I’m currently listening to John Peel’s Festive Fifty on Radio 1, an annual event in which he plays tracks voted for by listeners. It’s been a ritual for me every year since 1989 when I first began working out what music I genuinely liked. And almost every year since then I’ve managed to tape at least some of the Fifty, looping through it on a walkman for weeks into the following year. However, this year I’m not recording it, despite the broadcast conveniently fitting into a single evening…
For one thing, since blessing myself with an iPod in April, I don’t use a walkman any more. Also, assuming the BBC feature the show in the line-up on its awesome Audio on Demand, I’ll be able to record it using the fabulous Audio Hijack. And, with any luck, I’ll be able to find most of the tracks online in MP3 form with a bit of hunting. In fact, over the past couple of years I’ve replaced those eleven years of cassettes with MP3s, painstakingly tracked down, thanks in large part to the now sadly-departed Audiogalaxy.
If you’re anything like me you might be feeling there’s something slightly “wrong” about this. I know I do, but I’m not entirely sure why. There’s such a popular stigma about downloading MP3s that one feels like a petty criminal the moment a ‘download’ button is clicked. But music has been taped off the radio for decades and has little such stigma attached to it. My grandfather filled dozens of cassettes with classical performances from Radio 3 and, like many kids, I was young when I began filling tapes with pop music from the radio; my first tape, dated 1981, features a seemingly random Radio 1 mixture including Ian Dury, Abba, The Specials and Worzel Gummidge.
Given this history, I don’t know why I should feel so much worse about downloading the same music I’ve been taping, worry-free, for so many years. Since I started recording Festive Fifties the repeated listenings have prompted me to buy CDs by The Pixies, The Sundays, The Inspiral Carpets, The Stone Roses, The House of Love, Dinosaur Jr, The Wedding Present, The Field Mice, Sonic Youth, The Lemonheads, The Orb, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Pavement, Future Sound of London, Stereolab, Ash, The Delgados, Cinerama, Hefner, Laura Cantrell and Melys. Not to mention the music I’ve bought as a result of listening to the similar number of tapes I’ve filled with non-Festive Fifty music. If I hadn’t taped this music off the radio it’s unlikely I’d have heard it repeatedly enough to consider buying it. So why should I feel bad if I simply replace one media with another? Listening to a song on an iPod isn’t going to make me buy less music by that artist than listening to the same song on a walkman.