This week, I took the first step towards changing how I access and consume music entirely. I opened the folder labelled Music on my laptop, historically the most burgeoning location on all the personal computers I have owned, hit ‘Select All’ and then slowly, with as much digital melodrama as a mouse pointer on a 13-inch screen permits, proceeded to drag all its contents to Trash.

Now, even as recently as a year ago I wouldn’t consider doing something like this. The suggestion itself seemed offensive, if not initially qualified by something as ominous as “hard drive crash”. Get rid of all my music? All the thousands of my immaculately tagged (since 2003, with individual folder art for Windows XP folder view), perfectly titled MP3s (and some WAVs and FLACs)? Without first backing them up (okay, I did succumb and back them up on an external hard drive before emptying the Trash folder)? You must be joking. What about the MP3 arms race that I have been an active part of for a decade? What about that last sense of ownership of music that the digital world permitted? Once and for all, I have decided not to store music any more.

Dropcap OnTo understand the reason behind this change, good semi-nerdy people of the twenty first century, it’s important to understand the prevailing climate when it comes to the way we access and consume music (not listen to, consume; though speaking of listening to music, I highly recommend you flip through Elliott Schwartz’s excellent 1982 book Music: Ways of Listening in which Schwartz describes seven essential skills for perceptive listening while arguing that these have been “dulled by our built-in twentieth century habit of tuning out”). Most of us who are part of the pre-broadband generation of music fans have historically maintained some form of collection or the other – vinyl, tapes, CDs, MiniDiscs (#youremember), et al on a bookshelf or a stack of some sort representing the music we have purchased/owned, and available to us on-demand as a subset of the entire available quantum of music. With physical collections of any respectable size, the main areas of concern are maintenance and space. Digital collections changed our perspective about those two things – MP3s don’t go bad, and whereas your physical collections may comprise a few hundred copies, digital collections can easily comprise thousands. For some of us more evolved (read “open sourcing” since dial-up) fans, maintenance in digital collections basically means cataloguing. And after your collection has crossed a few hundred gigabytes, it’s all academic. The cloud has changed all of this.

Whether you use Spotify, or any other streaming-based service, another epoch in the way we consume music is just around the corner. 

About a month ago, in a column about the iTunes store opening in India, I mentioned Spotify (there’s a simple hack to get it to work in India, Google it), the music streaming service that allows you to access millions of songs on-demand as long as you’re connected to the internet (the premium subscription allows you to listen ad free, and store music offline for those times when you don’t have access to a connection). It has apps for phones and tablets and if, like me, you’re connected 24/7 via 3G, these are invaluable travel resources. I now use Spotify for almost all of my on-demand music needs, an app called TuneIn Radio to listen to radio stations from around the world (my favourites are Australia’s Triple J and California’s KCRW) while I’m driving, a selection of music blogs and publications to discover new acts and a variety of digital retailers (including iTunes, the NH7 music store on Flipkart, and to purchase the Indian indie stuff that isn’t yet on streaming services. It’s a streamlining of the music consumption process that takes out all the boring cataloguing, and for people like me who’ve been flirting with the legalities of coming to own large collections, the beginning of a retrospective sense of commercial exchange.

Whether you use Spotify, or any other streaming-based service, another epoch in the way we consume music is just around the corner. What that means for the way we think about individual songs or albums however, is a topic for another Sunday.