(I'm on the left with the shit hair extensions)
As a teenager my consumption of new music was dictated by the radio (Radio 1, or ATL on Radio Ulster - how I discovered Snow Patrol at the age of 15) or the tracks my friends shared with me via MSN, email and by making me CDs. Music was what I bonded with my peers over. I held my list of favourite bands as an emblem of myself - it was a club for like-minded people. To illustrate, here's a screenshot of my cringeworthy Bebo profile, circa 2007 and probably old enough to know better.
(I went to take a screenshot of my teenage MySpace profile but when I signed in it was awful - the place social networks go to die. I couldn't find anything and all the pictures were moving. I couldn't even see where to sign out so just X'd the window and got the hell out of there.)
I bought a new album 3 or 4 times a month back then. I couldn't wait to get to the nearest HMV after school to browse for new music. Most was recommended to me by word of mouth, others were pot luck based on how much I liked the artwork. A lot of time was spent lusting over John Frusciante albums that were set at that slightly unattainable price of £15.99. When I finally settled on something, I felt proud walking up to the till to spend my small allowance. Would the cashier give me a nod of approval? Mostly not, but purely the act of buying the CD felt cool. If I got on the bus home without meeting a friend it was great because it meant I could start the listening experience there and then on my little CD player. It's hard to think of a time when you'd buy an album without hearing most of it first, but it was so exciting! (It's also hard to think of a time when I carried a personal CD player and even some actual physical albums with me regularly.) I'd get home and hole myself up in my bedroom, listening from start to finish with no breaks, praying no phone calls came for me, pouring over the artwork and reading every printed word. My favourite albums came with the lyrics and probably photos of the band. Then I'd go on MSN and make sure everyone could see what I was "listening to".
Now, buying an album almost seems flamboyant. Spending £10 on a piece of plastic when you can listen online for free? Of course I believe in supporting the artist (I pride myself on having never illegally downloaded music, back when that was a thing) but perhaps they might benefit more from me going to see them play a gig. I've always maintained that I couldn't enjoy an album in the same way if I didn't purchase it; it wouldn't seem like it belonged to me, and I wouldn't invest so much of my time getting to know it. But then I realised that I've ripped plenty of CDs in my time and have settled into that music as if I'd paid money for it.
If 16 year old me ever thought there would be something like Spotify or YouTube on the horizon, I would have lost my shit. I probably wouldn't have spent as much money on albums at the time either. Like a kid in a sweet shop, I'm overwhelmed by streaming services. So much content to explore, but even so I often go back to the albums I'm used to. Reluctant to take a risk, I'd rather be comforted by familiarity. The music doesn't seem so precious and valuable any more (although it could be argued that this is a result of me growing up rather than the nature of streaming). Investing in an album is not the priority; rather, the listener follows impulse with a short attention span. I don't see an alternative to streaming happening any time soon. Yes there are kinks to be ironed out regarding artists' monetising to the greatest effect, but didn't the big acts always get the most money? Hasn't it always been a ball ache trying to make a living as an indie artist? (Or even signed!)
These are the albums that made their mark on me. I remember each person who pointed me in their direction, the first time I listened to most of them, and exactly how I felt.
Yeah, I never said I was cool.