Monday, October 31, 2011

Is Physical Music Still Relevant?

by Mark Gillis

I’ve been thinking about the subject of physical music and whether or not it is necessary for a while now. It’s something that I’ve always been fascinated with for some reason. I guess I just find it cool how some bands are coming up with some very innovative ways to distribute their music (look no further than The Flaming Lips and their gummy skulls). The question is, are all of these innovative ways to release music necessary in a world that revolves around digital files and streaming services?

A good place to start answering this question is with the sale of HMV’s Canadian music stores to a UK restructuring firm for a measly $3.2 million back in June. Given that there are 121 HMV locations in Canada, the sale works out to around $26,500 per store. I’ve heard recently that in the coming years the plan is for HMV Canada to no longer sell physical copies of albums, only digital. Even though I can’t say I really care that much about HMV, (I haven’t bought an album there in years) it’s a good indication that the general public just doesn’t buy music.

On the other hand in 2010 sales of vinyl LP’s were at their highest since 1991, and I can only assume that that figure will go up for 2011. So even though the death of record stores looks imminent, there still appears to be a niche market for people who want to own physical copies of their favourite albums.

My personal belief is that supporting artists is important, and I mean monetarily. Whether it’s by going to shows, buying a shirt or buying their music, every little bit helps. I’ve heard numerous times in interviews by artists that if you’re only making music for money then you shouldn’t be making music. However, making money while making music certainly can’t hurt anything. Artists need money to do things like... you know... eat, and most importantly keep pumping out awesome music for you to listen to. Of course, given that most music is available on the internet for free doesn’t help bands make money through selling music.

That being said, the internet has done awesome things for music. Everything is so accessible, and also free in most places. It gives bands a chance to expose themselves to a massive audience. I think that it’s great that I can go online, download massive amounts of music and only have to worry about whether or not I’m going over my bandwidth limit for the month. At the end of the day though, I still find myself wanting to go out and buy any albums that I find myself falling in love with. I tend to fall in love with quite a few, I think I’ve bought around 30 albums this year and I hope to buy a few more by the end of the year. I know that a lot of people aren’t like this though. I find it interesting to ask people what the last album they bought is. Most people have trouble answering because it was so long ago, so again, not a huge surprise that physical copies of music are dying.

Of course, the main reason for the death of physical copies of music are of course digital files, and more recently streaming services like grooveshark, spotify and rdio. The appeal of digital music is obvious, less clutter and everything is only a click away. I can store thousands of songs on my iPod as opposed to only being able to fit 45 minutes of music on a 12 inch vinyl LP. The one thing that’s missing for me with digital files is the listening experience that I get when I actually have to get up and take a record out to throw it on my turntable. Since the music on my computer and iPod is so accessible, I find myself taking it for granted sometimes, and what I’m listening to is reduced to merely background music. When I listen to an LP it’s a more involved process. I need to find the time to listen to the whole thing and actually get up in the middle of it to switch sides. It makes me concentrate a lot more on the music I’m listening to as opposed to whatever else I’m doing at the time. I also love the cover art and whatever other cool freebies come with the albums that I buy, those are things can’t be replaced by my iPod.

I know that I’m in the minority when it comes to buying physical music but I really do believe that there is still a market for it. I also believe that this market isn’t one that will save HMV and other stores like it, it’s a market that will hopefully help keep the independent record store afloat. One of my favourite things to do when I’m bored is take a trip down the the record store and rifle through old bins of records until I find the one gem that I’ve been subconsciously looking for. Independent record stores have so much character. Most of them are small, dirty and grimy. They keep all of their records in old milk crates and my favourite one (Orange Monkey Music) doesn’t even have a debit or credit machine, they only take cash. I love how easy it is to just stroll in and talk to people there about any kind of music and they’ll be up for having a conversation with you. Without places like that where I could go to just hang out and discuss music, I don’t think that I’d feel as involved in my local music community as I do now.

So in summary, I do think that the need for physical music still exists, even though it may not be around for much longer. I’m sure that eventually music will be totally free, basically all of it is already. I’m sure artists will make money on the music experience side of things, like concerts. But for the time being, I love owning my vinyl and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

So what do you think, do You still buy music? Do you think there is still a market for physical music? Leave some comments and let me know what you think!

1 comment:

  1. I think that physical music will (is already) turning into a bit of a boutique item. Only die-hards and loyalists will purchase it.

    Awesome post man.