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A Walkman obit: Remembering the portable player


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He-he. They said "shag". RIP Walkman - you were the first and most significant of the small portable music players, and you served us well.

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I loved my first Walkman and I love my ipod, but there is a bitter sweet side to this story too. I believe that portable players killed the magical social element of music.

Maybe some of you remember spending evenings with friends listening to music. Often a friend had a rare LP that you didn't and you'd come together to listen.

Radio played a huge role in sharing music and launching careers of some of our most remembered artists. And then there were the local music shops with the seasoned staff who could turn you on to new artists based on what you like or bought last time. Often providing that rare and nearly impossible to get import that you would be one of a tiny few lucky fans to get your hands on it.

I am happy that I can carry around more music on something the size of a pack of gum than my entire LP collection 25 years ago. Convenient. But I do believe that portable players shifted music from a strong social and in person aspect of life, to a much more lonely experience.

I miss the old shops, gone for lack of sales. I miss making mix tapes. And I miss the excitement of having to wait to get home to listen to a new purchase. It is just all to easy and lacking in magic today.

Not to mention the fact of how hard it now is for new artists to make a living, when their rare song can be illegally distributed to everyone on the planet moments after release. No more rare treasures to invite friends over to listen to and imagine distant places where the LP traveled from.

Kind of sad. But it all started with the Walkman

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I will never forget the huge grin on my face, walking back to the dorm listening to Led Zepplin on my newly purchased Walkman, way back in 1980, though it had just cost me every penny of my meager spending money.

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aww... i agree with tkoind2... though what tkoind2 mentioned was not my generation... It seems fun and I want to experience it... yeah really... nowadays music became a personal stuff... you and ur iPod... such a lonely combination

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Um, Tkoind2: If the song is a "rare treasure," how likely is it that the artist is gonna "make a living" off of it?

I love the music of quite a few millionaire rock-stars, but if file sharing ever really makes the species extinct, I'll lose no sleep. Digital technology has in fact enhanced the "social element" of music, making it easier for artists to produce and distribute their original work.

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I also agree with tkoind2... though there's something to be said about the way we share music these days too. I've made friends and connections through music and video sharing, and it's easier than ever to do so. Finding old gems from people with similar tastes with just a click of the mouse is great too. But I do miss recording tapes off the radio, going into old record/CD stores, etc. I like both ways now.

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"Um, Tkoind2: If the song is a "rare treasure," how likely is it that the artist is gonna "make a living" off of it?"

Example. Cocteau Twins was not widely available when they first came out in the US. Only a hand full, maybe 1,000 or so copies filtered in. DJs grabbed them and a few people who had heard about the band.

What happened was it created buzz. Not only did they sell the 1,000 copies they exported, but it created demand that led to domestic releases. No one downloaded it for free stealing payment from the artists in the process. And no one could copy a full quality copy either. If you wanted to hear it at the best quality, you had to buy it. That made moneys for artist.

The millioniare rock star is the exception in music, not the rule. Most bands never really make that much money. In the 80's they had a better chance as did the small labels that supported them. I knew a lot of people making their living by creating indie music back then. Or by being small record companies for indies. But all that is gone now. Online theft rendering such income impossible.

Digital technology should have made things easier, which it initially did. But it also enabled global theft. My band spend 1,000,000yen and two years making a great CD. We released it and have had ok sales. But by comparrison one site alone had 11,000 illegal downloads of our CD. We did not get a single yen for those downloads. And I found two dozen other sites with thousands of downloads.

So what did digital tech do for artists? It made it possible for us to see our hard work flow out for free to theives and apologists who fail to see that this is why the quality of music and the selection of music is in decline. Indies like us, like our lable friends and many others can not make a living while people like you rationalize theft.

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"Digital technology has in fact enhanced the "social element" of music, making it easier for artists to produce and distribute their original work."

As long as they are ok giving it away. I have been a musician for 25 years. I know artists from that time all the way through to new artists just starting out. Without exception, all have seen their income opportunities vanish. Many have had to give up music.

I am lucky I work full time in a job that pays enough to produce music because I want to. But many artists I know end up abandoning music because they just can't make enough to get by. 20 years ago more artists could scape by releasing LP or CDs because people actually paid for music back then. And small record companies took more chances on new creative artists because they could be fairly sure of making the investment back.

