Amazing news: iTunes is now selling more than Borders, Tower Records and Sam Goody. (Read more in this article: iTunes outsells traditional music stores.) Over 4% of all music is purchased through iTunes and 70% of digitally downloaded music comes from downloads at iTunes. There has to be some questioning as to what this all really means. Here are some thoughts. What are we gaining and what are we losing with digital music? How does this change our enjoyment of good music as well as our music in our worship? There are a lot of things going so fast, those of us who make music could not have imagined that a personal computer would be how we would create, market and sell our music. This day was unforeseen. Like so many other things in our culture, how we listen to music has been irreparably altered. Downloading digital music is the tip of the iceberg.
I remember, of course when I was a wee lad, the LP. Not soon after these CDs were all the rage. Having a dear family member deal in 78 RPMs, I was still accustomed to the feel of vinyl. I even have a victrola in my living room, by the way. I dream of what it must have been like to crank up my victrola in 1908 and play the latest side of a 78 RPM record. On LPs, I remember reading the prolific liner notes and scanning the art that always seemed to have deeper messages. And, of course, I remember the warm pop and crackle at the drop of the needle on a turntable and the horror of that scratching sound that ended its life. When CDs came along, we lost the pops, scratches and art. They are a bear to open. I have chipped teeth I can show you! Those of us who record music, know that you have to master your CD through some sort of analog device to make it “warm” like in the good ole days. Now, there is iTunes.
This iTunes phenomena has changed not only how we buy music, but the quality of the sound. You are getting less quality, by the way, then your CDs. You are buying compressed versions of compressed music. What our culture really seems to care about is that you have choice, not the best sound. Of course, the quality issues will be fixed before we know it, too.
Now, you can piece together whatever you want and in real time. You can be your own DJ, radio station programmer and music critic. You can listen to Punk, Pop, Indie, Screamo, Alternative, Jazz, and Country. Why you would is really the issue. You would. I would. It is the same reason that there are times when there are three different things served for dinner at our house on occasion. We are nuts! We don’t know what we want, we just want a pantry full enough to give us instantly the flavor of the minute.
What this leads me to is the thought that those of us who attend church these days expect our music to be like our iPods. We are looking for our expression of worship to become a backdrop rather than an encounter. In the old days, you would go to a concert and have some sort of encounter and actually listen rather than see what the band was wearing. Music today is 24/7-Muzak-for-life. So, we are miles from using the same hymnbook in worship since our iPods are as unique as we are.