Vinyl snobs and digital delights: music moguls on how they listen
Music venue owner Nick Stewart, DJ Kris Wasabi, musician Reuben Zopa Tighe and performer Polarbear share their opinions on music consumption
We have access to the widest plethora of music outlets, platforms, and formats in history. But what do your decisions around music purchase, download and organisation suggest about your relationship with music?
We can now choose to stream music: YouTube users jump from track to track, often forgoing sound quality for the utility offered by access to such a vast range of signed and underground music. Spotify provides users with a monthly membership to stream music unlimitedly and we are bombarded by platforms: SoundCloud, MixCloud, LastFM, Bandcamp. How, and what, we choose to listen to and through now becomes a reflection of our musical inclinations.
We asked Nick Stewart, owner of Sneaky Pete’s on Edinburgh’s Cowgate, Reuben Zopa Tighe from folk band King Eider, Kris Wasabi, DJ of monthly club night Wasabi Disco and Polarbear, spoken word artist, rapper and author, what their thoughts were on music consumption today.
Do you ever buy music, and if so in what form? CD’s, vinyl, digital download?
Nick: Pretty much everywhere except for CD. I regularly buy vinyl, cassettes and downloads. For albums I use Spotify and Apple Music, and increasingly the Bandcamp app which has really high quality streaming for music you have purchased. I've long since given up on trying to get all of my collection in one format.
Reuben: I get a lot of music from friends. Word of mouth, borrowed CDs and playlists etc. Also, since we play gigs with other musicians we often swap albums. I tend to listen to a lot of unsigned music these days too.
Kris Wasabi: Some digital but mostly vinyl, around £100 to £200 a month.
Polarbear: I still buy music in different forms. I’m not really any kind of purist in terms of format. You can usually get a sense whether an artist or group care about the form their music is taken in; if that’s the case, I’ll follow their lead.
Do you use Spotify, and if so what are your thoughts on it as a service? For many it has become the primary platform for listening and arranging music – does it work for you?
Nick: It works for me, sure, though I'd be interested to know what the tipping point amount of users will be for it ever to be a sustaining platform for musicians.
Kris Wasabi: Its handy but I rarely use it. I use it mostly to listen to whole albums to decide if I want to buy them but that's seldom.
Polarbear: I’ve never used Spotify. I’d prefer to know that I’ve purchased it to help the artist. I have musician friends who dislike Spotify and others who view it as an inevitability. I have no real need for it, so am more ambivalent.
Do you have a YouTube account? Do you curate playlists there? What are your feelings on streaming music from YouTube?
Nick: Yes, I do but I don't curate any lists. If I listen to something on YouTube, I will probably only listen once.
Reuben: I think YouTube is a positive and negative platform for music. Its positives lie in social listening, where at a party everyone can play DJ; you can learn a lot musically from a room full of people. However, people use it as their main access to music, so less people are listening to albums in their entirety.
Do you ever listen to the radio anymore? If so, is it normally national radio, or online, smaller digital radio stations?
Nick: All the time. BBC Radio Six Music in the day and Radio One at night. The smaller digital stations (at least in Scotland) tend to be more commercial, not less.
Reuben: I don't listen to enough radio, but I do sometimes listen to BBC Radio 6. The DJs can be trusted to bring to the table real music of every genre, I've discovered more than a few good artists from Six Music.
Kris Wasabi: I adore BBC Radio 4 and Radio 6. I listen to them at work 50/50 each.
Polarbear: Hardly ever, I haven’t listened to mainstream radio for a good ten years now. The more I learned about the politics of choices and lists, the less interested I became. I think that podcasts and the relationship I have with them kind of undermined the idea of radio personalities. I just wanted the music.
How would you define your music collection, and is it something you take pride in? Do you still collect vinyl, or is your iTunes in immaculate order? Are things labelled and tagged properly on your computer, or is streaming the main way you interact with music?
Nick: My music collection is a big mess scattered over hard drives, shelves, boxes, and Spotify playlists. Choosing music to DJ can be tricky when you stream as much as I do, you realise the music you want to play out is something on a playlist you forgot to buy.
Reuben: My music collection is one of my most prized possessions. I think it is a huge part of someone's identity. I collect all my music onto iTunes as it is sourced from a variety of places, and often spend time exploring and rearranging the artists on my iPod so that I can listen to new albums. I am not against streaming music, but I think if you don't own music you don't cherish it in the same way; people tend to have shorter attention spans in general when streaming and often don't linger on a particular artist for long enough. In my opinion there are different layers to enjoying an artist, if you leave after the honeymoon is over, you don't get to enjoy the whole marriage!
Kris Wasabi: I'm very proud of my vinyl collection, its as close to an art collection I'm likely to have and represents me accurately. ITunes is the fucking devil. I hate it. My iTunes is a fucking mess.
Polarbear: I have a large vinyl collection that is only ordered loosely in terms of genre. We still have massive CD stacks too. My iTunes is exactly how it lands, there’s no ordering or labelling at all. I have made playlists with our kids, and we have different mixes for dancing and relaxing. We’re pretty fluid about how we listen, and in what format. Sometimes it’s whatever’s easiest and quickest. Other times, the ceremony of putting on a 12” LP is the way.
Do you think all the options we have nowadays to interact with music is advantageous, or makes things messy or complicated?
Nick: It is what it is. There's never been one stable format for me to collect, even as a teenager, so I've never had everything in one place.
Reuben: I think over all it's great since we can access so much music, but it can discourage us from really getting to know an artist, which is a shame.
Kris Wasabi: I'm a simple man, I find iTunes and my phone music app stupidly over complicated. Keep it simple for fuck sake!
Polarbear: I think it’s always been a choice. We just have more options nowadays. I think the trick is to mix it up. If all your music is via YouTube, which it is for some people, I would argue that you’re missing out on some beautiful experiences. If that’s all you’ve ever known, you don’t really give a shit about that though, and I find extreme purists and analog snobs just as sad as people who only take music through their phone and have never sat on a rainy afternoon, listening to Talking Book on vinyl, through some big warm monitor speakers. I think it’s as messy as you make it.