Is my music valuable to me?

Reading a post on chromewaves this morning, I started thinking about how the so called "digital revolution" is affecting music fans. Does having access to unlimited songs and the ability to download albums without a thought make music less valuable to the common listener?


Part of me wants to agree with the fact that without having to search for new music, listeners will become apathetic or will simply download an album to say they have heard it (we call these people hipsters), but the simple fact is that the people that search out music to find bands they really love are in the minority. Music bloggers looking for the first post or the next hip band are somewhat different from the majority of listeners, and I think that is what is missing from the argument. How many people spend their days scouring myspace looking for bands that list other bands as friends or influences? Probably not many. Now, how many artists would love to get noticed by a few people (even if it is from a downloaded album), get some hype and start playing for 50 fans not 5? Probably a lot.

The people reading music Web sites are not the same people who download My Humps and Rob Thomas. They are people who go to shows, generally like hearing new bands and good music. They are the people that talk about music constantly. They are the people who compare bands, and make obscure mix discs trying to get people into the bands they love. To make it easy, they are the guys in High Fidelity. Am I making fun of them? Yeah. They get annoying and try to relate everything in life to a song, or a show. It's annoying, but like Cusack says, "I'd feel bad if, well, I wasn't one of them."

Sure, when you download an album three months before it is released, obviously some of the allure of buying the CD, seeing the packaging, and reading the lyrics is lost. But let's put the shoe on the other foot. The other day, I asked Shane what CDs he had been listening to. I was pleasantly surprised to hear he was rocking out to We Are Scientists, CYHSY and Wolf Parade. Those are three bands that I would bet he wouldn't walk into HMV and take a risk on. If it wasn't for the digital media, I'm thinking all the bands that 'people in the know' hate to see getting famous, would still be toiling away hoping for an opening slot on a tour, hoping t-shirt and CD sales helped them recoup the cash they spent recording a DYI release. Instead, thanks to web sites and blogs, when We Are Scientists heads to Vancouver, I can send a buddy three or four mp3 from a web site, and maybe he wants to head to the show with me.

The argument that spending money or time equates to value is another touchy subject. Is music better experienced live, or through headphones? Even more accurately, because I didn't pay for something, does it make it any less valuable to me? I guess that depends on who you ask, but without question, without having to spend my duckets on a CD and finding more bands I'm into should equate to me going to see more shows. More shows equals the fact I will buy more merch. Selling a CD at a record store might get the band a few cents, but unloading shirts and converting fans with a great live show will result in people truly loving a band and bring in more money for the band itself.

It's important to mention the bands we are talking about aren’t U2 or INXS. We are talking about small bands from Brooklyn, North Dakota or Texas that are just starting to get noticed. Without MP3s, the cold hard truth is that no one would hear about them. CDs are too expensive and too many are released. You can't filter through every disc hoping to find something you like. There is a reason the songs on the radio sell. People need a medium to discover new music. Now, a band from Seattle can have fans in Nova Scotia, despite the fact they will never play there, and no radio station in Halifax will ever play any song they record.

Maybe this idea is optimistic. Maybe people download music, never support the artists they claim to love and could care less about ever seeing a concert or wearing a shirt. But is that any different than people borrowing a book from a friend or checking it out from the library? The state of music is no different than anything else in today's market. Some people are passionate about the things they love, others aren't. I know as many people who don't care about ever owning a CD as people who care if they have hundreds.

I don't think the digital media affects the CDs I buy. I think the biggest thing affecting how I shop for music is not the availability, but my age. I'm 30 years old. Dropping 25 bucks on a CD I may or may not enjoy doesn’t seem like a wise investment when it comes down to it. I still like going to shows, hearing the bands I love play live, but I also love trying to not live in an apartment my whole life. Sure, there are CDs I've grabbed online in the past few years that I would have purchased, but not many. I treat digital media as a chance to preview a disc before I make a decision.

People like us (Music bloggers), unlike most fans, also have the chance to preview countless bands for free. Promo discs make the rounds for a reason. Free press is the best press you can get. When you open packages of three or four discs every week or so, are you ever really hunting for music? Blogs are constantly being updated with reviews of a single song, or malaise reviews. My philosophy is this – why talk about a band you don't like? If you are just telling someone not to buy it, or saying it as ok, who are you helping? Not the bands. You are more or less putting a review online to make sure the labels keep sending you discs. Sites like Pitchfork that attack bands, and basically dictate what is deemed cool prevent more sales than anyone who bit torrents an album.

I like the music I like, whether it's a free album, or one I spent 25 bucks on. I won't listen to something hoping it grows on me, or something that everyone else says is fantastic. To me, that is taking the value out of music, not the fact I might have found a great band without paying for the music.


@ 1:16 PM, guero canadiense kicked the following game:

This is an argument that's getting close to a decade old... Back in the day we took over the server room and appropriated all the bandwidth of an ISDN line to pull down a gig in 24 hours. Don't laugh, people trying to email their theses suffered for our whim.
I'm getting off track here... my point is/was that for a good chunk of my life, indeed the majority of my music buying life I have been downloading music; but not necessarily to evade the sticker price. I've never been one to drop a whack of cash on an import copy of a disc from a band I've never heard before. Now, if I can listen to said band beforehand...

Yeah... all of this has been said before. It predates bit torrent, pitchfork and blogomania.
To be prefectly honest, having all of this content available to me via IM, BT, [insert technological data transfer method here] means I end up buying more music than I normally would, if for no other reason than I get the opportunity to preview it.

More value not less.

 

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