From Cassettes to iTunes: How Music Selection Has Changed in 20 Years

A play on the old “Star Wars” line.

It’s funny how the way people used to listen to music only 20 years ago has radically changed.

I remember back-in-the-day when if you wanted to listen to a specific song on a cassette, you had to first look the song up on the cassette packaging to find out which side the song was on. Then, God-forbid, the song was in the middle of “Side B,” you’d have to rewind or fast-forward the cassette and check every 20 seconds to make sure you did not pass up the song in your haste to jam out.

This process, though much more tedious, made me appreciate the song in question so much more. I used to time how long it would take me to rewind a song after it finished so that I could listen to it again.

One song in particular, “Jumma Chumma” from the 1991 Bollywood blockbuster “Hum,” took 40 seconds to rewind from its ending point — the song itself was about 8 minutes long. I would replay that song for hours on end. Needless to say, I burned that cassette out after three years of continuous play.

The act of rewinding a song really took an effort from the listener and engaged them in the process; if someone really did not want to listen to a song, they would have to get up and fast-forward through the song — many listeners would have to work to get to the songs they liked.

Once I turned seven, the cool thing to have were CDs. They were so different from cassettes — instead of having to wait to listen to a song, you could just push the forward or backward buttons and get to the desired song. There was no “Side B” involved; there was no 40-second wait to listen to a song; it was so instant that I had more time to appreciate the song itself. I could listen to a song that I would not normally have because I had the liberty of sitting on the other side of the room and changing the song with the push of a button.

Unfortunately, CDs still had the “pull” factor: you had to look for the specific CD and “pull” it from your organized CD shelf to play that one song; this was the same factor that played into cassettes and LP records before that.

All of this changed in 2002, when my brother downloaded iTunes onto the family computer.

At that point, I still had my cassette/CD dual player boom box with all of my cassettes and CDs stacked around it (in A-B-C order, of course!). Once my brother had installed my Mecca of music organization, I began to explore its many wonders.

**iTunes SPOILER :)**

iTunes had this feature where you could place ALL of your music into the program and it would allow you to organize, rate and place various songs into groupings. iTunes radically changed the way I listened to music — could I now listen to BOTH Indian and Western music back-to-back, without having to change any discs or cassettes? YES. Could I listen to my Teen Pop album AND my mom’s Beatles CD? At the same time? YES and YES!

**END of iTunes SPOILER**

iTunes became my much-needed messiah in a world of so much musical exploration. It organized all of my music and it was all so easily accessible.

Listenability really has come a long way, especially in the past 20 years. Here’s to being open-minded to the next awesome new invention that will streamline this whole process even more.