Mad about the music

Observations on digital technology

Recently, at a dinner, I found myself talking in very measured tones to a certain species of music fan (well, music bore, actually) that I had thought was long since extinct. I was trying to explain why I thought we were living through the best time in history to be a music fan.

The person next to me was full of stories of how he and his friends used to rip the cellophane from their vinyl records and of how, as he put it, he loved "lowering the needle carefully on to the record". I understood, really I did, because that was what I used to enjoy doing as well. Only recently, I took delivery of the most gorgeous vinyl box set, complete with four discs, beautifully printed booklet and tactile embossed cardboard box.

I don't have a record player any more, but I do still love the artefact and the artistry of the old vinyl records. But the point I was trying to make during my conversation was that the younger music fans of today are just as obsessed as any music fans were before them. He profoundly disagreed.

Digital technology has liberated the music fan: today, you can stand on the shoulders of giants and pick through the entire history of recorded music at the click of a button. The kind of information that once could only be gathered by trawling through magazines and album credits, as well as hours and hours of hard listening, can now be achieved in an afternoon spent following links on the internet.

Nor has music ever been as accessible as it is now. Music fans can lose days, weeks and months, as I have, tracing the development of their latest heroes back to their heroes' heroes, and their heroes' great heroes. For the so-called heritage artists, this is the lifeline that enables their back catalogue to be discovered by a new, worldwide generation of listeners; the astonishing recent success of the mighty AC/DC in India and elsewhere is a great example of that.

Music is more readily available whenever, wherever and however you want it. The younger generation makes full use of technology (MSN, email, webcams, YouTube, MySpace and so on) to connect with others who share the same tastes, to argue about which is the best track on a particular album and, of course, to dissect every nuance of every statement issued by favourite bands in interviews or on forums and message boards.

Try, for instance, keying the name of your favourite band into the search box of any of the following sites: http://www.last.fm, http://www.hypem.com or http://www.youtube.com. What you will find is an endless resource of streaming music that you can listen to (in amazingly good quality more often than not) of both new and old artists. What you'll also find is that music fans are more informed and opinionated than they have ever been, and all the better for that.

Adrian Molloy manages recording artists