You may know that I’m an avid Podcast listener, going on for ten years and am currently subscribed to 105 different shows. With as much as I listen, few episodes stick with me, but this one from The Slate’s Hit Parade went back in time and blew my formative teenage mind, leaving me to question whether the formation of my pop music appreciation is a complete sham.
I read somewhere that the music you’re exposed to from the time you’re a teen into early twenties has the biggest impact towards your appreciation. In your mind, that is the most iconic period of music and since then has likely gotten worse. As I’m 36 now, my middle school and high school years occurred during this period that was covered in the podcast. I was lucky enough to have parents that gave me a pretty wide berth in what I could listen to and buy, and I ended spending a sizable amount of money on albums throughout the 90’s.
Listening to this Podcast made some really deep cuts against my music psyche. If you went to high school the same time I did, I’d really suggest you listen to this, but the gist of the podcast is that the record industry severely ratcheted down the selling of single cassettes and CD’s of band hits to force consumers to buy the entire album if they wanted to own the song. As the podcast went through example after example of these albums, I realized that I ended up owning many albums by these one-hit wonders.
To a teenager, $15 was a sizable amount of money, often representing a couple hours of work. When I shelled out money for those albums, I had a strong incentive to not feel like I flushed my cash down the drain – and as a result not only did I listen to those entire albums, but I convinced myself that it was a good album, conditioning myself to appreciate all of the album’s tracks. The problem is that repressed, deep in the recesses of my mind, I secretly knew the album wasn’t good, and come to find out that in many cases the record companies felt the same way – but they just wanted to take my money.
That’s not to say that there weren’t iconic albums in the 90’s – Pearl Jam’s Ten and Vs., Alanis’ Jagged Little PIll, Smashing Pumpkins Mellon Collie and Infinite Sadness come to mind for me, but for every one of those, I also had the misfortune of owning Chumbawumba’s Tubthumping, Primitive Radio Gods Rocket, and Shawn Mullins’ Soul’s Core. Nothing against those artists, and being in a band myself I know that your music can’t appeal to everyone – but the point is that during the 90’s consumers who wanted to own your one hit song was forced to buy the entire album, with the record industry laughing their way to the bank.
I was on the ground level when Mp3’s starting propagating the landscape and giving way to Napster and iTunes, making the single once again accessible to everyone. This podcast goes to show that downloading wasn’t simply about stealing music, but was as much about disrupting a very corrupt business model. It’s crazy to think just how different things are today, with most songs available on a whim to be streamed on our phones. In today’s age, the value of the album has been questioned by many musicians, including myself. Artists are coming to grip with the fact that recordings have been reduced to a commodity, from once being the product to now being a tool to help market your product (your live shows and relationships with fans). People still put a lot of care into the constructing of albums, but many artists are now more concerned with churning out new music at a regular pace.
I don’t often wear my tinfoil hat, but it is mind-blowing just how much of our formative appreciation of art is decided by rich white guys in boardrooms. Give the podcast a listen and let me know which of those songs and albums resonate with you.