Wow, that’s a lot of music

I’ve been working to transfer my iTunes library over to my Mac and a couple of random files here and there have been tripping me up. (Apparently something to do with Windows/Mac issues; not a big deal, just irritating.) So, it proceeds apace, and may even be finished by the end of the day.

The thing that grabbed me, though, was the sight of just how many music files I possessed. Sure, a number of them were sermon tracks or even audio readings of chapters from the Bible, and some were copies of voicemails or voice memos I’d made for myself. But, still, even with those aside, I had 2000+ songs on my computer, alone. And that doesn’t include the CDs I own that I have not moved onto my computer, nor the cassette tapes (yes, I still have some) I bought back when those things were bought, nor the vinyl albums (yes, I still have some) I have but have lost the ability to play, nor the eight-track cassettes… Ha! Just kidding on that one! (Though I certainly did have some of those.)

It truly is staggering how much music we can so easily access in a virtual instant in our world. And in the car, in addition to my entire iTunes Library of music that I can carry on my phone and listen to wirelessly through the car’s speakers, I can also turn on the radio and listen to an amazing variety of stations — and since it is a satellite radio, I can tune in to some rather specific stations, based on decade, genre, or even artist in some cases.

It is amazing. The presence of music was such a vastly more rare thing in the past. Really, to hear a symphony, you had to go to… a symphony. And if they weren’t playing, you weren’t hearing anything. Perhaps royalty could hear music on demand, but not many other people unless they could play for themselves. And even then, the range was greatly limited. Compared to the kings of history, I have more access to music than virtually all of them combined, to listen to at a whim.

While I think this is potentially a good thing, it is also so very potentially bad. As Mr. Armstrong used to say, the thing itself may not be good or evil, but how it is used is very much so.

Personally, I believe that the widespread availability of music, and super cheap at that, is part of what has degraded music and allowed the proliferation of complete junk. When a commodity is no longer rare, it is no longer as precious or as valuable. The concept of what is “music” has been cheapened over the decades, and much of what is produced is drivel and rot.

(As a side note… The widespread availability of music hasn’t helped the Art/Life Cycle of Doom to slow down any, either: Art chooses something on the fringe of Life to focus on, Life begins to move its center to that which Art has focused on, Art moves to something on the newly defined fringe, etc. Given the natural proclivities of carnal man, this isn’t the best cycle for civilization…)

Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad I have access to such a wide range of beautiful music. More than that, I am thankful for it. I just think it is interesting what excess there is. And I think that some of what is bad about much in “music” today is tied to the fact that it is so easily available in excess. Surely Proverbs 25:16 comes into play here — and not just personally, but is it also possible that it plays on a societal level?

Thoughts are welcome. And have a marvelous Sabbath!

13 thoughts on “Wow, that’s a lot of music

  1. I have 1193 songs on my iPhone alone. My iPod touch, which has more storage, has two or three times that (I’d have to activate my other computer to see). This may not count whatever’s on iCloud but otherwise not listed, Mein BachPod (which contains the entirety of J.S. Bach’s repertory), what’s on my CDs but not on iTunes, and what used to be on the cassettes I finally decided to get rid of (a lot). And, on a few LPs.

    The same problem you mention concerning the quality of available music exists in creative writing, and indeed in any field where technology has enabled everyone to be an “artist”, an author, or whatever. Technology has fertilized a lot of flowers, but it also seems to have fertilized at least ten times the number of weeds.

    Having said that, let me give you a quotable quote:

    “Not everything rare is valuable–but everything valuable is rare.” – Igor Mandel’stahm (in IMPERIAL EARTH by Arthur C. Clarke, Del Ray, 1976, p. 191).

  2. Steven

    Music is a very dear topic to me, thus, I must make some comments.

    Unlike many of the “downloaders” out there, I actually BUY THE CD! Any audiophile will tell you that music downloaded from a computer is NEVER as good as the originally produced CD (or Vinyl record). It’s another example of how “the average person” accepts mediocre results….ESPECIALLY when you are paying for it.

