Questioning desires and assumptions about music

arts and entertainment, marketing and advertising, technology

Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve posted, and no, I won’t apologize. I’ve been busy… not (just) picking my nose, but picking things to write about.

Additionally, dear reader, I’ve been spending much of the last few weeks delving even deeper into online music services, evaluating my own music habits and interests, and planning a rather major undertaking of a site about online music services. Yes, you heard it here first ;-).

Much of this has come about during the seemingly mundane process of ripping my 350+ CDs to digital files on my computer. Allow me to explain…

My vast CD collection, probably like many of yours, has been sitting in the corner of my room, collecting dust and — were it to speak — would probably moan, “Adam, why hast thou forsaken me?” Indeed, until recently, I don’t think I had listened to one of my CDs in literally years, what with the proliferation of song availability via legal and :cough: questionable online music services.

Upon ripping my CDs, I realized that I had well over 5,000 tracks, just waiting to be heard… some for the first time ever. I boggled my mind with the geeky calculation that, yes, I could listen to an album’s-worth every day, and it’d still take me more than a year to go through my existing collection.

“What am I doing paying for two different online services,” I asked myself, “when I haven’t even listened to a fraction of the music I already own?” The fact that I now had every single one of my songs, originally on CD, now available for instant-listening on my PC intensified this soul-searching and budget-questioning.

“Psst!” whispered the ConsumptionDevil, perched playfully on my left shoulder, “It’s just $14 or so a month for the two services, ya cheapskate. Isn’t that a small price to pay for SUCH a FABULOUS collection of music at your fingertips? Do you really want to be stuck with those musty old relics from the 80’s? And besides, you pay more for one lousy night out at the movies!”

“But it’s not just about the money,” I argued, probably prompting my roommate to wonder why I was mumbling to myself yet again, “It’s a matter of time. Why should I spend my limited free time browsing Napster and MusicMatch, searching for tunes, making my own custom radio stations, and so on… when I can just click a few buttons and be listening to fine music I already have?”

Ah ha! I thought. Now I have him, that seemingly sly devil of consumerist greed. Always wanting more, always wanting the latest. Well, I showed him! I’m taking my life back and…

“Not so fast, smarty!” he retorted, dismissing my arguments with a cynical glance, “If you have hopes of holding yourself out as an expert in the Digital Music arena, don’t you need to actually experience and test what you write about? Your credibility and future employment is at stake. And besides, from a pure enjoyment standpoint, aren’t you always just itching to hear what everyone’s talking about? That new record, that promising artist, the new musical you’ve read critical raves about… your old CDs tie you to the past, whereas the new music services allow you to explore the present and the future. Don’t be a luddite, Adam, for goodness sake!”

{sigh} He had me. But I’m an exceptional case (or, as my parents would say, patting my head, “special”). What about the rest of the world?

To the normal music enthusiast, the Napsters and iTunes and all may prove initially tempting, especially as the KaZaAs of the world become increasingly risky and inconvenient. But will there come a point where these folks, too, stop and ask themselves… what *AM* I doing with 10,000 music files on my hard drive? Sure, my shiny new iPod can now hold all 10K of ’em, but so what?

People will eventually question, I think, not whether they need to regularly acquire and own track after track, but whether the attendant hassles are really worth it. Storing, organizing, and — this is the scary part — backing up or moving to a new computer — gigs upon gigs of music… is this really any fun? With CDs, you simply boxed ’em up and took them with you. Barring scratches or theft, there wasn’t much of a worry. Your CDs would work everywhere, never expire, and always be correctly labeled.

In contrast, your iTunes files won’t work on most Windows programs and they won’t work on any portable player except an iPod. Your Napster files will work on most (but not all) Windows programs, but won’t be playable on a Mac or on an iPod. And unless you authorize additional computers (and, if needed, de-authorize previously-used computers), you won’t be able to play ANY of your online-music-service acquired files on your friend’s laptop or your new computer at work.

When I ask my friends about music, they almost unanimously scoff at server-based solutions (such as streaming), and insist that they want “a personal copy” of any music they like. I wonder if they will always think this way. For me, at least, the thought of having someone else (whether it’s Napster, Microsoft, Apple, or another party) store ALL my music and allow me to listen to it anywhere remotely (with my choice of software, however) is increasingly tempting, especially as broadband connections become more commonplace.

Will consumers eventually opt for convenience over ownership? Or is ownership, in fact, synonymous with overall convenience? And more philosophically, will people soon realize that what they wish for may be more than they want to handle? When “I want every song by the Beatles and ABBA and Linkin Park and… and… and…!” dovetails with free or cheap availability of music, particularly in high-bitrate-encoding, translating into a few hundred gigabytes of personal storage requirements… will people still be so keen on ‘having it all’? Or will the clutter finally catch up to them?

I honestly can’t say.

Then again, knowing the increasingly insatiable consumer demands to own more, newer, better… those musty CDs may indeed prove to be no match for innovation and the celestial downloadable jukebox.

What are your thoughts? And in particular, if money were no object, how would you have your music?

3 comments… add one
  • Richard Jan 22, 2004

    I’ve ranted about iTunes and the likes before.  I see absolutely no point in paying to download music which I can only play through the itunes software.  Why not instead:-

    1) rip all your cd’s to mp3.
    2) get anything else you want through one of the many free sharing networks.  Kazaa lite, e-donkey, winmx, alltheweb’s mp3 search.  It may be a little slower finding things, but you get to hear cool random remixes, and there’s very little you won’t find.

    If money were no object?  I’d probably buy a few more very random cd’s.

  • Mark Feb 26, 2008

    You may go for free online software like Limewire which provide online music downloads.
    you can go for now a days Mp4 also, but let me tell you quality may go down.
    It’s better to purchase original audio cd’s.

  • Online Shopping May 26, 2008

    I still think if you are a great lover of music, you should go with original packs of music, as qualities in online music and those pirated cd’s are not as much as good. Well to listen music in .wav giving more clear sounds rather than mp3 or mp4. i would like to prefer to buy an original cd’s for my favorite music.

What do you think?