Vinyl vs Digital – Curation vs Serendipity

I love vinyl. The gorgeous covers. Gatefold sleeves. Liner notes. Inserts. The feel of a record’s sharp edge as you flip it with your fingers. There is nothing like opening a brand b]new album and hearing the pop of the needle as it hits the record for the first time.

Records are a curated experience. Two sides, each containing a suite of songs often very carefully sequenced by the artist. Yes, it was a context created by the limitations of the 12′ LP, but what a great context. Generations of music fans grew up in the late 50s, 60s, 70s and into the 80s with whole albums burned into our collective memory. We knew our favorite albums intimately and consumed them in order from track one, side one to the locking groove at the end of side two.

Some music wasn’t meant to be broken up into little bits. Great concept albums, symphonies and song cycles were produced to be heard as one extended piece. For an obvious example, you can’t really break up the songs on side two of The Beatles’ Abbey Road without sacrificing the greatness of the work. They were random song fragments blended together with a beauty and genius beyond the separate pieces.

As technology changed it was obvious that vinyl was relatively inconvenient compared to CDs. Digital music is even easier. We can copy, share, mix and match with so much ease. However, what have we lost in the way of curation and context? (I must add that I am thrilled by the resurgence of vinyl sales.)

I love digital music. It is infinitely more convenient. My entire library is stored on a drive and available at a moment’s notice. No more giant crates of vinyl or shelves of CDs. No scratch and hiss. We all get to create the best radio station ever with all our digitized tracks and/or simply use Pandora, Spotify, Turntable.FM or any of the great new online music services.

When I am working I often plug one of my way too many iPods into the dock and listen on shuffle. Today the first 10 songs were from Candi Staton, Destroy All Monsters, Let’s Active, REM, Tori Amos (sorry), Iron Maiden, Jack Logan, Elastica, Honey Cone and Link. All great songs randomly shuffled. I love the surprise and serendipity of shuffle, but sometimes miss the craft and context of a perfectly segued and sequenced record.

What do you prefer? Curated musical content or random shuffle?

Content on Shuffle

I want to explore how we discover and experience content. The intersection of search, curation and sharing under the umbrella of discovery is fascinating and constantly changing. How does it impact how we interpret the world around us and how we learn? And how does the digital world affect how we socialize and share our experiences with others?

Growing up I listened to records, watched live television, listened to live radio, read a morning or afternoon paper, watched movies in a theater and read the magazines available at the local drug or bookstore. Content was relatively scarce and distribution highly controlled. I quickly gravitated to books and music because I could control and curate my own experience.

Sharing content was difficult, but we all shared the experience, gathered around the TV at the same time. We all watched the same movies and shows and heard much of the same music. Curation was often top down. Rigid TV schedules. Highly formatted radio stations. Mass media was exactly that. Content created and curated for mass audiences.

In the 80s and 90s things began to change with the broad proliferation of cable channels, the Sony Walkman and the adoption of VCRs and DVD players among other things. Choice multiplied and so did the number of devices in any household. The common familial, social experience of media was giving way to individual experience. Not only was there more content, we could share it more easily, copying and trading music, movies and TV shows.

Today content is ubiquitous. Distribution is ubiquitous and often confusing. Our individual media experiences are unique and generally self-curated. With millions of websites, thousands of digitized songs, hundreds of DVDs, our phones, ipods and ipads filled with apps, games, music, books, movies and TV shows, plus hours of programming recorded from hundreds of channels on DVRs, how do we provide context? How do we discover and curate great media experiences?

It’s now a world of content on shuffle. So many amazing media experiences are immediately available on a multitude of platforms. We have amazing tools to share and recommend to our friends, families and social media acquaintances. How has this all redefined sharing? How has it redefined us? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.