Our Relationship With Music

From Cassettes to NFTs.

Our access to music has never been broader or easier, or more important. Music has been our shore and sailboat over the last year. Without music, we would have gone under countless times.

And yet, I am unsatisfied with my musical relationships, unfulfilled. I flirt with artists but don’t commit, I have casual liaisons with songs for a few delicious minutes, then toss them aside. I am excited by a new discovery, smother them with attention, then get distracted by something newer.

I thought it was me, that life was too busy, that the commitments I made so easily in my younger years were because I had time and space then.

But that is only part of it and not the main part. It isn’t me and it isn’t just me.

It has never been harder to make meaningful relationships with music.

The way we are fed music, the way we consume music makes it harder to spend quality time with an artist or an album. Or to build a personal connection with a song or its creator.

Our relationship with music is determined by so much more than sound. It is the choices we make to be together, the history we forge together, the intimacy we weave together. We each have a personal soundtrack accompanying the story of our lives. Too many of us have given up control of its curation.


How I Loved Cassette Tapes!

Two recent news stories fuelled these thoughts. At first, I thought they exemplified the extremes, but I realised they differ only in timing and technology; the drive for their creation is the same.

Lou Ottens, the Dutch engineer credited with inventing the audio cassette tape died, leading to a flurry of fond posts about cassettes. I was an avid lover of mixtapes in the 1980s. I still remember the first songs I chose, illegally recorded from Sunday’s Top 40 chart: Visage, Fade to Grey, Kate Bush, Army Dreamers, Sad Café, Every Day Hurts, Blondie, Call Me.

I was given a double cassette player/recorder and became a gifter of mixtapes. There is no present more perfect than the perfect mixtape – money cannot buy it. It needs time, attention, care, and empathy. It is drenched in meaning, from the giver and the receiver. It must include favourites and new finds, slam-dunks and high-risks, it must evoke a mood, a time. The songs matter, the order matters. At its best, it becomes a physical manifestation of you, a gateway to that moment, for all time. I have never found a better present – to give or to receive.

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Non-Fungible Tokens - Can They Help?

But maybe I’ll give non-fungible tokens a try. Not at $69.4M, which is what the digital collage, Everydays: The First 5,000 Days went for on Thursday. But that price is the tedious, inevitable outcome of the hype of the new. NFTs may provide a way of supporting and engaging with artists. Though we will need to overcome their huge energy consumption, they are not yet environmentally sustainable.

A non-fungible token (NFT) is a unique, digital certificate of authentication. It can be used to prove ownership of a specific piece of music (or many other things) and cannot be copied, because it is based on blockchain technology and has an immutable chain of custody. You can read more about fungible and non-fungible tokens here. (Sadly, fungible does not mean the ability to be turned into fungi).

We are already seeing NFTs being bought as status symbols, but I am more interested in their potential for engaging and rewarding true fans.

Each of my songs has a rich digital history, different versions, different lyrics, early takes, video clips, audio clips. I know people find them interesting. I know sharing them builds relationships with the song, and with me. But the sharing takes time and effort. And such exposure makes the creator vulnerable, or at least feel vulnerable. We only want to share such things with people who would care, understand and value our sharing them (you may not like them - that’s fine).

NFT auctions could give artists a viable way to offer access to their most personal creations, generate the money required to make them available, and give purchasers a chance to ‘own’ something exclusive that might even have a higher resale value in the future. If Arlo Parks had sold NFTs when I first loved her, I’d be sitting on a tidy profit now. Of course, I wouldn’t sell, but I would feel happy (and smug) that I had been part of that journey, and I would have had personal access to unique digital creations.

NFTs are in their infancy, and their supporters and detractors are evenly balanced because they have equal potential to serve and exploit artists. But at their core, they feed the same desire mixtapes served so well 30 years ago – a chance to personalise our relationship with music, to make meaningful choices, to care and show we care.  

I want that.

Yours hopefully,

Nazneen xxx


Yours Hopefully is a weekly experiment in living hopefully. With science and song. Why not subscribe and get a post every Sunday in your inbox?