Now the indies make artists submit finished CDs because few lables believe they can make the money back on indies. This robs the music world of so much new talent that could become the next great band. Why, because people think musicians owe them music for free. 10,000 stolen copies is a year's income for a small band. Now, nothing comes in for these bands from those copies that get copied. It is serious robbery.

Digital technology, starting with the old walkman ushered in the decline of music more than it did to expand it. Consumers won free content and portability, but they lost variety and countless new artists who cannot afford to devote their time to music since they know more copies will be stolen than sold.

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The Walkman was a real godsend to Japanese rail commuters who wanted to screen out their fellow humans. Now they've got games, cell phones, iPods and god knows what else to enable them to crawl into their bubble and make the world go away. This is nothing but infantile thumb-sucking for adults and has very little to do with enjoying music.

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We are all walled off now. The only people who ever randomly talk to anyone here are people over 65. They seem to remember what it is like to be friendly. No walkman devices when they were kids, so no way to avoid the other people they share the world with.

But in music, it is sad. How many friends have any of you out there made in a record store in the past decade? Quite a few old friends were people I met through some connection to music. Sharing interest in a record at a party, introduced by a friend working in a music store because we probably liked the same music, or just browsing and meeting each other in a shared interest section of a shop.

Watch "High Fidelity" if you don't know what I am talking about. That kind of old shop was magical. Now nearly extinct. But I can remember great shops even 12 yrs ago in Boston, San Francisco, Seattle even Salt Lake that had a hand on the pulse of local, national and international music and people who could point you to amazing discoveries that you would then share with others.

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@Beelzebub I think its probably due to the issue of more and more people becoming un socializing with. Back in the day when it was much easier to find good and especially considerate people to socialize with, unfortunately its grown to running into a lot of bad apples that help encourage people to wall each other out. I can't even walk down a street without hearing someone either swearing, arguing, bad-mouthing, and talking about something negative, etc. Some towns and cities you can get a good flow of generous interactive people and some places you can't.

I miss my old walkman too though, good times. But my PSP has my entire CD collection on it too and with access to internet radio I don't miss it too much.

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Agree with all the talk here about the loss of the social element. It wasn't all positive either, I can remember ridiculous fights and arguments over what the next record on the turntable should be or what radio station should be on. And all the variations of "you're an idiot because you like Band X or Style Y". Now nobody cares, they just all put on their headphones and listen to their own stuff. Music just isn't as important in society and in the pop culture as it once was (although that might have happened anyways without the walkman of course). No doubt digital piracy is the number 1 problem for the music business, but the loss of the social part doesn't help either.

Also, Sony's missing the boat on digital technology was an amazing screw-up. Going with the mini-disc instead of putting the music inside the player was, with hindsight, an unbelievably foolish decision. They gave away the store to Apple basically.

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My first Walkman purchase was 1980 or so. I remember the "Paradise Theatre" cassette tape by Styx getting heavy play time on it back then. Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto (Sony)

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I still have a Sony Walkman. I don't use it but it's not broken so I don't have the heart to throw it away.


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I still use my Walkman all the time, still having hundreds of tapes. It's not so different from i-pods. They sound great. Actually, I prefer Eagle 810 to anything,been listening for 25 years, at least you hear real people talking. What's with people just listening to loud music 24/7? There's no humanity in that. Radio is all about the human interaction, everything else is just noise.

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Taka313, if you're not using your Walkman, can I have it? My last tape player broke and I've got all these cassette tapes lying around and I can't play them because the stores aren't selling cassette players anymore.


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Aww man the memories, I had two walkmans. The first one I don't remember but it was a simple one and the second was the WM-FX421 (loved that thing to bits because of the Digital Display and buttons on the front). I eventually got a walkman MD but it just didnt feel the same. RIP Walkman.

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I couldn't afford a Walkman when they first came out. I had to settle for a $50 ghetto blaster until I could afford one. When I came to japan my wife gave me hers which had the wireless system. I once rode my bike from Kyushu to tokyo on one set of batteries in it. Sony always had great stuff. I'm sorry to say I wish they would have kept up their ground breaking ideas, sadly I write this from a iPad.

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"I had to settle for a $50 ghetto blaster"

Haven't come across that one in a while.

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This is a tragedy. RIP Walkman. I loved my old cassette walkman, saw me through a lot. CD Walkman was OK - but not as cool as the cassette one.

I had to settle for a $50 ghetto blaster

So, you were one of those guys who used to walk around train stations with them on your shoulder? Old school. RESPECT!

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