Growing up, my best friends and I would make mixtapes for each other by ripping songs from the radio or other cassettes we owned. The other day when I was visiting my family in the house I grew up in I began to dig through some old boxes. I was pleasantly surprised to find a pile of these old mixtapes. Let me tell you they were fantastic to listen to all over again. The nostalgia was overwhelming. I even found my old Wu-Tang collection. Man, I was way cooler then.
If you’re from the Boston area then I’m sure you know all about Jamin 94.5. For those of you that aren’t it’s a mainstream hip-hop/ R&B station that’s still around and serving the Boston Metropolitan and Greater Boston area. The 90’s were a great time for that genre of music and trust me, my friends and I were all over it. Some of the tapes even contained recordings of our favorite radio personalties. The amount of awesomeness that we were trading back and forth circa 1997 was out of control.
All of this got me thinking about the evolution of ripping and sharing music. I suppose the easy answer would be recording and trading mixtapes, burning and sharing CDs and then mp3 file sharing, but we all know it’s so much more complicated than that.
I was lucky to grow up in an environment where music was a part of everyday life. Not only was I exposed to the classics, Billy Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Etta James but also James Brown , Parliament Funk, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Frank Zappa, Bjork, Fiona Apple, Beck and Portishead. The list goes on and on. I think you can now see where my eclectic taste came from. I would flip through the endless rows of CDs at Tower Records and Newbury Comics looking for that next band or artist that would hold my attention for the month. I could be seen standing at the listening booths with in the stores seeing if they had something to offer me that I had never heard. Needless to say, when Napster came along my head nearly exploded. I couldn’t believe that this many people wanted to share and had found a way to share that much music with each other. The effects were irreversible and probably why I’m here writing this today.
When Napster was finally shut down there was Kazza and when that was gone there was Limewire. There are now an array of subscription services vying for our attention; Mog, Rdio, Rhapsody and Spotify. The explosion of social networks and music blogging has seemed to speed up the newest evolution in music sharing, the discovery platform. Every few months a new one seems to pop up. Off the top of my head I can name seven; Last.fm, Shuffler, We Are Hunted, exfm, SoundCloud, The Hype Machine and Bandcamp.
Have you ever really sat down and thought about how you discover music? Everyone’s path is different but our goals are all the same. Bijan Sabet, who is a General Partner at Spark Capital, sits on the Board at Tumblr and has invested in Twitter and exfm described almost perfectly how I think myself and many others discover and share music these days. Maybe this is not your exact process, but I’m sure it’s close depending on what social service and music discovery platform you frequent. “After the first listen, I hit the Tumblr ‘like’ button on my dashboard. On the second listen, I reblogged it. On the third listen, I hit the note button and sent it to my ex.fm profile.”
This has to raise the question, what’s next? What else can we possibly create, what other communication channels are available? Right now I can’t even imagine what the future holds, but I can say with one hundred percent confidence that something new will be developed. As humans, curiosity is in our nature. To seek out the new and share it with each other is genetically intrinsic to us as a species. As technology develops so will these services and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.