We are hunkered down, collectively, for god knows how long. Out of the physical “real world” for the most part. Forced into a largely virtual online digital one as a result of circumstances beyond our control.
So here’s a suggestion, especially now when you likely have more time and are in need for some good old escapism. Watch the original “High Fidelity“ from 2000 — a classic movie for any music lover for many reasons, not the least of which is that it unleashed hilarious Jack Black into the world. In the film, Cusack plays the owner of a vintage record shop. He is part slacker, part hopeless romantic, part simply confused by life – and 100% believer in the power of music.
Cusack recounts the Top 10 romantic breakups of his life, and essentially sets each one to music. He is an avid creator of mix tapes (remember those?) and agonizes over every single individual track he adds to create the most impactful and meaningful “whole.” He literally caresses the vinyl and plucks out tracks he deems worthy to establish the perfect overall vibe of what he experienced in that particular moment in his life, and with that particular romantic entanglement.
And that got me thinking about that old mix tape. I vividly recall those days when I too spent hours with my vinyl creating that perfect mix tape that was meaningful to me and hopefully someone else. So much effort was put into this process. So much thought. You see, it wasn’t easy to make them. You needed to manually select the right album, pull out the vinyl, select the right tracks, and place the needle down onto the vinyl on the perfect spot, meld track to track, fade them in and out to the next one, write the name of each track on the cassette’s sleeve and, then, ultimately (and the climax to the entire process) come up with the perfect title for that mix tape.
That perfect title was particularly critical if your mix tape was intended to be given to someone else, because the goal was to make a statement. Create impact. This all was time-consuming both physically — and frequently emotionally. You sweat the details. Why? Because each individual mix tape mattered. You couldn’t simply churn them out one after another. Volumes were low, as in number of personalized tapes — not in the sound itself, which you frequently cranked to a Spinal Tap-ian 11. But the “love for the game” was high.
And here’s the thing. The person to whom you gave your beloved mix tape — be it a friend, or your girlfriend or boyfriend at the time — knew it. They knew how hard you worked to make that tape. They inherently understood all of the steps involved. All that care and feeding. And that’s why it made such a deep impact on them. It was meaningful. And that was the point.
Fast forward to today and to our tech-transformed world of media and entertainment. Yes, digital gives us so much power. Yes, digital gives us so much access. So much discovery. So much control. But sometimes, maybe too much? Some “thing” is missing, and we likely feel that now more than ever.
Think about today’s Spotify playlists that we create and share. Yes, of course, we frequently give them some thought. Perhaps many of you give some of them much thought. But the amount of effort, the amount of time, and the amount of care and feeding are entirely different. Digital is comparatively easy. We can simply find and select individual tracks in rapid fire and churn out playlist after playlist, and then share them not only individually, but also with the entire world with one tap on our smart phone.
It’s precisely that mass volume. That mass sharing. And that physical ease and fractional time commitment that make each playlist less impactful. Less impactful to you as the playlist creator, and less impactful to any one person with whom you share it.
This “lost art of the playlist” serves as an allegory of life in a sense. Digital is incredibly powerful. Sharing your musical tastes with the world is cool, very cool, indeed. But something also is left behind unless there is pause, reflection, and dedication to seeking out some kind of “soul” to augment that power. To disconnect. Get away from the virtual. To get into the “real” and feel – literally feel, something tangible. That’s why vinyl has made a comeback. Something special and impactful happens when you actually dive into those stacks of vinyl records and sift through them. Time almost stands still. Hours go by.
To be clear, this is not an indictment of digital. Not at all. Digital’s power is real (we see that right now in our own quarantined lives). Digital’s opportunities are massive. I respect it. Generally love it (in fact, I am streaming music as I write this). But for me, and for my “experiences,” digital is frequently just the beginning. The introduction. My experiences need to be augmented with more. With effort. With dedication. With “soul.” Taken outside into the physical world. With real non-virtual human connection and interaction.
It takes a lot of work and commitment to prepare for, attend, and endure a music festival. But boy is it worth it! Those out of home real world experiences are lasting. That’s why young people (and some older ones, like me) crave them, and will return to them once our doors open. It will take time. But continue to build them, and people will continue to come. That out-of-home live music and experiential entertainment industry will return.
Vinyl and mix tapes represent that same kind of dedication. That’s why you gotta watch (re-watch?) “High Fidelity.” Be inspired by it. Finding it certainly won’t be difficult in today’s streaming world, that’s for sure. You can stream it on demand right now from any one of your favorite video services and on any one of your multiple devices.
“And one more thing!” (I say in an obvious homage to tech giant Steve Jobs). Go outside, whatever “outside” is for you these days (perhaps, just a window), and watch the sunset tonight (if you can). The real thing far surpasses the digital version that you posted on Facebook just a few weeks ago in a very different time.
Peter Csathy is founder and chairman of Creatv Media, a media, entertainment and technology business development, M&A, advisory and creative services firm. He recently published a new book, “Viral Media: Entertainment in the Age of the Great Pandemic.”