As I draw to the end of the recording process on another album it’s got me thinking about how we as lovers of music gather music around us and place it in our lives – how do we like to consume music and what I as a songwriter/musician as well as a consumer feel about the choices we make and how we can best enjoy the world of music available to us.
Currently the major formats are CD and download; and let’s not discount vinyl.
Popular music has always to some extent been a disposable product, here today gone tomorrow but for most of us our music collection is something to keep and treasure. So how does this circle square itself in today’s world of the download? The instant access and easy availability is on the face of it appealing, but for me we have lost something crucial in our race for speed and our ‘must have now’ 24 hour society – in fact we have given away a little of ourselves. We have lost the art of ‘waiting’, of anticipating what musical treat is in store for us. I remember waking on the morning of a new release I couldn’t wait to buy. I remember the journey into town to the ‘record shop’, I remember walking cold through the rain, I remember the smell of racks of CDs/Vinyl albums, fingering through the sleeves and I loved the artwork – bold and beautiful. Perhaps the best feeling was finally getting your hands on the ‘new album’, something tangible, solid, real – something to collect and worship – something to own – something of my own. The journey back home would be filled with excitement, maybe I’d read a review and was looking forward to hearing certain tracks or maybe I was jumping in blind, exploring the undiscovered. But whatever it was it was ceremony, it was a journey and an effort to acquire something of value.
The CD offers a physical product to own and collect – a product with an artwork booklet, possibly with lyrics to learn and glossy photographs to admire. A CD, like the vinyl album before it, is something that requires we set aside some of our own personal space to share our lives with these items. We invite them into the family home – we buy a bookcase or a specialist piece of furniture to keep them safe and display our artistic and musical leanings. We invest in the wellbeing of these objects. Since man lived in caves he has had a primitive need to collect artefacts and to place art on a pedestal. For me as a musician interested in recording work for posterity CD is the natural successor to the vinyl album. It isn’t quite as sexy and the big 12” artwork sleeves of the vinyl are irreplaceable but technically the sound quality is expanded and clear, and more than capable of carrying the full width and aspect of the modern recording…. gone are the scratches and crackles. Some would say the digital sound isn’t as warm as the analogue recordings of the 1950s, 60s, 70s & 80s, ‘the vinyl years’, but in a close run race I’d say CD pips, vinyl at the post by offering us improved sound whilst still allowing us to own something physical we can share with our friends.
Surely with the download all we have previously discussed is lost. This is of course replaced with the download’s best feature – instant accessibility – and I can store my whole record collection on an I-Pod or MP3 Player. I can take the whole collection on holiday or on the train with me. But I don’t really own anything – I sort of access the ether to hear it but I never touch it or store it on the bookcase. The artwork exists but again it’s a binary code and not something to take up space in the house, to display and pass to my friends. There is no effort undertaken to gain the prize, no journey from the sofa, no weather to negotiate on my trip into town, no people to see along the way. You can see whose side of the argument I’m on for better or for worse.
I am going to finish off with a technical point that may be of importance to artists, engineers and the listener – sound quality. In these days when sound recording is without past compare, the artist can be heard in fantastic quality – you can almost be in the room with your favourite artist, guitars can stretch across horizons and drums can pound with such resonance that you can see the skins vibrate in your mind. Yet with the vastness of this acoustic spectrum we choose to download a file so small it has to be compressed to within an inch of its life and we lose all that the technical advances in recording have brought us in the last few decades. It’s crazy – it’s like seeing a beautiful painting hanging in a gallery and taking home a small black and white postcard of the art for the same price as the full colour original.
For me CD is still the best format – I get the sound quality to document my songwriting, I get the artwork to touch with pages to turn, I get to hold in my hand that which I collect and get to store it on the shelf and worship it 😉
But the choice is yours to make when buying music – choose wisely.
You can visit ROJOR.COM to buy my CDs – you know it makes sense …. 🙂