By Jack Sharkey, May 19, 2016

As per my on-going responsibilities as a card-carrying homo-sapiens domesticus, and as part of a larger home improvement project, a few months back I found myself cataloguing all of our vinyl. I had vinyl in three places, on three different floors, so consolidation was the goal.

 

There was:

    • vinyl in the living room that I’ve listened to within the past year
  • • vinyl in an upstairs bedroom/office that was purchased as collectible in the past three years
  • • vinyl in frames on the wall of my daughter’s room, but she’s moved to Nashville, so in spite of what I told her when she started high school and used my vinyl to decorate her room, I wanted my vinyl back
  • • vinyl in the basement that basically found a shelf fifteen years ago and hasn’t really moved much since.

 

 

Around 10:30 on a Thursday night, bleary-eyed and suffering from leg cramps from sitting on the floor, 1600+ albums after starting, I alphabetized ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres and called it a night. 

 

My wife found this whole exercise amusing as in her words she would have just "put them all on a shelf." This coming from a person who has an alphabetized spice rack and keeps the knives and forks organized by purpose. But, you know, c’est la vie.

 

That’s when it occurred to me: things that are personally important to us are important to us for whatever reason we have and the opinions of others don’t (and shouldn't) matter.

 

But I'm Getting Ahead Of Myself

In spite of my rapidly advancing age and cluttered mind, I pretty much remember where and when I obtained each LP and CD I own: as a gift and from whom, or from what store, who I was with, etc. I worry myself sometimes that I could have discovered a new planet or a cure for obtusity if I hadn’t had my head filled with such minutiae but these are the things I remember. I did find a few LPs of unknown origin that I asked Mrs. Organized-Spoons-And-Spices about. One in particular was a Village People EP. I was about to make fun of her when she told me the provenance of said album: “My parents won it at the Boardwalk and were so excited to bring it home for us we didn’t have the heart to tell them how uncool it was.”

 

This happened when my wife was like fifteen or sixteen. Her dad is no longer with us and her mom is ill so suddenly this silly little Village People record carries an enormous weight of importance in both of our lives.

 

I have 6,326 songs in my iTunes library and I have no idea where most of them came from, and in fact I hardly even know what I have there on the old laptop. My digital files are just 1s and 0s that I have little to no relationship with, yet my vinyl and CDs are actually a part of the history of my life.

 

Some of it sounds good, some of it sounds like crap, all of it is important – even the Village People (now that I know the story) and that Air Supply album that's interloping between Aerosmith and the Allman Brothers Band. It was a Christmas gift from my wife’s grandparents when she was eighteen. Her grandparents are gone but – even if a needle has never struck the vinyl – their gift to her is still here. Music matters in a lot of ways we don't even consider on a regular basis.

 

There’s a massive information war going on within the music industry right now about what matters and what doesn’t and about what people want and what they don’t.

 

This brings me to an article published recently in Digital Music News entitled “17 Things That Prove Sound Quality Doesn’t Matter.” The list was compiled by Paul Resnikoff who is the publisher of Digital Music News, and whom, according to his bio, rather likes music a lot. That’s why I’m not sure if I am too obtuse to grasp Mr. Resnikoff’s subtle sarcasm, or if in fact he is positing that – based on popularity – no one really cares about the sound of their music anymore. My take away was the article was asserting that music does matter but the way we listen to it doesn't, which when you think about it makes no sense at all. It's kind of like saying, sure, food matters, but the way you cook it doesn't.

 

So I decided I would like to enter the conversation about what  matters and what doesn’t. I'd like to thank Digital Music News for inspiring me with their list. (That’s an obtuse way of giving DMN props for the article I am citing). By the way, I subscribe to DMN, and it really is a good source of news.

 

According to DMN, here are the music-related things that are popular (with my opinions in italics):

 

Things that are popular:

1. YouTube (The MTV of the 20-teens. Remember how horrible those Banarama songs sounded coming out of those little speakers on your television? But some of you still bought Banarama albums to actually listen to them as well, so as a marketing tool, the thread continiues)

2. iTunes (Cheap, convenient, easy with little or no time commitment – Today’s AM radio and 45 singles)

3. Spotify (See #2 above, only without the nattering DJs, which I kind of miss now that I think about it)

4. MP3s (See #2 above. There are certain fast food restaurants that are popular but few people would choose to eat at one when offered a decent – albeit more expensive and better for them – alternative)

