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Re: Sad Vacation

Sad Vacation
January 30, 2008 11:39PM
Every so often genuinely good music stores within realistic driving distance don't carry a particular CD or CDs that I'm looking for. This was the case when I sought a release from the French-Canadian Rock band Le Volume Etait Au Maximum. After doing the necessary research, I discovered that surprisingly, several of their albums were available on iTunes as well as a couple of online stores that carried anywhere from one to several of their CDs.

So the question I pondered was whether to order their albums online and wait a few days to a week for them to arrive or just download them from iTunes and immediately, at a minimum at least, have the music.

To be honest, I don't really care for downloaded music because I, like many others who are a little more passionate about the music they listen to prefer to have the actual product (artwork, liner notes, etc.) than just some files on a computer. As a result, downloaded music makes up a very small percentage of my collection and those cases are generally attributed to either a lack of CD availability, outrageous price considerations or plain old excitement at having something that very second or at least quicker than in several days. I've justified and rationalized my occasional download purchases by actually trying to make some semblance of a real CD out of them from the artwork I can find online.

Anyway, in this particular instance I ultimately chose the instant pleasure-seeking option and downloaded the music off iTunes.

But with the continued decline of CD sales that are always being reported I in some ways feel kind of guilty each time I download an album as I feel I'm contributing to the very depressing demise of the CD (a format that I'm a big fan of).

So my question is, is one actually contributing to the end of music in a tangible format by downloading some titles that would not be available in even the best indie stores anyway and basically only available on some off-the-beaten-path online store? Or, is this effect only felt when "popular" music (Matchbox 20, Kanye West, etc.) that is readily available in any common store like Walmart, Best Buy or Borders is downloaded off the internet instead of purchased in CD form?

Re: Sad Vacation
January 31, 2008 01:29AM
The answer is yes, Shizzle. Congratulations on possessing a questioning nature and scruples. So many aspects of life that humanized us are disappearing down the technological sewer at a terrifying pace. Albums are just the tiniest tip of that iceberg. The medium is the message. Screw iTunes. Keep the music alive.

(I will leave the reasoned, economic arguments to the apologists.)

Post Edited (01-30-08 21:32)
Re: Sad Vacation
January 31, 2008 01:19PM
Buy CDs and LPs! Get the whole damn package.
Re: Sad Vacation
January 31, 2008 02:39PM
If it's really a good music store, I was thinking you should try to have them order the CD for you. In the past stores were generally willing to get me the music I wanted if they didn't have it. If you're going to make a stand against downloads, you might as well try to support your local retailer. Unless you own Amazon stock or something.

I wish I knew of a good music store near me, but the ones I've done business with are gone. Now I order online mostly, so I may be a hypocrite on this. I would rather have a place to go to buy music. I guess I should really take another look at my local retailers.

For me, downloading some things makes sense. A download is the new single. I have bought CDs based on downloading a song or two from them.

Re: Sad Vacation
January 31, 2008 09:56PM
You've articulated exactly how I feel, Shizzle.

Music should be seen and held as well as listened to. The classic record shop in my neighborhood, Plastic Fantastic, is no more. Tower Records closed too. And Sam Goody is good n dead.

I've never adapted to MP3s or Ipods. I've always bought CDs and still do. If I need to listen to music that's not in my collection, I'll watch YouTube, which I think is great. And when I see people with those white wires hanging down their necks, with teeny earphones emitting tinny noises, I think that they're missing the bigger picture.

Hell, your local movie theatre isn't what it used to be. I feel like I'm still watching television when I'm in the theatre because they run so many godamn commercials. And the screen isn't as big as I remember. It's so overpriced these days, I can go weeks without going to one and not miss it at all.

There should come a point when we all say, "Enough progress. It ain't gonna get any better than this." Give me an hour to shop in a record store with dozens of autographed posters on the wall, albums and CDs to flip through, and books. That's all I want. Not milliseconds to download faceless, intangible tunes.

