By Garrett Levin, President and CEO, Digital Media Association (DiMA)
When I saw the list of songs and albums designated this year by the Librarian of Congress for the National Recording Registry, it was like stepping into a time machine. I was in my childhood living room seeing the bright pink album cover of Free To Be You and Me and its essential messages of equality and acceptance that still resonate today. I was just a little older, listening to Odetta as my father explained how important she was to the world of folk music. I was buying Rhythm Nation 1814 — one of the first CDs I bought — and listening to it endlessly. I was in college in New York City, introduced to an entirely different perspective on what it means to live there from Nas and Illmatic. I was working as a documentary film editor after college and first hearing the incomparable Flaco Jiménez. I was a new father, introducing my kids to the magic of Kermit the Frog and his “Rainbow Connection,” a song (and beloved amphibian) that I grew up with.
We all do that, right? Music, particularly an iconic sampling of music history like this, evokes a cascade of memories, feelings, and experiences. Maybe you went to a legendary concert by Pat Metheny or Jackson Browne. Maybe you remember an epic wedding reception or college party that featured “Lady Marmalade” or “Celebration.” Maybe you cried the first time you heard the phenomenal Israel Kamakawiwoʻole sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World.” That’s what music that is that good does — it becomes etched into our conscious, transports us to another time and inspires us to tell our friends and family about it.
Then what do we do next? In 2021, in a few short seconds, we can grab our phones, open up a music streaming service and hit play. Or we call out to our music-friendly smart speaker — a booming market as we outlined in our Streaming Forward report. In a heartbeat, we are immersed in that music. There’s no need to trek to a store, hope your favorite recording comes on the radio, or try to remember where you put that mix CD someone made you in college. That recording is likely accompanied by detail about the artist and his or her story as well as the music itself — increasing visibility about the songwriters and other essential contributors. And recommendations too: if you like Jimmy Cliff and The Harder They Come soundtrack as I do, check out the suggestions for even more incredible reggae and surf the wave of discovery or re-discovery, all at your fingertips.
That’s the rich, immersive experience that the modern streaming service offers: instant discovery and re-discovery. For connoisseurs of music’s deep and rich historical catalog, like those recordings recognized today by the Library of Congress, streaming is a game changer. Two of its relevant superpowers are “access” and “discovery.” Now all of us can immediately access and discover (or re-discover) virtually every recording in human history. We can, as I would humbly suggest you do, instantly play a representative sample of these historic recordings officially enshrined on the National Recording Registry. DiMA has created those playlists for you, depending on which service you use.
Celebrate our history. Celebrate your history. It is easy. Just hit play.