Jonathan deBurca Butler
Over the last decade, the world of personal entertainment, social media and just general gadgetry has developed at something approaching a breakneck speed. There have been more “isn’t it amazing what they can do these days” moments than you could shake a stick at – or should that be a Wii Controller. It’s hard to imagine a world without Skype, Twitter and Wii. And of course you cannot go anywhere these days without being surrounded by people poking at their iPhones like baffled chimps. Ten years ago tomorrow the recently deceased Steve Jobs announced the iPod to the world and thereby lay the foundation for everything that followed. Since then there have been six iPod Classics, two iPod Minis, six iPod Nanos, four iPod Touchs and four iPod Shuffles. That’s not to mention the five iPhones which of course all include an iPod. Got that so far? Since its introduction, Apple has sold over 300million iPod units and bearing in mind that in order to use it you have to go to Apple’s iTunes store and buy the music to put on to the machine, it is no wonder that when he passed away earlier this month Jobs was estimated to be worth almost $7billion. The iPod and iPhone look set to be the medium through which we listen to music well into the future – whether we like that or not is a different discussion altogether.
“I’d be a vinyl kind of guy,” says Dave Fanning of 2FM. “I wouldn’t even be a CD kind of guy but you can’t do vinyl and CD when you’re off wandering around the place. I mean for people who are out all the time iPods are absolutely fantastic. Now I don’t use it as much as other people do. For instance in the car I have a six-track CD player but I’m going to change to an iPod. I’m not the world’s number one expert I wouldn’t be very good at navigating them or whatever. I usually get my son to put the songs on, it doesn’t come naturally to me because I’m not of a generation that was just born into it.”
Fanning says that even today eighty-five per cent of what he plays on his shows is off CD. He hasn’t played vinyl for at least twenty years. He has never played anything off the iPod and says that he simply does not need it. But rather than worrying about the format Fanning believes there is probably a bigger issue altogether.
“The question is; is music as important to this [young] generation as it was to me and my generation?” he asks rhetorically. “And the answer is obviously; no. The accessibility means that people can get more and hear more and see more. Maybe so, but they don’t have the same value on it for the simple reason that a whole generation has grown up getting music for free. And when you get something free you just don’t have the same value on it.”
Others would argue, however, that Apple might well be saving the music industry.
“I think originally when MP3’s started coming out the music industry was ‘oh look at this it’s a kind of piracy’,” says Red FM’s Victor Barry. “But it was the likes of Apple who started turning this around and actually selling singles for 99 cent and albums for 9.99. And that has probably breathed new life into the music industry because now you can be sitting at home or on a bus or a train, you can be anywhere in the world and you don’t have to go to a record shop to buy your latest favourite artist. Plus if you go back ten or fifteen years you could only buy big artists, now you can discover artists from the backs of beyond that you’ve never heard of who are absolutely brilliant.”
Although Barry admits that you “can’t beat a good old browse” in a record shop he says he has not bought a CD in years and judging by his tone he does not seem them much.
“Yeah, the ceremony of it all and going to the shop that’s all well and good,” he says. “But you know what, on a wetty, shitty day when you’re stuck in a queue and the person behind the till is only looking at you as if you’re a number it’s no more a ceremony…it’s more like an endurance test to go in and buy your album. And anyway why would you want to pay more money for something that you can get for 8.99 or 9.99? And you can do it from the comfort of your own home.”
Perhaps for Fanning that is the point. More and more we seem to be doing things from the comfort of our own home. But perhaps that is a different article altogether (editor please take note).
Newstalk presenter Tom Dunne, recalls getting his first iPod “back in the dawns time”. Like many in Ireland he had a friend pick one up for him in the U.S.A. where they were initially quite a bit cheaper.
“I can’t imagine not having an iPod now,” says the former Something Happens frontman. “I just feel like I’ve always had one. At the beginning I think I was slightly reluctant but only in terms of transferring music onto it and also there was that technical thing of, you know, when do you jump? The minute you buy an iPod, a newer, slimmer, better version comes out.”
Having grown up in the era of vinyl, CD and the tape, Dunne feels that perhaps the music experience for younger people is a little less fulfilling today.
“They’re missing out on the tactile feel of it and the packaging; the ceremony might be a word for it,” he says. “There’s very much a changing head space as to how you see music. I suppose, I’m very much of the generation that sees it as the album. The band at a particular time in their lives and the artwork and everything reflects that. When you pick up OK Computer [Radiohead’s 1997 release] you’re kind of going back to that year, it’s what Radiohead were like at that time. The art work had to kind of capture or reflect what was happening on the album.”
Dunne points out that there is a barrage of re-issues coming out at the moment and maybe that suggests that there are many people who “still want something in their hands and something to look at”. But he wonders if younger people will really be bothered in the future.
“Funny, I just got my five year-old there up to my office where all my albums are,” explains the father of two. “And I showed her how to put a vinyl album on and how to put the needle in the groove. So I had her playing Smiths albums and she just loved the experience.”
“There’s a whole lot of stuff around the music that is kind of lost when you have the download,” he continues. “But what can you say, the force towards downloads is just so overwhelming. The convenience level is just ridiculous. When it gets that convenient you can’t argue. And it’s not going to go back.”