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Music: Death of music as gifts

Craven Lovelace
NOTES
Free Press Music Columnist
Craven Lovelace
Staff Photo |

Well, by now, hopefully, you have finished digesting your Christmas meal of who-pudding and roast beast, and are preparing to greet 2014 next week with enthusiasm and a list of resolutions. But today marks a time for Craven to reflect on what a turning point this Christmas was for him personally. You see, for the first time in his adult life, Craven neither gave nor received the gift of music.

Or maybe I should make that “the Gift of Music®,” since the phrase originated during the 1980s as part of an advertising campaign crafted by the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (often referred to back then as NARM, and nowadays known as the Music Business Association).

Anyway, whatever the origins of the expression, the act of giving recorded music has been a staple of American life since long before NARM started using it to hawk records, probably back to the days of wax cylinders. But in the era of the mp3, and with the current rise of streaming services like Spotify, Google Play Music, Pandora and Rdio, the presence of music under the Christmas tree is dwindling.



You may be saying, “What? I just gave (received) the new Beyoncé two days ago!” And no doubt, iTunes cards and gift subscriptions to Spotify still ferret into Xmas stockings and email inboxes at holiday time. But let’s face it: There are precious few “event” albums like Beyoncé’s these days. And whether you’re giving or getting, a subscription to a music-streaming service is a pale, ephemeral caricature of what it was to buy and then wrap an album or a box set, or tear open the wrapping paper to find this mysterious, exquisite object with which you were bound to form a very special relationship over the ensuing few days or weeks.

Craven can still remember the delight that ignited in his heart on December 25, 1975, when Santa delivered “Venus and Mars” by Wings, “They Only Come Out at Night” by the Edgar Winter Group and “Caribou” by Elton John. It was more than just the music; it was the shiny, virgin album covers and tastefully designed lyric sheets and liner notes, the musician and producer credits (which made young Craven want to explore other albums featuring those artists and technicians), and the feeling these vinyl artifacts were golden tickets into an exciting subculture.



Does any teen today get to experience anything remotely like that when they receive an email notification that Dad and Mom extended their Spotify subscription for a year?

Even Craven gets tired of hearing the people of his generation lament the loss of album covers, but there is more than sad old nostalgia at play in the discussion. This week, blogger and designer Khoi Vinh set many tongues in the music industry wagging with his Medium.com article, “What Streaming Music Can Be.” In it, Vinh argues that album covers and liner notes were the metadata of the pre-digital music world, and that streaming music companies (which, thanks to their technological platform, ought to be able to exceed the analog era in delivering such metadata) have instead largely abandoned the delivery of musical metadata — and in the process have reduced the immersive experience of popular music. We’ll look at Vinh’s arguments in more depth next week, and imagine how the digital music world could reconnect audiences with artists and make the gift of music worth giving again.

Craven Lovelace is the producer of the Notes Blog & Podcast at http://cravenlovelace.com/notesblog and also writes about popular culture at the Cravenomena blog at http://cravenlovelace.com/cravenblog/. You can also find him on Facebook. Notes is made possible by Tina Harbin of Real Estate West, the premier resource for all real estate information and services on the Western Slope.


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