COLUMN: Listening to music offline while on spring break


Dan Hahn

Dan Hahn is a graduate student studying English and can be reached at 217-581-2812.

Dan Hahn, Columnist

Ever since I was really young, music has been a big part of how I relax, disconnect and refocus. I come from a large family, and we never took vacations. Instead, we took day trips and I have early memories of enjoying music either as a family or using a Walkman on those long car trips.

One of the first albums I remember enjoying in solitary on my Walkman was an audio cassette tape of Green Day’s album “Dookie.” 

In 2002, at the age of 21, I went on my first real, multiple day vacation. It was not only my first vacation, but it was also the first time I was away from my parents for a significant period of time.

It was a camping trip, and I did not have a cell phone at the time, and they did not have the capability of storing music like they do today. So, I brought, not a Walkman, but a mini disc player preloaded with what would become the soundtrack of my life at that time: albums Like Led Zeppelin’s “III” and The Beatles’ “Abby Road.” 

Besides a pair of traditional headphones, I had a device called a TravelSound which could connect to the mini disk player via a 3.5 mm cable so a group of people could listen to music together.

It was low tech by today’s standards, but it satisfied a common scenario that modern music listeners would accomplish today with a cell phone and Bluetooth speakers.

Mini disks were a technology that never caught on, but they were great and could achieve long battery life and excellent sound quality. They could also store more music than a CD and did not skip when bumped into, nor could they be scratched since the disks were housed in a casing. 

I still remember that camping trip and how my camping companions marveled and enjoyed the compact listening experience of music in stereo sound while being off-grid and disconnected from hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Fast forward many years later to this past spring break. I went on a vacation with my young family and did not have access to the internet. It reminded me of the first vacation I ever took because I relied heavily on my smart phone, not to stay connected to the internet, but to listen to music.

For me, listening to music is an essential part of being on vacation. I would not have been able to enjoy music if I had not been collecting MP3s since around the same time I was using that old mini disk player.

Thanks to the storage capacity of modern smart phones, I can bring my over 40 GB collection of music with me in my pocket. It is for this reason that I think MP3s are superior to streaming music from cloud providers.

These providers are great for music discovery, but listeners are beholden to an internet connection. With MP3s, listeners have the ability to sort music and make playlists while on vacation, no internet needed. 

Listeners in possession of a large enough collection of MP3s can shuffle their entire collection and rediscover long forgotten tracks or songs that never got their fair shot at being appreciated fully.

Instead of a TravelSound, I switched between a typical bluetooth speaker and bone conduction headphones, which enables me listen to music as well as hear the environment around me.

So, I can still rock out to metal while playing with my little kids or helping out with other family obligations. 

Music industry trends change all the time. According to the 2022 Year End Music Industry Revenue report, the sale of vinyl records outperformed CDs in the US for the first time since 1987. 

Streaming, of course leads the way for online music revenue. For me though, I’ll continue to buy MP3s and the occasional CD so I can rip it to my digital collection, which has been growing steadily for over two decades.

Thanks to the continuing growth of cell phone coverage, going on vacation without the internet is becoming rarer- but I hope to do it again! I wonder what devices I’ll be using to listen to music the next time I’m offline for an extended vacation.

Dan Hahn is an English composition/rhetoric graduate student. He can be reached at [email protected] or 217-581-2812.