There was a young girl who loved to play music outside her home in Slovenia. She watched the Milky Way above as the Idrijca river flowed by, accompanying her melody with murmured notes of water and frogs. Her fingers moved slowly over a strange instrument: a short flute with four holes that her father had made out of the femur of a cave bear. It always made her happy, even when the songs were sad.
She didn’t know that the river was called the Idrijca. Or that she lived in Slovenia. She didn’t even know that all that sky fire reflected on the calm water was a galaxy full of billions of stars, for she lived some 60,000 years before words like stars or sky or galaxy were invented. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, as the notes she played and her band of frogs and crickets were all that existed as the summer night breeze kissed her cheeks.
Nobody knows the name of this Neanderthal girl—perhaps she was a priestess or a hunter—who played the oldest musical instrument ever discovered. But every single person born since the time this flute sang her tune has known the notes she played that night by the Divje Babe cave, back in the Paleolithic period.
Scientists believe that music has always been a fundamental part of the human experience. It’s the only truly universal language on Earth, and probably beyond. It’s one of the cornerstones of civilization, transcending nationalities, ethnicities, and cultural differences while connecting to something in our brains that we can’t touch even while it touches us. It can take our spirit to places that can’t be reached by the written word or the visual arts, as Fran Lebowitz said recently in Martin Scorsese’s documentary series Pretend It’s a City.
At its core, the flute song has remained the same even while it has evolved through millennia, getting more sophisticated as musicians learned to master it, from folk songs to classical compositions to an explosion of genres and styles. The symphonies and rural sounds evolved to become records, long plays created as a whole body of work. A vision. An experience.
And all that, my friends, is why I deeply hate Spotify. Or Apple Music, or any other streaming service in existence. Which is not to say that I hate digital music. I love music in any form. Like the Neanderthal girl, I couldn’t care less where the music itself comes from, be it a rudimentary flute or a $10,000 turntable. But I do hate streaming services with the wrath of a billion Iron Maiden demons.
It’s not because of how they take advantage of musicians (record labels have always done that). Or because they host and publicize ignorant podcasters (radio is already full of morons). Not even the sound quality is the real issue (a subjective issue when you compare analog to high-definition digital audio).
I hate streaming because it cheapens music, in the same way most all-you-can-eat digital buffets do with everything they touch. Spotify, Apple Music, Netflix, Prime . . . every streaming subscription service is incredibly convenient but also gross. They are the ultimate manifestation of our consumerism and gluttony—an overabundance of stuff that numbs the senses the same way that having unlimited production budgets numbs creativity. It makes music feel disposable.
An endless stream of songs vomited by some algorithm is not an experience. It’s the background noise at a coffee shop. It takes away the excitement of discovering a record. It destroys the joy of anticipation before opening an album for the first time. It stymies reflection on what you are listening to. Most of the music I truly love I learned to love through repetition. I’d buy a vinyl album and listen to it in full, again and again, because I didn’t have the money to amass a huge collection back in the ’80s.
Today, more and more people seem to be taking that old-record route, perhaps for different reasons. According to recently released 2022 data, vinyl sales continue to rise. They have been for 17 years in a row and now the growth is exponential. In fact, last year vinyl albums beat both digital and CD sales in the U.S. with 19.4 million units sold, with retailers like Target and Walmart doubling their inventory since 2019.
We have reached a point in which we can probably say that the vinyl comeback is not just a fad. More shockingly, while much of those sales are thanks to Gen Xers like me, a good chunk is also attributable to Gen Z (34% of all female buyers) driven by LP editions of artists like Harry Styles and Taylor Swift. This is even more significant when you learn that Spotify is having a hard time reaching Gen Z listeners.
Is the record ever going to beat streaming? Nah, it won’t—ever, I’m sure. But maybe, just maybe, the resurgence of physical albums comes from a desire to appreciate music as a physical, transcendental, honest experience, not as an infinite torrent of musical manure. Hopefully Gen Z’s newfound albeit limited appreciation for vinyl records is not just a fashionable pose that will be discarded in a couple of years for the next wave. Let’s all hope it is a real thing.
As for me, after decades of carefully curating my own playlists on iTunes, collecting full digital albums, and never getting into Spotify or Apple Music, I finally went back to vinyl soon after my son was born. Some of that was for my own sake, because I missed the experience (and I’m a nostalgic old fart). But mostly it’s because I want my kid to grow up appreciating music just like that Neanderthal girl, and I want him to discover music as artists envisioned it—and slowly, with me as his cicerone, so he grows into it rather than being drowned by a junk tsunami.
I can’t think of many more important roles as a father than navigating a child through music history and teaching him to appreciate such a vital cornerstone of civilization and the human spirit.
By Jesus Diaz