I’ve always been a big fan of western pop music, but my ways of consuming music have changed significantly through the years. I distinctly remember, when I was 12 or 13, buying cassette tapes (remember those?) of bands I liked and sending them to a shop to have copies made of them, so my friend and I could share the cost of the tapes. I also remember having mix tapes made the same way – my friend and I would write down about 20 songs that we wanted on a piece of paper, and the guy at the shop would put them on a tape for us for a nominal charge. I would then listen to two or three tapes for months on end, playing them on my Walkman (remember those?) again and again until I could sing the songs in my sleep. I never really got into the CD phase, even though I had a Discman and owned a few CDs. I guess they were too expensive for my teenage self, and generally felt a lot more unwieldy and harder to carry around during travel, which was when I needed music the most.
And then computers and iPods came into the picture, and it got a lot easier to own and listen to music on the go. When I finished school, my brother gave me his iPod Classic that had so much memory space that I filled it with my entire collection of music and still had tons of space left over. I used that through most of university, and when that finally broke down, my brother and sister-in-law gifted me an iPod Touch (that they had engraved to say iTeach when I got into teaching, which I thought was really clever). The memory on that one wasn’t as big, but it still served me well, even though I sorely underutilised it (I never used any of the non-music functions).
These days, the only device I have on me is my phone, and the only music I listen to is on the radio. I discovered the radio in my early working years, when I realised I didn’t want to carry multiple devices around and when I became sick of the same 500 songs playing over and over again on my iPod. I wanted new music, but I didn’t know how to access it. Then one day, I came across a local radio channel playing in a cafe I was eating at, and they were playing both music I already knew and liked as well as new stuff, which was exactly what I’d been looking for.
In Singapore, the English radio channels very distinctly cater to different age groups – there’s the station for the school-going kids, the one for the slightly older college kids, the one for the 20 and 30-somethings, and the one for the “oldies”. I have found myself actually progressing from station to station as I grow older, not consciously, but because I’ve found my interests changing and my tolerance level for overly chirpy RJs waning as the years pass.
I probably can’t ever go back to the days of playing music from a Walkman or iPod, though. I like the uncertainty of radio (and I use “uncertainty” quite loosely, of course – the radio can be repetitive as well), as well as the fact that I can’t do anything to control it. Even Spotify lets you exert some level of control, which means I’ll just end up mindlessly switching from song to song and never really settling on anything. With the radio, though, I can just sit back and let the RJs do the work for me. It’s a lazier way of listening to music, of course, and much more passive, but I’m getting old and can’t bring myself to care.