You’d purchase tangible, physical media when you’d buy your music. LPs had a specific “new record smell” (vinyl, printer’s ink, fresh cardboard, laminate and glue), and the jacket of a gatefold double-LP, for example, would make a slightly ominous cracking sound when you opened it.
The larger physical package provided memorable artwork that was a meaningful part of the overall experience, often along with incisive and informative liner notes. You’d know who the sidemen were, because they were listed right there! You’d know the date of the recording, which means you’d start to have an understanding of the chronological development of the artist in question. You’d keep track of recording engineers whose sound you preferred, and you’d start to look for the authors of liner notes who wrote well and seemed authoritative.
You wouldn’t generally mix or match or skip tracks, because that was usually a hassle: you'd take in an LP side as a sort of intact musical program; meanwhile, the recording musicians would attempt to create an interesting artistic journey in the sequencing of the tracks. You’d experience the artist’s musical vision in a long form, instead of sampling a disjointed individual track here and there. And you might therefore have a deeper understanding of the artist's vision.
Acquiring recorded music could be hard, especially if you lived in a small market (as mine in Central Wisconsin was...), and were focusing on jazz rather than easily available pop music: you’d research, you’d read Downbeat or Cadence or whatever, you'd save up your money, and you'd have to special order stuff that was of interest. You'd wait.
When the stuff finally came, it was an event — you couldn’t wait to get home and listen to it! As a result, music was more valuable to you; it wasn’t disposable…
It also meant that you might find your ears opening up a bit — because you’d researched and ordered and waited for that music, when it arrived you gave it more time and took it more seriously even if it didn’t immediately grab you: perhaps something was more on the freer side of jazz than you were used to, a bit more out than you were comfortable with, or was otherwise somehow strange or unexpected to you. You hung with it a bit, because of the effort it took to acquire it.
Some of the stuff that you had to hang with before you “got” it, stuff that you couldn’t just skip over the way you can (and do!) today, became your favorite stuff ever…
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