If you know a tech head who's working on the next gadget to rob us of more meaningful communication, kick him/her in the ass.
Re: Sad Vacation
February 01, 2008 12:03AM
To clarify, I have no beef with iTunes or with downloading in general. If that's the preference other people have that's fine with me and it's really none of my business. I only know what my preference is right now and it's owning the complete product. In a perfect world both options would continue to co-exist but it's obvious that downloads are threatening the existence of the CD. That's the part that's sad.

I believe when "popular music" that is available basically anywhere (like releases from American Idol winners for example) are downloaded rather than purchased on CD it is contributing to the demise of the CD. This is the music that is the real driving revenue for music companies.

So the crux of my question essentially is, does the same hold true when one downloads something obscure like say the Rubber City Rebels off the internet when almost nobody carries their CDs anyway and like 98.8% of the world cares nothing about them either?

Re: Sad Vacation
February 01, 2008 12:29AM
I will dissent a bit.

I, too, prefer the physical LP or CD product (not so much 8-tracks or cassettes), and I tend to purchase in those formats when possible.

The impending demise of the CD, however, can be attributed to the shortsighted nature of the industry as much as anything else. CD retail prices never went down in any meaninful way, as promised back in 1983(?)...

When I can purchase a high-quality live recording of Television from Rhino Handmade for the same price as the latest import-only Stone Roses compilation (for the sake of argument, I haven't checked the numbers) it's indicative of a broken system.

Unfortunately, it's the independent retailers who pay the greatest price.
Re: Sad Vacation
February 03, 2008 07:10PM
The independent retailers will definitely pay the greatest price in the short run, and it's sad for me to think back to how many record stores were around 10 years ago and compare that to now - in just the last few months, two of my favorite shops in the STL area have closed their doors (the Granite City, IL, branch of the STL indie juggernaut Vintage Vinyl, and Music Biz in Alton, IL - bye guys, and thanks for having been around for as long as you were). But in the long run, it may be the independent retailers that are the last ones standing. Because although I believe that the music industry as it has existed is indeed on its deathbed, I don't believe that the CD itself is, and I for one am not going to grieve overmuch the death of the major label system. The death of a system in which the people creating the actual product are the last ones to profit from it really cannot come too soon as far as I'm concerned.

I look at one of my other pop culture obsessions to see how things might shake out - the comic book. Decades ago, the damn things were ubiquitous - drugstores, newsstands, grocery stores, dime stores, airports - every place has a comic book rack. Millions upon millions were sold every month. (For example, the original run of THE X-MEN was cancelled because its sales had dropped below 200,000 copies a month, which was considered a dismal number back in those days). By the early 70s, things were starting to change. The golden age of comics was one of the many things dealt a death blow by the coming of television, and though they continued to hold their own through the 60s, by the 70s those comic book racks started disappearing from the grocery stores and drug stores and everywhere else they used to be - they no longer turned enough of a profit to justify maintaining their presence.

However, there was still enough of a demand for them that they continued to be produced. But distribution switched from everywhere imaginable to specialized stores that dealt only in comic books. Most of these were independently owned, and, give or take a few boom times and bust times, this has been the business model that the comic book industry has stabilized and survived around since the late 70s and early 80s. Currently there are probably more different comic publishers and titles than at any time in the history of the medium, and comics have even begun creeping back into some of the old places again - you can buy SUPERMAN or SPIDERMAN in grocery stores again, but you aren't going to find ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY there.

So I can very easily see the same thing happening to the music industry. As most of the people here have posted, people DO still like to buy the physical object. Industry surveys have found that while yes, people are increasing the number of things they download, they still also will buy the physical discs of the albums - albums are still going platinum, although nearly everyone has the ability to download now. If everyone wanted to only download everything, this would not still be happening - but obviously, there are still some discs that people feel there is a value in owning the physical disc. EVERY person I know who downloaded IN RAINBOWS also went out and bought a physical copy when it was later released (granted, this is in no way a representative sampling, but still it does seem to mean something.)

In their interview on Fresh Air the other day, Mick Jones & Tony James both commented on this - their original plan was to only release Carbon/Silicon material online, but they found that people WANTED to buy it on disc, so they complied.

