Music Musings

Songs have a huge role in our life. In childhood, the primary source of songs was Radio. It slowly expanded to TV, then dedicated music channels. Somewhere in between or in parallel to Radio and Television, there existed the parallel world of Cassettes (and then later CDs) which served the audience. Since then, we have evolved to on-demand, yet unlimited songs. Each of these phases has/had some peculiarities of its own. 

When I was a regular listener of the radio, there was only a handful of channels - probably two or three. One channel was primarily for music where Hindi songs were dominant and the other was for general. I think they were named “विविधभारती”, “आकाशवाणी अ” and “आकाशवाणी ब” etc. The beauty of the songs on the radio channel was the surprise element - you could get to listen to a song of your liking which would lift your mood automatically. 

The television channels, specifically those dedicated to music stole the limelight that radio was enjoying. However, in the initial days, “चित्रकार” and “छायागीत” had a huge audience as those were the only shows where people could watch the movie songs. With music on the radio, it was easy to multitask. Television music shows, although gave audio-visual pleasure, they reduced the multitasking ability. We were not in the age where you could keep the TV switched ON in one room and roam around the house (if you try, the TV would get switched off in a couple of minutes with a rhetorical question “उगाच का वीज जाळतो आहेस?”). 

The cassette players gave you the ability to have your own set of songs with you, you could carry cassettes or even a player with you. One could pick pre-recorded song cassettes or get a custom list of songs recorded from a store nearby. Or for that matter, one could also record the songs from the radio directly!! The most amazing invention in those days was the “walkman”. This gentleman would accompany you easily anywhere and would fulfil your thirst for music. 



Eventually, we entered the digital world and the music lovers were swept by MP3. Several of your songs got digitized and got circulated and found a place on almost every PC. The MP3 files were getting exchanged via CDs which now had decent capacity. Players like WinAmp were ruling the digital world, only soon to be replaced with another amazing masterpiece by Apple - iPods. This tiny gadget could store thousands of songs and you could easily play your playlists as per your mood. The launch of iPods and their low-budget clones caused the genocide of the walkmans on this planet. 

With phones getting smarter, even iPods got replaced with higher storage capacity phones and music shifted to phones. Radio also made a re-entry with Phones having FM capabilities. However, one still needed to have their own set of songs stored locally. With internet penetration and VAS by mobile operators, the need to store songs locally changed pretty soon. Services like Saavn, Gaana, Dhingana, and Hungama helped music lovers to find and listen to the music of their choice on demand. With some consolidation and entry by foreign players, currently, this world seems to be dominated by Spotify and JioSaavn and Gaana. These on-demand streaming services allow you to listen to a variety of music at a fraction of the cost as compared to their physical world counterparts - Cassettes and CDs. 

All these thoughts started when Mrunmay got me on to Spotify and I started setting up the playlists on that service. I realized even if the streaming of music has changed the form and medium, one thing that is not changed is personalization. In the days of radio, they used to run programs like “आप की फर्माईश”, “जयमाला” where the audience could send postal mail and request for a song. There was also a variant where a person could call up the phone number and request a song. While this was more like a single demand, the need was to listen to a song that an individual likes. This was fulfilled by customized cassettes and CDs in the latter days. It got a good uplift with digital playlists and the ability to have unlimited such playlists. This concept got mimicked in streaming apps as well. 

The latest streaming apps are also solving another problem - introduction of new/different songs OR discovery OR promotion. JioSaavn has a radio mode where you can start a radio from any given song or artist and the backend algorithm keeps on playing various songs as per the built-in logic. However, their playlists are static and need to be updated manually. Spotify has taken this experience to a higher level with its “enhance” mode. Based on the songs in the playlist, it “suggests” new songs and one can add those songs to the playlist with a single click/tap. 

One thing that remains to be solved is the portability of the playlists - if I switch from one streaming service to another, I still need to manually create playlists on the new service and there’s still no easy way to import playlists from other services (at least I am not yet aware of). There are some third-party services which allow you to achieve this, but I am kind of wary of third-party services and hence haven’t tried. Hoping that these streaming services soon solve this problem too!!

What is your favourite way to listen to music? It would be fun to listen to some experiences in your musical journey. Do share!!

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