    The difference is harder to notice with classical music, but when a high-end stereo system is challenged with a technically precise and highly demanding song, the differences become much more obvious….even to the average person. I can think of a plethora of examples, but one such example (and I rank it in the top 5 songs of all time) would be the classic rock song “Tom Sawyer” by RUSH. The true sonic “depth”, “purity”, “vibrance”, “detail” and “separation” can only be appreciated and experienced when it is listened to on a high-end stereo from the original cd album/vinyl. I personally prefer the 24K Gold CD Version (Mobile Fidelity Lab) which uses the “GAIN 2” Mastering Technology. My friends, you don’t get this quality from a computer download. The average CD of this nature (if you can find one since they are a limited edition) is $50 + tax each. Now that’s a slight difference from .89 cents – $5 for a download wouldn’t you say?

    Music is art, and in order for a person to “properly” appreciate it, the art must be presented the “right way”. Short of a band/group/artist performing live in front of you, this would be the next best thing.

    Great comparables would be: 1) Artwork and 2) Jewellery. 1) Artwork: You can never compare a Robert Bateman print to the original master work (i.e. the original painting). Any art critic will tell you that and you don’t have to be one to see that it is true. The original always captures the awe-inspiring beauty and impact that no other version can deliver. 2) Jewellery: Any jeweller will tell you that there is no comparison between an artificial diamond or sapphire (which can be produced in a lab) and the real thing, hence the enormous price discrepancy. Although the “average person” might not be able to tell a fake ruby from a real one, it is painfully obvious to someone with a trained eye.

    Therefore, the point is that no matter what art form you are into, if you want “real” you need to buy “real”.

  3. Thanks, Steven. Of course, some might differ and would rather put the extra cost toward things that are more important to them. It doesn’t mean they are “average” or that you are somehow “above” them. It simply means that you have different priorities.

    In the meantime, the topic wasn’t actually about the quality of the audio but about the actual value of the content itself. Any thoughts on the topic, itself, are welcome.

  4. Steve

    Guess I don’t bother with downloading songs. I just go on the web when I want to hear something. What little I do hear of the modern stuff doesn’t appeal to me. What ever happened to melody? Of course, I’m older guy who whi dotes on cornball songs from the Jurassic age. But I’ll take Mary Wells and her song “My Guy” over Madonna any day.

  5. Norbert

    I like paraphrasing a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when it comes to music. ‘songs will not be judged by the color of their melody, but by the content of their lyrics.’ This is not the be all and end all to the topic, but I think it’s a pretty good point that has a little substance to it.

  6. Actually, Norbert, that would be a very misleading analogy. Music is NOT morally neutral. With or without lyrics, melody, harmony and rhythm (to say nothing of certain other elements) affect our attitudes, emotions and drives, whether for good or evil.

    Consider the following syllogism, adapted from the one which begins the excellent book MUSIC IN THE BALANCE by Frank Garlock et al.:

    Music is the language of the attitudes, emotions and drives.
    Some attitudes, emotions and drives are inappropriate for human beings to express (so says your Bible and so also says modern science).
    Therefore, some forms of music are inappropriate to express.

    The only question, then, is determining how music affects our attitudes, emotions and drives and to what ends. This has been the whole discussion in every culture from the most primitive to the most sophisticated throughout history. And this is one reason why the Hebrew Bible’s own melodic rendition has proven such a touchstone for me as to what “good music” is across the board – but this is a completely different subject from Mr. Smith’s! 😀

  7. Norbert

    John, are you saying that melodies have a value apart from lyrics that can be classified as either good or evil? Because of the way they sound. In my view things like attitudes, emotions and drives should be under control to begin with and maintained, before listening to music or any other thing that enters the mind.

    From my experience melodies are subjective, what makes me like the sound of a tune can irritate someone else. Besides I think the melody in Lola by the Kinks was very positive and fun until I really listened to the lyrics.

  8. Norbert: The problem with a great deal of vocal music (it always has been, something we can document in, for example, the surviving examples of ancient Greek vocal music) is that of mixed messages. I happen to concur on “Lola”. (I much prefer Weird Al Yankovic’s parody “Yoda”, because therein the lyrics are as fun as the music.) But it can go the other way and the historically famous Hymn to Nemesis is an outstanding example (decent religious poetry, ancient-punk-rock melody).