So is the music industry as currently configured going to survive? Who gives a damn, other than label employees? Ingrid Michaelson is not signed to a label, as far as I know, but she's been discovered by Old Navy and GREY'S ANATOMY, and her disc is available at Wal-Mart and Borders. The internet gives every artist the ability to be their own marketing department and it seems to be working out for some of them better than it ever would have if they'd signed to a label and had to take a back seat to the latest Beyonce disc.

CD sales may be dropping, but I imagine at some point they will stabilize - I think there is a core of people who will always want to own the physical object. Will that point be below the point where it's profitable for Best Buy or WalMart to maintain a CD section? I couldn't give less of a fuck. Just as the disappearance of comic book racks from the local pharmacy created the entire comic book store industry, I think the disappearance of music sections from big box department stores will recreate the need for locally owned music stores.

It will possibly happen in the same way, even. As comics became less and less profitable for the old retail locations, those locations began to stock only the titles they knew would sell. Thus, SUPERMAN and BATMAN remained for sale everywhere, but innovative comics in that era such as MOON KNIGHT or CEREBUS THE AARDVARK or HOWARD THE DUCK soon could only be found in the comic shops, driving traffic to those stores. Soon, those were just about the only places comics could be found at all, but by that time it was catering only to its core audience. So in some ways it was only a shadow of what it once was, but it was and remains a relatively healthy shadow.

The same thing could (I think will) happen with music. As the number of CD titles available at TARGET dwindles down to Cristina Aguilera, Fall Out Boy and Beyonce, people looking for the Flaming Lips will have to go to the smaller, locally owned stores. It'll be a reversal of what's been killing the indie stores over the last decade - the big boxes could buy in bulk and undercut the prices the indie stores could sell discs for, and this strangled a large number of the indie stores out of business. However, as falling demand for CDs cuts down on the number of CDs the labels actually produce, the price advantages for buying in bulk will disappear (hard to buy in bulk when there is no bulk anymore) and prices will begin to even out for the indie retailers vs. the big boxes again.

So I think that the indie stores that can hold on through the transition going on right now will come out at the end stronger. The number of places CDs (or SOME physical representation of music, at least) will be available in the future will be greatly reduced, but the locations that survive will be in a good place, where they will be catering to the core musical audience.

That's my take on how things could shake out in the years ahead. I'll admit that downloading of music is an additional factor that comic books did not have to contend with in its transitional period, but then again, it had to fight with the rise of video games, which in some ways were its electronic nemesis. But the comic book industry survived, and in some ways is more powerful than ever - just look at the increased media coverage the San Diego Comic Con gets every year now. This used to be perceived as a gathering of nerds and losers. Now the movie industry shows up every year on bended knee, asking the assorted nerds and losers in attendance for advice on how to proceed.

I believe that future state of the recorded music industry will look somewhat similar. So while it's sucked the last few years and the predictions are increasingly dire, I am honestly optimistic about the future. I think CDs will always be there for people who want them.

Did any of that make any sense, or was all this the painkillers I'm on for the damn shingles talking?
Re: Sad Vacation
February 04, 2008 02:02PM
Breno, really interesting argument you have here...and I think (hope) you're right. I live in NYC and over the past 5-10 years have watched both chain and indie shops close by the dozens (in addition to the major industry-wide drop in CD sales, these stores also have had to contend with the astronomic rise in retail rents, particularly in Manhattan, but in most of the hip neighborhoods in the boroughs, too). The whole thing has been very depressing for this here music junkie.

Back in the mid-90s, there was a Tower, HMV, and Nobody Beats the Wiz (local electronics/music chain, spoofed in a Seinfeld episode) all within a few blocks of my apartment--plus all the indie record shops of the East and West Village were only a few stops away via the express subway train. All of these stores are long gone (a crappy Best Buy took over HMV's spot, and their CD section, not great to begin with, is shrinking by the minute, while the space devoted to flat screen TVs explodes).

