Remember when you used to get music for Christmas? Like an MC Hammer cassette tape? I certainly do. How about 5 years ago, try going into a popular record store before Christmas and you would be surrounded by parents struggling to find the right CDs to buy their kids. That same music store is now only 1/4 CDs and the rest has been taken over by DVDs, Blu-rays, video games and assorted knick knacks that have no place in a music store. But guess what, they also sell music gift cards. Cards that let you download music on to your computer. You can have a digital file and listen to your music anywhere.
Let’s get this out of the way first: I have no problem with digital music. I listen to music on my ipod everyday and get a lot of my music digitally. In fact, I would attribute digital distribution to exposing me to many new artists I never would have found and allows musicians starting up to distribute their music much more easily than having to make a physical copy and selling it at shows and indie record stores. But that is not what this article is about, it looks at the paradigm shift in the music industry and what it means to give and share music with each other.
Using my personal experience as the example, I’ve managed to live through the evolution of many different media from 8-track to the mp3. Growing up my parents had an 8-track player in their car and I remember road trips listening to The Muppet Movie soundtrack and remember crying when the tape got eaten by the player. At home I’d listen to my Dad’s record collection and loved perusing the album art and the lyrics that came with each. My parents bought me a bunch of kids records too, which were great for actually giving a visual representation of what I was listening to and knowing what the musicians looked like who were making the music. I definitely scratched up a bunch of those records, but they are what made me love music. The needle drop, the pops and clicks, having to change the side every 20 minutes, that was all part of the experience.
Then came cassettes. I don’t miss them at all. Except for having to spend 2 hours making a mixtape for yourself or someone else. That took dedication. That required planning. That took time. Time. The shift from record to mp3 coincides with our constant impatience and need for information immediately. No longer do we have to save up to buy an album or wait until an album is released. The internet has changed all that. I can’t remember the last time I listened to an album for the first time on a physical format. An album from a favourite band is leaked early? Well i’ll listen to it right then and there, probably on shitty computer speakers. There’s no ripping off the plastic, looking at the art, reading the liner notes and placing the media on or in a device to hear for the first time. It’s something I miss, but don’t have time for, or more accurately, make time for. Cassettes brought us to a point where we could take music wherever we went, but it still required effort to listen to what we wanted to.
I started selling my CD collection. A couple weeks ago I went to Blackbyrd Myoozik in Edmonton and sold about 150 cds. It was tough to pick which cds to sell, but almost everyone was one I would never listen to again or already had in my itunes library. These cds were sitting in boxes in my basement doing absolutely nothing for me. Talking to the staff at Blackbyrd they mentioned that 3 years ago I would have received double the amount of money for the ones I sold. No one buys CDs anymore. I don’t want to sell some of my music, as it may have lost its monetary value, but not the personal. On the other hand it is just going to sit in boxes while the digital copies of the SAME MUSIC is being listened to all the time. I also can’t sell the cds I received as gifts from friends or family, even if I don’t like it, it has meaning.
We all know that digital distribution is the key factor impacting the decline in physical media. The CD will likely stop being made in the next few years and will be used sparingly by artists for those few who want a physical media format. Vinyl sales continue to increase, but I bet it will never be more than a niche market for those who collect music or want their music to sound the best. Vinyl will never be a viable alternative for the average consumer as it is not convenient and is double the price of buying a digital copy. Vinyl also usually contains digital download codes so you can have your music on the go.
We’ve moved to Christmas gifts not being records, tapes or cds, but cards we can use to purchase the albums or songs we want. We can make our own mixtape as our Christmas gift. There won’t be art, they won’t be the best sound quality, but we can customize. Also we can have it within seconds. Whatever we want. Whenever we want. Convenience. Easy. Music is not meant to be difficult to obtain by any means, but we have to realize that the internet will be the reigning influence for the foreseeable future.
Enjoy your Christmas gifts everyone and whether you get a music gift card or a cd, it really is all the same. Music is music and while we all enjoy it differently, it is meant to be part of our lives.
Guess what is on my Christmas list this year? Records.