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Hearing is Believing

As fans, critics, and everyone in between take stock of the year in music, I'm starting to wonder how much of it I actually heard, or for that matter, own. It is old news that we are in a time of media over-saturation and that music is particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon.

When I think back on 2007, I probably listened to less current music than ever before. It's trite and certainly not a valid excuse to say that I was paralyzed by the dizzying array of choices. With trustworthy blogs, websites, and friends to steer me towards new
discoveries (Beirut), hidden gems (Boris), and the obvious choices I so often overlook (Arcade Fire), I'm still not sure why my music collection stagnated this past year.

Then I went through my iTunes library and realized that I had increased the amount of music I "own" in 2007, by at least a couple hundred songs. But few of the songs amounted to albums; most were a collection of random singles, free downloads, or the supposed three or four best tracks off someone's full-length effort. And I put "own" in quotes because although music is more free and accessible than ever, it is also more disposable; it's easier to let go of. Thus, we've become dabblers. The songs that I have recently acquired don't really add up to anything more than a 10 day long mix tape with little thematic cohesion and only a shallow survey of the artists' work. I have shifted from collecting to compiling.

Sometimes a free download or an album stream is the gateway to a love affair with a band. There have been times when downloading a single leads me to a download of the full album, or to actually buy a CD, and then the older albums, and then the side and solo projects. For me, it's not a matter of whether music should be free or not free, but whether we still have the same relationship to music and to listenership now that the process of acquiring it has changed.

Yesterday, I was driving through St. John's on my way to Forest Park when I passed a record store called "Vinyl Resting Place." I admire a good pun but also can't help doing the proverbial eye roll when confronted with even the best of them. Yet "Vinyl Resting Place" is more than clever word play. And maybe this is why I feel like I didn't collect any music in 2007. My vinyl is a collection, and a collection feels permanent. Though a digital music library will outlast the vinyl records, and will likely outlast us all, the digital is not tactile. Recorded music, at least in the digital form, engages with fewer of our senses, and that certainly has changed the way I experience it.

In reality, maybe I listened to and consumed more music than ever this past year. But it is strange that I didn't even notice.