are the most powerful mediums. The sophistication of cloud computing makes people not have to bother having large storage media on their cellphones or computers. They just need the internet, and voila, millions of songs ready to be listened to.

Returning to Mark Katz’s argument about how technology is changing the way we listen to music, streaming is also changing the way we enjoy music. Now is the era of playlists. Instead of listening to one particular musician’s album in full, we prefer to listen to a playlist containing many types of songs that we like.

Streaming is also changing the way musicians work. In the CD era, musicians usually released full albums containing 9 or 10 songs. This is to adjust to the capacity of the duration of the music that can be recorded on a compact disc. In the streaming era, something called Spotify Sound is known.

Spotify Sound can be used to explain why most musicians now create songs with shorter durations, and in large numbers, for example in one album they insert 12 to some even 20 songs. This is because Spotify—and other platforms—implement a pay-per-play system. This means that the more songs played, a musician will get more royalties.

Not only the number of songs. In terms of song arrangement, Spotify Sound has changed the way musicians work. It’s common knowledge that Spotify will only pay for a song if it’s played for at least 30 seconds. So, many musicians end up outsmarting their work. How to make their music catchy and comfortable in the first 30 seconds. Thus the listeners will not run away and feel at home listening to the song. Thus, more money enters the pocket of the musician.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time: how small we are in the vastness of the universe. We are just bread crumbs in the midst of the infinite cosmos. Imagine this! There are trillions of stars in the observable universe. Observables, yes. This means that we can observe it because the light from it is still within the reach of man-made telescopes. How do we know how many more stars and galaxies are in the unobservable universe? We only understand very little about the universe we live in.

Then imagine the amount of music that humans have created throughout the history of civilization is stellar. So equal to three money with the number of stars in the universe, we can only listen to and understand very little music from the total amount of music in the world. Too much music, too little time to listen to. That’s roughly the term. This music universe is too wide, in the end we can only appreciate very little of the music.

Besides listening to music on Spotify, I diligently collect CDs, cassettes, and FLAC format music on my laptop. Some are ripping CDs I own or borrow from friends, some—usually rare albums—I get from downloading on torrents. In total I have 9,302 songs/music in FLAC format with a large file size of 194 GB on my laptop.

Do I listen to all those music files? Of course not. As I said earlier, the music universe is too wide to be fully enjoyed.

What’s the point? That our limitations in listening to all the music created by humans can hopefully be a material for reflection that we should not get bored. Because we are just dots in the crowd (universe), we are so small in the universe, and in front of Him.

That’s the reason I often leave Spotify lately and prefer to listen to a collection of physical releases or FLAC format music on my laptop. The seventy million songs on Spotify is too big a universe for me to explore at all. So, I changed the way I listen to music in this contemporary era. Back to analog format, for the convenience of listening to better music.

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