The Return of Social Music?

The Return of Social Music?: Turntable.FMMusic has always been inherently a social object. Whether it’s today’s torrent communities pirating the latest CDs, friends gathering around a belt-driven record player to mutually experience their newest LP purchase, or just the bonding of friends over a shared musical palate, music has served as a way to both define us as individuals and connect us as tribes. Since eternity.

I say this knowing full well that it seems to run contrary to the title of my blog. But, really, it doesn’t. Because, as things have grown more social — social networks, social gaming, social whatever — it seems that people have actually started to become more isolated. The more gadgets and widgets and walls and chats that we have available to connect us to each other — and in turn, the more that we stay constantly connected to each other in the technological sense — the less that we actually connect with each other in the social sense. It’s sort of like waiting in line to see the newest movie when you have a job at the movie theater; why would you go out of your way to do something now that seems like it will inevitably happen later?

And, in a world where music is as present and obtainable as UV rays, that means that despite these tools that would, in theory, advance the shared experience of music listening and music discovery, people — as individuals — have begun to forge their own musical paths. Picking up a record here, an MP3 there, and molding a collection that makes them entirely distinct.

The problem, though, is that the technology of social isn’t the same thing as the reality of social. And, because of this, even though more and more things are being prefaced with the word, less and less interactions are actually of the social variety.

Case in point, when sharing music used to consist of inviting all of your friends over to listen to the newest record (as in vinyl) from The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, this was undeniably social. While I’m admittedly too young to remember the era when this was common place, I can image that the episode went something like this:

You call up four or five of your friends to let them know you’ve just picked up a brand new copy of A Hard Day’s Night or Led Zepplin II or Electric Ladyland. You gush over how awesome the record looks — without probably even removing it from the packaging yet — and tell them each to come over immediately to listen to your newest purchase. Each of your friends returns the admiration, explaining that they had heard from so-and-so about the album and that it was spectacular. Thirty minutes later, all of your friend have arrived at your apartment and you prepare to begin the ritual of imbibing a new vinyl record. Everyone gathers around your record player — probably sitting on plush shag carpeting cross-legged, forming a circle — and watch intently as you remove the packaging and extract the black, flat disc from its sleeve. You try to calm your anxiousness and slowly place the album gently on top of the rubber mat, perfectly positioning the needle and then finally, triumphantly pressing the play button.

You all listen. No one speaks. Each of you takes turns admiring the record cover, passing it from hand to hand around your circle. You read the liner notes and take in all the information you can about the record.

Later, when the record has finished playing, you all discuss and analyze each piece of music that you just experienced. You break it down and build it up, referring to the cover and the liner notes to defend each accusation you make about its quality or origin.

And, from then on, that piece of music and the experience of taking it in and dissecting it has become a part of you.

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