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The day the music died

I read a thought-provoking article the other day by Sophie Heawood: she commented about how our experience of music has changed in this digital age of downloads and streaming. As a Spotify premium subscriber, this resonated with me and I wanted to give my response. To get in the mood I’m listening to some of my guilty pleasures on Spotify as I write this, feel free to join me…

The trouble with digital – streaming music in particular – is that I don’t feel that I own music anymore. Not physically anyway, I literally just pay to listen to it. No doubt it’s saved space; I have racks and racks of CDs in my bedroom that are not getting added to anymore because I can listen to everything I want on my phone.

It’s not just our buying experience that’s different though, the entire way we hear music has changed because of digital. There’s a decline in hi-fis (don’t I sound old!) Instead of these dedicated sound systems, most people listen to music through tinny earphones, laptop or iPad speakers – all of which weren’t designed with sound quality as a priority.

headphonesIf you want to have a good listening experience I suggest you invest in a good pair of headphones. Walking down the street in a city centre you would think most people have, many people with headphones on their heads will go past you nodding along to the tunes that are whizzing through their ears. Do not be fooled by first impressions! These people don’t care for music; they’re flaunting it as part of an ‘80s throwback fashion craze. That’s because Dr Dre’s colourful Beats headphones are built for style rather than substance. My own headphones are Sennheisers, which sound fantastic, but I wouldn’t want to be seen outside of a studio wearing them!

Is music worth listening to anymore? People are still buying it (or rather, downloading it) in their droves so it obviously hasn’t died – just a bit of my soul has. The chart offerings aren’t just lyrically bland, the music sounds like music that could have been produced in someone’s bedroom… probably because it has been.

Then, out of the blue, came along a smash hit that restored my faith in modern music: Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, featuring Pharrell Williams and produced by my musical hero – Nile Rodgers. That song is the sound of the summer for many. The lyrics leave a lot to be desired, but the reason it sounds so good is because Daft Punk have learnt – and listened – to music from the past. By collaborating with established producers like Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder, they’re adding to a contemporary disco sound being coined nu-disco.

No matter what your taste is, experiencing music is so fulfilling it becomes the soundtrack to your life – so make sure you hear it the way it was supposed to be heard with good quality equipment. Be open minded to explore; don’t just accept what’s played to you in the charts. That’s what Daft Punk did and it got them a number one. Music isn’t just about now; any track you hear will be inspired, in some form or another, by hits heard before. Let’s hope music’s future is just as colourful as its past.

Don’t Forget to Remember Disco

Great music, mirrorballs and dancing around handbags all help to define the disco era. The music  has been brought into the limelight recently with a lot of prevalence due to the untimely passing of two stars of the genre; Donna Summer and Robin Gibb. Their music featured in the soundtrack of my formative years, which must be why I feel such a strong affinity with disco.

I may not have direct memories of this time period but I definitely enjoy hearing about it. My experiences of the music from the 70s have been formed subsequently, which started when I began to develop my own musical tastes… something in which the Bee Gees, inadvertently, feature quite heavily!

In the late 1990s I got my first Hi-Fi. No one calls sound systems that any more, but what made it extra special was that it was in the shape of a Coca-Cola can – I loved it! I’ll never forget the first albums that I bought on CD, which were: The Lighthouse Family’s Ocean Drive (I’ve always liked Easy Listening music you see) and a Top of the Pops compilation album because, like most young people do, I followed the charts like a hawk. Over the Christmas period of 1999 many artists of that time covered Bee Gees hits in aid of the charity called Live Challenge ‘99. Steps, Cleopatra (I can’t even type that without thinking “Comin’ at ‘cha!”) Boyzone, 911 and more 90s names released their versions of classic Bee Gees hits. I know that list doesn’t exactly set your heart racing now but back then it did for me. I wanted the tribute album and asked Santa Claus if he would bring it me for Christmas.

Alas, I didn’t get it! There must have been a crossed line to the North Pole somewhere. What I did get was a Bee Gee’s album called One Night Only, recorded live at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. I was not happy with this; any band my parents liked was not cool in my eleven-year-old eyes! So I stuck the album in a drawer, never to be spoken of again…

Many CDs were spun in my little Hi-Fi as the years passed and, as my musical exploration progressed, I started veer away from the constrictions of usual formulaic chart fodder. I became interested in many different genres, especially electronic based music, including bands like Daft Punk, Royksopp and Jamiroquai’s later work.

If you look hard enough for the six degrees of separation you’ll be able to see how all styles of music link together or how one genre has influenced another. With other songs though it’s not hard to hear the connection – take 2003’s Digital Love by Daft Punk as an example:

Now listen to George Duke’s I Love You More from 1979:

Spot the sample! A lot of the electronic music uses samples, especially the synthesizers and vocoders that are synonymous with disco music. So, even though disco is the genre that supplied a large amount of the soundtrack to the ‘70s, it is perhaps more influential nowadays than you may realise.

Music is eternal. I don’t think it matters that I wasn’t born during the 70s, when disco reached the height of popularity, in order to experience it. Taste doesn’t have to be constricted to what decade you grew up in – if it were then no one would ever listen to classical music! As there is such a massive range of music out there it would be narrow-minded to limit what you listen to by the charts, a certain genre or decade. I’m a huge advocate for encouraging musical exploration and with the internet, downloads and online streaming being so accessible there really is no reason not to delve that little bit deeper. (Get any How Deep is Your Love puns out of your system now, or forever hold your peace…)

Maybe an indication of how good songs are can be measured by how frequently they have been covered by other artists, which explains the ethos behind the Bee Gees tribute album that I yearned for in the late ‘90s… and I did get it eventually. The irony is that I don’t play it any more. I listen to the original versions of Bee Gees hits much more than any cover versions. The only reason that the One Night Only CD is in a drawer now is because I have converted the tracks into MP3s. I’ve played these songs even more often since hearing the news of the death of Robin Gibb. The longevity of music means that even though performers pass away their music can live on forever. I definitely will never forget to remember disco.