As an addict, I’ve been able to kick a lot of bad stuff out the door. Dope, alcohol, and nicotine to name but three, and if I think hard enough there’s probably a couple more things I could add to that list. Living a life unmanageable has been my calling card, and while I never suspected music to be one of those things that would or could cause me irreparable harm, as long as I didn’t inhale it, I have come to realize that the art of collecting music – the actual hunting and gathering – has consumed way too much of my life. So as an act of self-discovery and recovery, I’ve recently chosen to surrender and become baptized in the digital stream. Glory hallelujah.
This will not be another wistful look back at how wonderful it was to find some gem back in the ’60s because the cover art was amazing, or the first time I dropped a needle onto the edge of a disc and watched it magically spin around and around as the sweet sounds came floating ethereally out of the speakers. Y’all have done this long enough to know that the joy of finding, acquiring, and sharing new music is one of the greatest highs you can have. And while it sounds like I’m giving that up, I’m not. But I shall no longer be a prisoner of consumerism, where possession and ownership equates to my happiness. I now gladly rent my music.
Streaming. In this modern age, it’s access that matters. For under ten bucks a month there are over 30 million songs to fulfill my needs … 62,500 days of unlimited listening, give or take. And outside of some still undigitized and “missing in action” titles, a lot of what I love to listen to is there for the taking. With a couple of keyboard punches and a swipe of my finger, there it is. And with the “if you like this, you might like that” feature of most streaming services, along with tons of curated playlists, exploration and discovery is easier and deeper than when I used to hang out at a record store flipping the stacks. Before some of you shake your heads with disdain, give me a moment.
From the early ’60s through the mid-’80s I was a vinyl junkie, with a little eight-track and cassette chaser on the side. Then I transitioned to CDs for another 15 or 16 years before uploading, downloading, saving, converting, transferring, and backups took over much of my free time. While never a Napster or Pirate Bay dude, a few years ago I started searching for digital files of long out-of-print 78s, getting a shellac rush whenever I found an obscure recording on a Japanese or Finnish blog site. But it’s a solitary and endlessly boring way to collect songs that I only would listen to once, so I began to wonder about the value.
The disposal of my physical goods, what little is left of them, will be relatively easy. My eldest has offered to put everything up on the Discogs marketplace, and what won’t sell will go to the local thrift store. My massive digital library that I worked so hard to maintain with a consistent file structure and original artwork, and which is triplicated on hard drives, will likely wind up in a box or on a shelf. There’s nothing pretty to look at there, and if history is any indication, they’ll shortly become as useless as an iPod Classic.
If you want to know what tipped the scales, look no further to an endless barrage of vinyl reissues that cost 25 bucks at Barnes and Noble or some supermarket, and come from digital masters that sound like crap. And here’s my message to Gillian and Dave, and Jack White and T-Bone, who are doing these custom analog direct-to-disc projects: I don’t care and it doesn’t really sound that much better than the digital versions. Seriously … loved watching American Epic and all, but you’re in the ether of the barely one percent who give a damn. Sorry, and I still love ya.
With the big corporations seeing dollar signs after a self-inflicted devaluation of their content, if I see one more piece of marketing fluff touting the joy and wonder of vinyl, I might jump out the window. From a personal observation, my workplace consists of me – the old dude – and 89 people in their 20s. They are voracious music listeners and concertgoers, are constantly walking about with their earbuds, talk about and share songs and albums with each other at lunch, and every single one of them streams. Nobody buys anything anymore. The revolution was not televised; it just happened and you missed it.
Just to add to my overall annoyance, do y’all know about October 14th? That would be Cassette Store Day. Seriously. Did you know that tape sales have increased by 74% in 2016? I didn’t. Thought they were just something that only experimental musicians still released. Here’s how the website explains this new phenomenon:
CSD began in the United Kingdom in 2013 and quickly grew to become a global event with the participation of the United States, Japan, Germany and France. Through the efforts of CSD and the stores, labels, bands and fans involved worldwide we’ve helped keep what was once perceived as a dead format alive and viable in today’s digital age!
This makes me want to rush out and start hoarding candles, once word gets out that lightbulbs are a thing of the past. Thomas who? Oh yeah, he also invented the phonograph player.
This article was originally published as an Easy Ed’s Broadside column over at No Depression: The Journal of Roots Music.