Apps, Mobile & SMS

Utopia Lost: Why Digital Music Has Failed Us

Turn-your-back-on-me0Post by Annie Licata (‏@annie_licata). 

There are people immersed in the digital music revolution that have means of grasping and benefiting from technology, but choose to rebel. They rebel against the status quo because it's in their nature, and the status quo right now is technology, and they must resist, if not forsake it.

This takes a conscious effort, because digital music is everywhere. iPhones have become a social norm, and every day there’s a new app to download that promises to personalize your music listening and align the experience with your mood. Everyone has connected Facebook profiles to Spotify now, making it impossible to avoid seeing what music your friends are listening to.

Digital music is being talked about around the water cooler, in the classroom, and on TV. It’s woven into our everyday lives through social interactions, not just through handheld devices and computers. To triumph rebellion against digital technology means turning a blind eye to something wherein the presence and relativity to society grows stronger everyday.

The “digital rebels” are pissed off about where technology is bringing music. All of the things taking the music industry by storm right now are the things they think are flooding our civilization away into a cultureless ocean. Instead of seeing the advances in digital music as headway, they see it as digression — reason to withdraw further and move the needle over a favorite record.

Not everyone is so headstrong. Some people are totally involved with this digital lifestyle, and have embraced it wholeheartedly. They’ve got their entire music library synced to iCloud and grab a DJ post on whenever they can. They’re always waiting for the next best thing, relishing in their music listening stats on and sharing their top artists of the week to Twitter.

There are casual fans, too. Their feet are halfway through the door; partially involved with things like an iPod and Pandora, but don’t utilize the other aspects of digital music. They chose to go along with technology, not necessarily because they want to, but because they have to. 

Rebels, on the other hand, forsake technology to preserve the things they hold sacred; the very things that digital music takes away. They're trying to preserve the beauty of not having a “dislike” button to change the song, or the ability to buy only certain songs off an album. They want music to be human, and to be art, and not just a digitized form of communication and technology. Defying the new is empowering to the abandoned.

The rebellious nature of young people, of course, is something that has been around long before the iPhone and Pandora changed the world as we know it. It’s not the first time that new technologies have sparked people to rebel.

Imagine how people had to adjust when the record player, or the tape tech, or the 8-track, became things of the past. Music technology is always changing, and there will always be people to shun those transformations. Nobody has the crystal ball that reveals where technology is taking music, but the digital rebels may be onto something. If digital music is in fact failing society and music as an art form, these rebels are the people still enjoying what’s left of it.

This utopian world of illegally downloading free music and endless streaming libraries of music has left us unappreciative of the quality of music, overwhelming us with convenience and opportunity. The way that we consume music through technology has changed the way we listen, and thus has affected the value of music within our lives. There’s no work involved in consuming music anymore, whether it be finding or listening or sharing — there’s no reward. Technology has stolen gratification in music.

To be able to hear music instantly, and enjoy effortlessly, was the promise of digital music to listeners. Instead, it has created a society of music listeners that push songs, albums, and artists around on a plate with a fork of disdain and a belly already full. Digital rebels are still hungry, and wish for our insatiable musical appetite to not be fulfilled by the intangibility of digital music. 

The rise in vinyl sales is peculiar in such a time when almost all music is at our fingertips. Listeners are craving something real and tangible, similar to how people complain that the Kindle doesn’t give readers the same feelings as a book off of a shelf. There was a certain beauty to buying a CD and getting to see the liner notes, or flipping open an album to see what’s inside. Because of the digital revolution, music is no longer something we can touch, only something we can feel. This is the end of an era, and the only people keeping music alive are the ones who refuse to accept new testaments.

Annie Licata is an intern at, studying Magazine Journalism and Writing & Rhetoric at Syracuse University. She's also the editor in chief of the music magazine 20 Watts. Follow her on Twitter.

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  1. Very well put together piece Annie,
    However, I believe while you’ve talked about a few different types of consumer and personality types, there are thousands of subtle level of listener, appreciator, consumer, and the like. This goes for artists and creators as well.
    What you call a digital rebel, another might call a luddite or reactionary (again, there’s too many types to make a distinction). I think one of the industries biggest mistakes at the moment is that it tries to blanket people with the same type of homogeny with marketing as it does when it put artists into the marketplace.
    In short, there’s a place for all of it and of course it’s one opinion and right to decide what works for them. My 5 year old son has the ability to access and enjoy more music than I ever could at his age, he can navigate youtube and his own ipod, and I believe this enriches his overall appreciation of music by sheer exposure (we do help with the curation a bit, but try to point him in as many directions as possible).
    Music existed before it was recorded and taken to market, and distributed and it will exist afterwards, regardless of who subscribes to what testament and when. I don’t believe it’s our right (or productive) to judge good from bad or right from wrong in this arena, just what you like or don’t, and respect for the next person and their own personal taste and what works for them.

  2. Insightful! This pairs nicely with another article that i liked this week called “Did Social Media Kill The Rock Star Icon?”.
    Few were discussing these issues at the beginning of the headlong rush into the digital entertainment age.
    Ironically, convenience and choice overwhelm may have indeed caused devaluation of the music as product, just as easy and casual access to the artists may have come at the price of a mundane experience.

  3. This was total front to back reification. Basically poetry — well written but wholly unencumbered by the burdens of factual reality, which is quite messy and complex.
    That said, Peggy Noonan, Thomas Friedman, Joe Klein, Malcolm Gladwell — there’s a lot of successful role models for this approach to journalism. Keep turning those phrases and never let haters like me get you down.

  4. The rise of vinyl has absolutely nothing to do with people wanting to buy physical copies of music. It has everything to do with collector items and innovative methods used in creating new vinyl. If the reasoning behind the rise in vinyl is due to fans wanting tangible product, then CD sales wouldn’t be taking such a hit. Especially since a CD player is more common than a vinyl player.
    This video from Jack White’s Third Man Records shows just how creative people are starting to get with production of vinyl:
    If you can start selling CD’s that have hidden CD’s INSIDE the actual CD, I’d buy that. If they started printing gold and silver colored CD’s, I’d be more inclined to buy it because it’s something different and somewhat of a collectors item.
    Also, you have to take into account that, due to the ease the younger generations have at finding music from the 50s-70s through either downloading or streaming programs, are then going out and purchasing vinyls from the albums they’ve found.
    The best method to utilize when trying to swing music listeners moral compass in a direction of purchasing physical copies of music, is to add content that they feel they must have. This means package deals with various types of merch, free giveaways, custom vinyl, digital downloads of rare live shows, etc.
    I see a sea of independent acts all across the country starting up, and have found countless bands who have utilized the Internet to propel them to touring their region on their own.

  5. As pointed in the article revels will be revels, what ever the case.
    Now, thinking that digital technology has stolen the gratification of music, and the only people “keeping alive” music are the ones against technology, well, that is just plain silly. Everything evolves and so new forms of gratification and of making/appreciating music are emerging.
    All in all the article reads more like a hipster manifesto than a truly critical view on a story.

  6. For me another big difference between vinyl and CD is that if I buy a CD I’m probably just going to import it to iTunes and put it on my iPhone. My experience with it is no different than if I bought it on iTunes, downloaded it illegally, added it to a Spotify playlist (the list goes on).
    With vinyl, my experience changes drastically, as does the sound quality. I can’t afford to listen to all my music on vinyl, but it’s definitely how I want to collect and enjoy my favorite music.

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