I work near Midtown, so I sometimes walk over the Virgin Megastore in Times Square at lunchtime, which continues to have a somewhat decent selection of alternative music (though not too much back catalogue for non-mainstream artists). On the plus side, they carry a fair amount of vinyl (their Union Square store boasts an ever bigger LP selection). In some ways, it would seem that the resurgence of the LP is most similiar to your comic book argument (remember when even a five and dime like Woolworth's stocked records?). The only other music shop near my job is indie Future Legend, which had been thriving as of a year or two ago, but now seems to be carrying fewer new releases and selling more used CDs.

So I do a fair amount of ordering CDs on-line from independent retailers like Insound and track down the rest through eBay, Gemm, etc. I only buy on iTunes if it is something that has been out-of-print (like the soundtrack to Permanent Record) or a remix, etc. The on-line music buying experience is, obviously, not nearly as much fun as browsing in a record store and you completely miss out on running across something randomly or by good fortune. And forget about coming in contact with another human being who might know and have something interesting to say about the music...I could ramble on, but you all know how good it was, miss it, and want it sort itself out soon. I just want to be able to find and buy some good music from bands I like, is that too much to ask for?
Re: Sad Vacation
February 04, 2008 11:45PM
While I wholeheartedly agree and don't lament the end of a system where those who create the product are the last ones to profit by it, I would still prefer that large retailers like Best Buy and Borders continue to devote the amount of space they currently do to CDs. I'm actually fortunate enough to be within a half hour or so of two great indie/alternative stores that offer a wide selection of both new and used CDs from many artists like those who reside in the TP register. It seems like these stores are doing well enough to stay in business but who really knows anymore?

Still, not in every instance have these independent stores carried something that Borders actually did (in my experience Borders has occasionally surprised me with what they have in stock). I even remember a rare time or two that Best Buy actually had something nobody else did (albeit not exactly something from the Radiators From Space or anything like that). Now to be clear, it wouldn't matter to me one iota if the music sections of the Best Buys and Borders of the world were replaced by small independent stores rising up again in the wake of large retailers who no longer have any interest in carrying CDs. But until that time comes, these stores do serve their purpose on some level.

I think the future of the CD will ultimately be tied to the way in which the most popular titles are purchased as that's the economic model that will drive the industry one way or another. It's all about the average person's music buying habits. I don't believe for one minute that it was the average music buying consumer that went out of his way to download Radiohead's new album and also felt so compelled to have a copy in CD form that they went out and purchased one on top of that. This is not a criticism of the average music consumer (everyone has their own passions and/or hobbies) it's just that the average music buying consumer probably sees music as something disposable and in turn really doesn't care about having the "official album" or what a CD provides that a download doesn't like artwork, liner notes, who produced the album, where it was recorded or who wrote the songs. That's really minutiae to them. Just give them the songs so they can put them on their iPod and if they can get them for free, that's even better until the next Maroon 5 or Rascal Flatts album comes out.

One statement made was whether a point will arrive where it's no longer profitable for stores like Best Buy or WalMart to maintain a CD section. Well, I think the more germane question is whether a point will arrive where it's no longer profitable for any store (large or idependent) to carry any CDs outside of the most popular titles. I too believe that CDs will basically always be there for those who want them but to what extent and to what lengths will a consumer have to go to get them? Will they only be available online somewhere in the future? From my perspective, it's all about increasing (or at least maintaining) the number of avenues a consumer has to purchase CDs whether it be from a large retailer or an independent merchant. Having the ability to choose from either of these sources is a positive in my opinion.

Finally, as much as it is important for a consumer to be able to obtain a copy of a particular CD at all, I think it's almost as equally important for a consumer to have the ability to walk into a store and more times than not, be able to walk out with the product right then and there. Instant gratification in this respect may curb the need for some to download. Conversely, the less options out there to buy a CD may create more situations where one would rather just download rather than having to go through the hassle of ordering online or otherwise.

Is the CD in danger of extinction? I don't know but some of the experts seem to think so. Perhaps there are more sophisticated music fans than I think out there that will keep CDs alive. I have next to no knowledge about comics but I sincerely hope the analogy to the comic book industry is accurate, spot-on and prophetic and that music in a tangible form survives on a large scale.

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