    At the risk of taking the thread in a direction Mr. Smith doesn’t intend, let me sum up here and then invite you to drop by my WordPress blog “The Music of the Bible Revealed”, the Web site I created of the same name, or best of all contact me at johanan_rakkav @ yahoo dot com privately.

    1. No isolated element of music is innately good or evil, no more than any letter of the alphabet is innately good or evil. It’s not the thing, it’s the use of the thing.
    2. Nevertheless, from the point of view of psychoacoustic research, each element of music is surprisingly deterministic in its effects (more so than linguistic elements are, which is astonishing). But the effects are nuanced by how they combine with the effecs of other elements.
    3. Partly for these reasons, no element of music, and no broader category of musical language (melody, harmony, rhythm, lyrics) can be taken in isolation, no more than any corresponding category of human personality can. Music is an organic whole: what the Greeks called melos.
    4. It is possible all the same to suffer what neurologists call “brain switching” – to put good for evil and evil for good, sweet for bitter and bitter for sweet, in Isaiah’s words – in music more than in any other art.
    5. For this reason it’s useless to argue over subjective taste, for we humans are so very apt to totally confuse our values with God’s values in music as in everything else. More in music than in most things, in fact.

    The question is not whether there are universal values in music. The question is how to determine them from a biblical standpoint. This is why I’m in the research I’m in, which has nothing to do with Mr. Smith’s blog subject but which I allude to above. Messrs. Meredith and Ames have asked me to keep them updated on my findings and maybe some day I’ll find a way to present them in a way which will benefit the whole Church.

    (Thanks for your tolerance, Mr. Smith, and with this I leave you. 😀 )

  9. Norbert

    John, I find blogs similar to jam sessions, where players bring along their own riffs, their musical thoughts en route. How much going off tangent should be proportional to whether it adds positively to a topic or takes away from it. I think any effect on the entirety of a tune is dependant upon how well the individuals play in the sandbox. When notes are challenged it is harder to establish a melodic continuity within a discussion.

    So I’ll think about this over the next couple of days and let you know either way at one of the contacts you’ve given.

  10. Don Wheatley

    Mr. Armstrong seemed to condemn rock music and country music in the sermons I have listened to in the past. (Maybe Mr. Dean knows exactly where he drew the line.)

    When I was baptized I threw away all my music albums I had accumulated (not really that many) and from time to time (just tried it recently) I try listening to those golden oldies but it only last for a short time, I quickly go back to just listening to God’s instrumental hymns (only the ones written by Dwight Armstrong).

    Maybe there is someone out there in the greater Church of God who feels the same way…


    Don W.

  11. Thanks, Mr. Wheatley, and Mr. Dwight Armstrong’s hymns really are beautiful. My children sing from our hymnal every morning before school, and the vast majority of those songs are Mr. Dwight Armstrong’s, plus a few more chosen for their beauty and scriptural accuracy, just as Mr. Armstrong did with the hymnal in his day, as well.

    And, of course, Mr. Armstrong did enjoy a wide variety of secular music, as well, as is reflected in much of the Young Ambassador performances he encouraged and praised and in the many performances he sponsored in the auditorium. We enjoy listening to many of those recordings, as well.

    In determining what we should allow ourselves to enjoy, Mr. John Ogwyn taught us in Spokesman Club that a guiding rule should be Philippians 4:8–“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—-meditate on these things.” Music–regardless of its genre–that helps us do that is likely fine. Music that inhibits that is likely not. I’ve appreciated the inspired nature of his advice for quite some time. It is biblical, clear, and has been very helpful for us.

  12. Don Wheatley

    Listening to God’s music (the hymns by Dwight Armstrong) vs Man’s music is like unleavened vs leavened to me. One is plain and the other is vanity…no makeup vs makeup…not part of the world vs part of this world and whatever similar comparisons that one could give.

    That’s the blunt truth of the matter in my eyes.


    Don W.

  13. Thanks, again, Mr. Wheatley, for your opinion. Again, I am sure that many feel similarly. And, thankfully, there is appropriate, uplifting, and even God-honoring music out there to be found outside of the hymnal, as well, although–regrettably–it is getting harder and harder to find.

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