As does any young person who isn’t sinking under the poverty line, I have an iPod and thus am familiar with the application iTunes. I use it to store a large amount of the music I listen to and every piece of music I currently own and will most likely own in the future. Why? Obviously because it’s most compatible with said iPod (his name is Boris), but also because it’s considered the most accessible music storing platform – and it’s free. As much as the next person, I am aware of how technology works and that it will inevitably and relentlessly move forward. In fact, I get embarrassingly excited and determined that technology will advance, whether 2001: A Space Odyssey happens or not.
However, one matter I have a problem with is digitally based music, more specifically, purchasing music from iTunes or any other digital medium. Don’t get me wrong; CDs and vinyl are a pain to set up and far less reliable than their more convenient digital or downloaded counterpart. But I feel far more attached to the physicality of a CD or vinyl than that of a digitally purchased piece of music – a bit like how I used to make my own teddy in the Bear Factory rather than buying one from Tesco ready-made.
A few months previously I had a heated argument with my parents over the merits of HMV going bust and closing down, and as a member of this generation I stubbornly defended our financial and cultural future to the bitter end. Yet now I regret my hasty decision. It’s not just the nostalgia of walking into the store and buying a life-altering album like Biffy Clyro’s Puzzle on a whim; this love of CDs and vinyl still very much clings to my consumerist heart. I will admit to being a bit of a hoarder. I have a similar problem with books and video games as I do with CDs and vinyl. But looking at my currently flourishing collection of CDs and thinking of expanding on it makes me ashamedly excited. The feel of the case in my hand, of examining the artwork back-to-front and flipping through the lyrics book cannot be rivalled by any other medium available.
Certainly, I can acknowledge the merits of easily and instantaneously purchasing music digitally and I don’t insult people for doing it. Yet owning or borrowing a CD or vinyl is just such a personal experience for anyone. I chart my musical development through what CDs I ripped and played as a young teenager to the present, right from Busted through to Laura Marling. To me, digitally purchasing or borrowing music feels so transparent, something that doesn’t matter to me nearly as much as those pieces of music I have physically sought out or held. Even now I still buy all my music physically and I go to some great lengths to obtain it, such as waiting several weeks and paying much more than necessary to own Frightened Rabbit’s amazing album The Midnight Organ Fight. I also love to experience new music, yet aside from browsing the internet I crave opportunities for album hunting at various music stores and even charity shops; just a week ago HMV had a sale on and I purchased two albums from artists I’ve never heard of and now I adore both. Another even more important thing to consider is the possible decline of the album; with digital music providers offering single song purchases, many people no doubt purchase the songs they most like from an album and nothing else. This is a consumer friendly and efficient method of selling music, and yet I feel it undermines the experience of creating and listening to a complete collection of music. It’s like someone purchasing the parts of a painting that they like the most and not the whole canvas, something which would be considered ridiculous. An album, just like any piece of art, needs to be considered with all its perfections and flaws. Yet when speaking to punk band Drenge about vinyls, they noted how records companies are more concerned with how an album looks like on iTunes than
how the band want to present their own music. This topic could easily become a discussion concerning the nature of one-hit wonders and the X-Factor phenomenon of the meaningless artist, yet that is a subject for another article entirely.
What I feel is that although music is ultimately a medium conveyed through sound, having it sealed within a physical object, whether vinyl or CD, feels ultimately more real and romantic to me, however cliché that may sound. Listening to an album in its entirety is the key to understanding an artist; how they order the songs, whether they have a running theme, whether all the tracks work in harmony or deliberately clash and how the album sounds as a whole, are all important aspects of creative identity. I won’t claim I haven’t ever skipped a song on an album or ripped music from someone else’s CD, but I will say I haven’t lost my desire for owning and listening to albums in full.