Sunday, July 26, 2009

The confrontation between the stream and the rock

Is streaming the answer to the record industry's woes? The New York Times had a story about this yesterday. I don't know - I can only go by my own life, but the notion of "streaming" makes me antsy. I guess they're working on ways to make streaming more portable and flexible, but for me I picture being chained to my computer listening to music. I don't even have the patience to watch a music video on You Tube, let alone sit still for a whole record. Plus, my personal answer to the question is, "Who cares? It's hard for me to really feel bad about the "record industry" as a whole as I have no real sympathy for industries that treat their customers with complete contempt (see also health care and the airline industries).

But I'm also one of those people who still loves the physical product. Of course, this means that by and large I like vinyl records - particularly those that come with a download or a CD as that seems to be the best solution and gives me exactly what I want. I've always liked vinyl better but until recently it seemed impractical seeing as I had no way to play it. Now that I have a record player again, my fondness has grown and my obsession with record store hunting is more enthusiastic than ever.

A lot of my love for vinyl is nostalgia. Going through my dad's records as a kid was one of my favorite past times. I didn't even know how to work the record player, but I loved looking at the covers. I would stare at the sleeve of the Beach Boys Endless Summer or Elton John's Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy for hours. Then when I was old enough to use the record player, those with my favorite covers were the first I wanted to hear. This may explain why I never listened to Seals & Crofts Greatest Hits.

My sister and I also had a little Fischer Price record player and a small case full of hand-me-down 45's. We loved listening to virtually anything - from Rick James' "Superfreak" to Donovan's "Mellow Yellow." I remember going to garage sales with my mom and being allowed to get a few 45's froma big sleeveless stack. We chose solely on the visual appeal of the label, judging the musical contents only after the fact. I remember crying when through my carelessness I managed to crack our copy of Dexy's Midnight Runner's "Come On Eileen."

Of course, during my indie record store clerking days in the late-90's, I was all about CDs. Most people were. Unless of course, somebody in your family died and suddenly you were saddled with musty boxes of records. THEN you cared about vinyl as in, "Hello indie record store - here are my dead grandpa's records that I have no use for, can you please give me money for them? What do you mean you don't want this moldy, scratched copy of The All-Time Greatest Hits of Roy Orbison? It's a collectible! He's dead!" Honestly, we hated looking through people's old records. There was no market then for old Van Halen and Procol Harum records. But now apparently people are buying these things once again, so I guess you just never know what's gonna happen.

I am probably not a good judge of normative music consumption behavior, as most everybody I talk to about music is well beyond the typical "casual music consumer." I have no idea what somebody who's last two music purchases were three Michael Jackson songs from iTunes the day he died and Journey's Greatest Hits at Walmart after the last Soprano's episode thinks of the ever changing face of music consumerism. Or if they even do. But I'm hoping the eventual norm is a healthy mix of digital freedom with new and used vinyl collecting. How the actual "record industry" fares in this is the least of my concerns. They blew it a long time ago.

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