By Geo Ong
Since music is enjoyed by many, it is often thought of as a unifying agent in popular culture. The interesting thing is how many different ways people who listen to music gain access to it.
All the different ways of getting music can, in fact, be overwhelming. While ‘traditional’ methods like going to music shops, attending concerts, listening to the radio, and hearing about things from word of mouth are still utilised, other methods have come to the forefront of most listeners as a way of simplifying the overabundance of resources. Digitally-based programmes like Pandora, Spotify, and iTunes Genius act as artificially-intelligent curators, making it effortless for listeners to discover new music. Furthermore, the purchasing and owning of music has never been more effortless than with the iTunes store.
I personally regard iTunes with both love and hatred. As a personal music library, there has never been anything better. It will keep the largest digital music collections stored, categorised, and searchable with the greatest of ease. The iTunes Store, however, is something I hardly ever use. Not only does it take all the fun out of searching and browsing, but its convenience has proved so attractive to many that other helpful resources like brick-and-mortar music shops do less business. Personally, these two factors are related. Knowing exactly where my money goes makes the searching, browsing, and purchasing of music all the more rewarding.
Used CDs are the primary targets in my music searches for several reasons. Most obviously, used music best suits my general income. Buying used also promotes recycling. Also, I am more likely to find some obscure gem, such as a Shangri-Las compilation album, in a rack of used CDs than in the new CDs section of a music shop. (If I had a record player, like I did when I was in high school, I’d be all over used vinyl, too. Nothing replicates the sound you get from listening to vinyl.)
I have a couple favourite shops in the New York City area. Generation Records in the West Village has a great collection of used music, and I go there if I’m up for a large search. For smaller searching, I visit the much smaller Music Matters in Park Slope. Because I never really have anything in mind before a search, my choice of where to go depends largely on how much energy I have. In Los Angeles, I also have my big and small music shops of choice. Whenever I feel up to it, I hold my breath and dive into Amoeba Records in Hollywood. For nearly any other day, Soundsations in Westchester is a wonderful, much more manageable shop.
Another great resource is the thrift store and charity shop. Not only do these stores also promote recycling, but the proceeds of many of these shops go to charities. Because these shops generally sell a variety of items, music is usually limited (though large shops like certain Salvation Army branches sometimes have decently-sized selections). Searching for music in these shops are for the most part quick and easy, and if you are lucky enough to find something, it will usually be even cheaper than a used CD in a music shop. The Housing Works thrift shops scattered throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan are among my favourite stores to visit. Not only are they affordable and well-curated, but proceeds go to AIDS advocacy.
The third major resource is the public library. Initially I held off on obtaining music from public libraries because I thought doing so would be unethical. Since the advent of iTunes, a person theoretically needs a CD just once to store its songs long term. Somehow I equated obtaining library CDs with stealing. And then I realised that I was being silly; a library CD rental is free just like a book rental is free, and utilising the resources that libraries offer help to keep them open and funded.
Artist: Janis Joplin
Song: “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)”
Album: I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!
Clip: The Dick Cavett Show, 1969