At the moment I have seven or eight new pieces on the music desk of my piano. I have to learn them all by the summer. Some are works I’ve never heard played, and in such cases I find it helpful to listen to a recording before I start work.
The internet has made things far easier in this respect. When I was a student, it was very hard to get hold of recordings, especially of out-of-the-way pieces. If your college library didn’t have one, that was basically the end of your search, because recordings were too expensive to buy and listen to them just once for research purposes. Now you can type the name of any piece into a search engine and find recordings. YouTube is a constant source of surprise, often yielding wonderful clips of archive performance which I had no idea were there.
It’s not all gain, though. As well as high-quality recordings, there are many which (to my old-fashioned way of thinking) should have remained quietly out of the spotlight, and some so bad that they might put people off hearing the work again. People upload clips of themselves stumbling through their own part of a chamber music piece, with the other parts missing, and they evidently don’t feel this is a little odd. It’s clear that attitudes to recording have changed. Whereas making a recording used to be a goal that only high-fliers could or would aspire to, it’s now considered acceptable to record ‘work in progress’ and publish it cheerfully to the wider world.