Thursday, November 10, 2011

In Which I Go All Andy Rooney on Digital Music

The Internet and digital formatting continue to transform the music industry and forever change the way the large record companies operate. Steadily decreasing CD sales continue to shrink inventories at the few brick and mortar places you can still purchase them. There just isn't the money in it for Best Buy to continue to stock all but the highest selling artists. Forget independent record stores. Various estimates suggest digital sales now account for anywhere from 40-50% of music sales. More fans are content to go without traditional album artwork, CD sleeves and jewel cases.

You're left with binary bits of digitized music compressed into an mp3 file. The audio quality falls well below the endangered CD, as well as other "lossless'" digital formats that Apple has said it will support for years but never has. No album artwork to clean your pot on. No jewel cases to break the first time you open them.

Not to go all Andy Rooney, but in college my Friday afternoon ritual was to walk down to Kief's Records on Iowa Street and browse LPs and cut-outs for an hour or so until I found one or two to buy. I'd go home to my apartment eager to hear my discovery. Sliding out and carefully cleaning the vinyl with my Discwasher, it went onto to my prized B&O turntable. I'd sit back and listen, reading over the liner notes and gazing at the album art. First side one, then side two. Sometimes I hit paydirt (in which case I put the LP on cassette and into a plastic sleeve), other times it would just go into my orange crate shelves. My friend Paul used to call it my archival approach to record collecting, after seeing Foreigner, KISS and Starz albums and observing that I had a lot of "fat" in mine. (Thumbing through someone's record collection was not considered intrusive, but was almost expected.)

Maybe the next format isn't a format at all. Spotify, Pandora and the iCloud may once again make music something you listen to rather than own or collect; in other words, radio.

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