I'm talking specifically about music releases, but book and film releases are heading into the digital age as well. Hell, I just spent all of last night watching movies via Netflix's Instant View feature, streaming it through my X-Box 360 to my television.
I think the older readers will be able to relate more to what I'm saying today (or those who, in this single case were lucky, did not obtain internet access until recently). I've never really understood the the full appeal of downloading music, be it legally from sources like iTunes, or via a torrent. I can, however, glimpse beyond the curtain and catch hints of why people do it. There's the convenience of not having to go to the shop, prices can be drastically lower (especially if you get your music from the Pirate Bay or other Peer to Peer sources), and you can pick and choose which tracks from which albums you want.
But... why? Going to the shop to find music has always been something I've enjoyed doing. One of my favourite places to find music when I was in high school was pawn shops. This was a time when the whole Napster thing had blown up, and Limewire was coming into vogue. With computers able to store scores of gigabytes of music, CD players and small stereo systems were being pawned and sold left and right. Every Saturday, I would take about $10-$15 and hit up a chain of pawn shops between my house and the bus station where C-Tran (Vancouver's transit authority) and Tri-Met (Portland's transit authority) shared space, just by the I-5 bridge (this means nothing to most of you, but a small handful will know where I'm talking about). Every one of the pawn shops I'd stop at would have huge spindles of loose CDs up by the register; CDs which had been sold in huge booklets and without their jewel cases, or more often, had been forgotten inside of sold CD players and stereos -- and all at 25¢ or 50¢ each, depending upon the shop. Occasionally, I'd find something to fill a gap in my collection; that Chilli Peppers album I didn't have or a limited release. But that was never the goal when I'd go out to CD hunt. I knew labels and the sorts of sounds they liked to produce. With the internet having been a fixture in my house since about 1998, I knew how to look up bands and see who they affiliated with. If something was familiar, I'd grab it. I'd take it home, lock myself in my room all weekend, and listen to every CD I brought home. I discovered my favourite band in a similar way; Ryan's dad brought home a box of damaged CDs from work that were un-sellable. One of them was called Club Anthems by a band called Ballboy. That was eight years ago, and I'm still in love with those crazy Scottish bastards.
I also bought new CDs as well. If I really liked a band, I'd go to used CD bins and complete collections that way. I liked reading the liner notes and looking at all the pictures in the booklets that would come with the CD. I'd read over these as I listened to the music, making it a complete audio/visual experience.
I'd do the same sort of thing with records, only as one might imagine, it was a bit more difficult to find those by this time. I'd have to go to thrift stores and hope to find anything that wasn't gospel or "god knows what." Thrift stores seem to specialise in "god knows what" records.
And what of getting music more cheaply online? New releases on iTunes are just as expensive as they are in the shop, and you're getting less for your money. You don't get all the pictures and liner notes and something tangible to hold in your hands. You get 14 files full of 1's and 0's that only iTunes can decipher. Sure, every CD I own, and a few of my records, have been ripped to .mp3 format, but that's more of a convenience of not having to carry around a CD player with me. .mp3s don't tend to skip or scratch (unless there was an error in the rip process), and you can take thousands with you at a time. So, maybe that's why a digital release and a CD release cost about the same; you're paying extra for the convenience. Sure, some older albums are about $10, but those same albums are about $10 at Best Buy as well.
One of my favourite things about getting full CDs is the experience. I recently reviewed something called Countrysides
, an album which I'd picked up on recommendation. I got it from iTunes because I'd heard about it at about 3am, and I was willing to pay for the convenience of getting the album right then, rather than having to wait about eight hours for Best Buy to open, and then hope
that they had the album. As I clearly stated in the review, the middle of the album fell very flat for me. I might even go as far as to say that I didn't like the middle three tracks at all. But, I got the album because I heard one song that I had liked. I could have very easily just grabbed that one track for 99¢ and called it good, but I opted instead to get the full album. And most of the album, I wound up really liking. What great songs I'd have missed out on, had I only purchased the last track of the album! And I don't know; maybe after a few more listens, those middle three songs may grow on me. I had that happen with an entire album. I adored Smash Mouth's debut, Fush Yu Mang. When Astrolounge was released, I felt cheated. It sounded nothing
like their first album. It was all full of slow metaphors and casually swaying tunes. After a few listens, though, I got it. I mean really
got it. I almost think, now, that I may even prefer Astrolounge to Fush Yu Mang. There have been a few other times that this has happened, but Smash Mouth stands out the most in my mind and memories in this case.
Maybe I'm just getting old and rejecting change. I do buy digitally, but mostly because that's the only way I can for some bands. Some of them have gone to 100% digital, only releasing their albums in the form of .mp3 downloads from their sites. The smart ones even include custom package artwork and digital booklets. But I still miss being able to hold that booklet in my hands as I listen to the music. I want to be able to feel the pages as I read the liner notes. No digital booklet and .zip file release will ever come close to reproducing this, and I find myself almost mourning the loss of an old friend.
Or I can just keep calm and carry on, because there's bound to be yet some other advance in technology that will annoy me even more.