5. White earbuds (See #4 above and oh, by the way – hahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Seriously?)

6. FM Radio (Yes, but I kind of think FM radio self-inflicted that wound)

7. Pandora (See #3 above, and this kind of seems like we’re padding the statistics just a little to make the point)

8. Beats Headphones (When I was a kid, Pet Rocks were popular for a short while until we all figured out that buying a rock as a pet was only popular because some guy who was making a ton of money selling rocks as pets told us they were popular) (Author's Note: To be clear, the point I am making is that just because something has an enormous amount of marketing dollars and celebrity endorsements behind it doesn't mean it's going to enhance your life)

 

Things that aren’t popular:

9. iTunes Plus (That’s because you’ve got to pony up to use it, and we all know that cheap stuff is way more popular than expensive stuff – even if it is at the expense of the experience and the living wage of the artist who makes the cheap stuff)

10. TIDAL (See #9 above, but might this not have something to do with rich people whining about not being as rich as they could be? Is it possible the poorly executed launch and subsequent marketing of Tidal has more to do with the lack of growth than the intrinsic lack of value in the product itself?)

11. High-end stereo systems (In a certain segment of the population for sure. Lots of great music was listened to on cheap $79.00 JC Penney turntables before the digital revolution made it easy to listen to crappy sounding music on white earbuds – this is the inexorable advance of technology. The point is when our view of the world widens out a bit there are still a lot of people who are still setting goals to listen to music on as good a system as they can afford)

12. Expensive speakers (I actually know a little bit about this one and I can tell you that we are very busy thank you very much, which to me means there are an awful lot of people who are no longer buying the hype that white earbuds are the only way to go.)

 

Things that are dead:

14. SD-Audio (Yes, and I recently threw out my VCR and all of those Disney tapes I was forced to watch instead of watching Tool Time back in the 90s. Other things that are dead due to technological advances – the ice man, suit of armor makers, 23 Skidoo buttons)

15. DVD-Audio (See #14 above. Again with the statistic padding)

16. Quadrophonic Sound (This one throws me a bit as I can’t tell if the author is too sarcastically brilliant for me to comprehend and is laughing at me as I try to understand this, or if I missed something regarding the popularity of quadrophonic sound between now and that time I bought Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery in quad in 1973 even though all I had was a record player that was barely capable of playing stereo (I wanted to be cutting edge and cool but I got over that in time)

17. PONO (Someone who is not going to pay for $300 headphones when a pair of white earbuds suffices is certainly not going to pay $399 just for a music player when his phone can do it for him for like $200 a month (you know, before all of those pesky data overage charges)

 

So there you have it – my opinion that what is popular is only popular because we are told its popular, but that music listened to on as a good a system as you can afford is a quality experience that has meaning.

 

When I was in high school, all the cool girls were destroying the ozone with Aquanet and quoting K.C. and the Sunshine Band. I just didn’t get it – I didn’t date much either, but at least there are very few pictures of me with embarrassing clothes and haircuts. For you non-ancient readers out there, remember when velour jumpsuits and platform sneakers were all the rage just ten years ago?

 

Music is fun as background noise to drown out all of those unceasing thoughts swimming around in your head or the people on the subway next to you arguing about the best way to get to 14th Street, but it's also meaningful and matters in so many other ways that are important to the human experience. By all means, buy what you can afford and listen to what you want to listen to but don’t be lulled into thinking that the quality of the sound you put into your ears and head doesn’t matter. A Quarter Pounder with cheese is a cheeseburger just like a Kobe beef burger with a slice of Caciocavallo Podolico is a cheeseburger, it's just that there are some subtle differences between the two when it comes to experience.

Music is important and music matters to an awful lot of people, so why shouldn't the enjoyment of music to its fullest extent matter?

 

 

The picture belows shows evidence of the author's St. Bernard puppy Max who grabbed the album and ran out in the backyard with it where he played keep away until a Milk Bone was proffered. This was in August 1979. Max was a pain in the backside and a really great dog and here's proof of his existence. You can't do that with a digital file. On the other hand, the album was left virtually unplayabe and was replaced many years later with a digital copy, so I'm not really sure if this makes the point for me or not, but sharing the memory was fun.  

Ole - ELO

 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of KEF or its associates. Quotations are used under Fair Use guidelines and it was the author’s intent to use the quoted article as a foundation for discussion.