Opinion: The Product of Music in 2010
I became a music consumer in the mid-Eighties. Back then there were independent “brick and mortar” stores everywhere. People were buying records and tapes, and small, weird optical discs in longboxes, the reason for that packaging so they could be seen in a bin that would normally house 12″ vinyl albums. I loved buying albums. I would spend a lot of time in my room listening to those records and reading through the jackets – lyrics, production staff, band members, song writers…the art. I would go through it all. I kept the longboxes and put them on my wall like posters.
Now we can download music. We can get that one tune on the radio and ignore the rest of the album if we so choose. I have bought plenty of albums with “one killer, all filler”, so I very much understand why this is desirable. I buy singles aplenty. It’s kind of a fun way to update my music player for around a buck at a time. But I still prefer to buy albums.
People form every kind of opinion about the pros and cons pertaining to artistry of buying digital files versus product that you can hold in your hand. I’m occasionally nostalgic about those times when I went out and spent an afternoon perusing CD racks and coming home with my prizes. Now I look at my CD collection and see something different: a pile of plastic heading for a landfill some day.
Yeah, I’ve switched my buying habits based on waste. There’s a responsibility I think we all have as human beings. It’s a responsibility to our planet and to all the generations that follow us. We have tremendous influence over how we treat our surroundings and the systems of which we are a part. How I purchase music is not excluded from that.
Buying a digital album is my first choice. And to get that nostalgic fix of hunting for CDs I now go to the used CD section (or store). It’s not just music this applies to. It’s most of my habits as a consumer. I try to follow the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. I try to do them in that order. I know I no longer get the tangible product. I’m glad to see a lot of artists chose to put their albums in Digipaks rather than plastic cases. Still, as a friend of mine put it, “less is less”. The more physical product I gather, the less I see a need for it. That’s my reasoning for going digital. Some people have other reasons. Whatever they may be, we can definitely say there has been a change in the type of product out there.
Pretty much everything I have is now compressed and corralled by a software media package. I load that to a tiny flash-based media player and take it to the gym, or on the train. I know I’m missing out on uncompressed audio. I know that the artists and producers and engineers that worked so hard to bring out a certain sonic aesthetic wince at the idea of compressing those bytes to the essential information.
While some may lament the decline of the traditional packaged product, I think this is a great time to explore the surroundings we have to make and distribute new art. I think we have more tools than ever to express ourselves. Some people will use this just for “new” music, but some people will put together something so different and unique it might be like the time we first held a CD in our hands.
There is a great quote from Charles Darwin that I think applies to many facets of human creative endeavors – business, art, economics – as well as it does to the natural world itself: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Many of the established business models failed to adapt to the new way of things. They are shadows of their former selves as a result.
I think the product of music is due for an explosion of new creativity. Actually, I think that it is poised for many explosions of new creativity. With new technologies come new methods of expression. And there are plenty of artists who embrace new technologies with new and creative outpouring.
The adage that the only constant is change is true. Now what will you, dear artists, do with it?