Plays Well With Others: Sharing Music 1840 - Present

What does it mean to share music? In the present day, music sharing has a very specific connotation: the wireless transfer of digital files that transport music to and from one computer to the next, connected by the Internet. However, human beings have been “sharing” music since music began. Music exists in a physical space—even an imaginary space, such as the Internet—and to hear music you are affected by the technology through which it is recorded, the media through which it is conveyed, and the architecture of where one listens. (Blesser and Salter, 133)

These spaces, physical or digital, and the technologies that bring music into them necessitate an audience, whether that audience is composed of thousands of strangers, a nuclear family, or a lone individual in front of a screen or walking through the street wearing headphones. Because we are always listening somewhere, we must consider music sharing not only as a digital medium but also as a fundamentally human experience, evolving slowly over time from inside cathedrals to bedrooms and everywhere in between. Music requires a performer and an audience, regardless of whether or not those entities exist in the same space at the same time. (Blesser and Salter, 130)

“From one perspective, musical space is a physical environment—a concrete reality, a place where listeners and performers congregate, such as a concert hall. From another perspective, space is an ill-defined abstraction that relates only to our perception of spaciality, which also exists in the imaginary spaces created by computers,” and so, to assess the history of how we share music, we must look to the public, private, and individual spaces and technologies in which and through which we share music. (Blesser and Salter, 129) To exist in space, physical or digital, listening to music, we implicitly share the experience of that music. We can retroactively fit the 21st century term “music sharing” to the history of musical spaciality to begin to understand the evolution of this collective experience.


Johnathan Wolf