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Musical ownership in a digital age

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MARCH 12, 2015

“Do you know how to delete iTunes from your computer?”

A friend of mine asked me this the other day after his computer suggested that he update iTunes one too many times. Besides serving as a reminder that my technological skills don’t extend beyond the ability to press “enter” and “control alt delete” on a keyboard, this question also made me realize that iTunes — the last living remnant of the dying music ownership industry — is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Three years ago, when I graduated from high school, my parents got me the best graduation present a kid could ask for: a 160 GB iPod Classic. From the moment that I removed that 5.7-ounce chunk of personal entertainment from its obnoxiously ornate white packaging, it never left my side. I carried it everywhere with me and plopped in my white earbuds at every chance I got.

I vowed that I would fill those 160 GB of storage with the best songs on the planet and started by downloading all the music that I already owned: Arcade Fire, The Beatles, Vampire Weekend, Paul Simon, Wu-Tang Clan, The National — basically everything you’d expect from a privileged, self-righteous teenager who thinks he knows everything about music.

After downloading everything I already owned, I began to purchase more and more albums — in stores and online. And I felt a deep connection to each of them. I know it probably doesn’t compare to that feeling that my parents got back in the ‘60s when they bought their first vinyl from the local record store, but it still felt pretty damn good.

Each album that I bought became a part of me. I began to define myself by my music. I wasn’t Jeremy Siegel, 17-year-old student from Cincinnati, Ohio; I was Jeremy Siegel, owner of The Wall, Oracular Spectacular and Illmatic.

The music that I owned continued to define me through my sophomore year of college. But this changed when I downloaded Spotify last summer.

Though I previously only viewed Spotify as something that filled my Facebook newsfeed with annoying updates on what my friends were listening to, when I saw it was available for students at $4.99 a month, I gave in and downloaded it.

Almost every artist’s complete discography just one click away? Who could resist?

My relationship with Spotify started out healthy; this virtual world of music was my oyster. I was able to explore new artists, discover forgotten bands and make a playlist for every day of the week.

But things went sour quickly. I started listening to the same playlists over and over again. Despite the fact that I had an unlimited source of music, I ceased to feel any connection to the songs that I listened to. Rather than expanding my musical horizons, I used generic playlists as an artistic crutch.

My days became repetitive. Because virtually every song was at my disposal, I was unable to define myself by my music. My iPod Classic sat in a desk drawer, accumulating layers of dust as I mindlessly allowed myself to lose track of who I was.

I was lost. And I didn’t know why.

But after my friend asked me if I knew how to delete iTunes, things suddenly began to make sense. I realized that my love of music and my sense of self were the result of musical ownership. Though Spotify provides me with an unimaginably extensive source of music, it doesn’t allow me to truly connect with the songs that I listen to. They aren’t really mine.

I went into my room and pulled out my old iPod Classic. I turned it on, scrolled through my library and started to rediscover my connection to music.

There’s nothing like that feeling that you get when you buy a new album. Our parents felt it when they bought new records. We felt it when we bought new tapes, CD’s and albums on iTunes.

Will we still continue to feel it as we enter an increasingly digital age?



Contact Jeremy Siegel at [email protected].

MARCH 12, 2015

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