February 27, 2012

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

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Sometime around my senior year of high school, I made the fateful decision to stop pirating my music. I will admit that the transition was greatly aided by services such as Grooveshark (which, incidentally, is now being sued by all four major record labels), but the decision was still not an easy one. If I wanted to carry a track with me, I had to have paid money for it at some point. I was denied the ability to painlessly download all of the work an artist had ever done with a couple keystrokes if I heard a snippet that caught my fancy. Instead I had to pay nearly a dollar — 99 cents! count them — per track, a number that quickly ballooned into something unsustainable for my budget. I suffered — and still suffer — weird looks from people when I tell them that I don’t pirate. “But … why?” is the most common question. There’s an annoying speech here about integrity even when the business model of the industry is obsolete and they refuse to admit it, but I find that the truest and easiest answer to that question is … well, not pirating has expanded my taste in music.The first thing I did after making the decision was to find and rip all the CDs my family actually owned. After exhausting my older siblings’ collections of Switchfoot, Chinese pop and Disney soundtracks, I was left with … the collection of classical music recordings my stereotypically Chinese parents had purchased in bulk. Sigh. Perhaps this would be more painful than I had anticipated. I turned on the radio, hoping to rely on the airwaves for my steady infusion of 2008-era Chris Brown and Boys Like Girls, but turned it off after realizing that radio commercials were orders of magnitude more annoying than I had remembered.Lacking the spare cash and/or parental approval to buy 99 cent-tracks by the bushel or pay for a music subscription service, I turned in desperation to what was then the not-yet-seedy-underbelly-of-the-Internet: I trawled the depths of Myspace for unknown artists desperate enough  for an audience to offer up their tracks for free. Then I discovered the likes of Bandcamp and SoundCloud. Then I realized that there was such a thing as music in the public domain. Stripped of the ability to fill my waking hours with the Top 100 chart in the United States on repeat, I was instead led to folk ballads and experimental electronica and Gregorian chant. Though I was not necessarily keeping with the spirit of paying-artists-for-their-work, I was exposed to entirely different types of sounds. My primary auditory cortex was astounded. My horizons were broadened.My budget for non-essential items has thankfully since increased somewhat, and owning the latest frat anthem is no longer the emotional ordeal it once was. Happily, though, I find that I no longer need that instant gratification that once came with the BitTorrent icon. Once upon a time, downloading music was cycling through want-then-own-then-want with vicious rapacity. Now I wait, sometimes weeks, before deciding if I want to add work to my library. Presumably, a more carefully cultivated library is a better one.If one endeavours to own a complete set of Lady Gaga’s musical work, the barrier between “not-having” and “having” can be vanishingly low in material cost. If we want, the price is only the smallest twinge of guilt — one that fades as we get better at justifying our actions, and one we often pay without a second thought. But in my case, I found that years of taking shortcuts meant that I was missing the view.But, cliché metaphors aside, what’s the moral of the story? Sometimes, not getting what you want right away comes with happy consequences. There’s a lot to be said for forcing yourself to do something the hard way. For delaying instant gratification in favor of meandering down the path of listening to indie rock.Undoubtedly there’s also something to be said about my taste in sound, but I’m going to leave that to the experts. One does not, after all, simply listen to music.

Deborah Liu is a junior in the College of Engineering. She may be reached at dliu@cornellsun.com. First World Problem appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Deborah Liu