The download button. A symbol of the 21st century. Throw out your CD’s, throw out your old vinyls, the internet age is here to stay. But as the music industry shifts almost exclusively to “the cloud,” let’s take a moment to reflect on what we’re doing.
Popularized by iTunes, the online download has become easily the most widely-accepted form of music distribution. Being able to make one click and have a song stored on your computer instantly is much preferable to ordering a cumbersome vinyl which can take weeks to reach your home. In a society where convenience is the name of the game, there’s no longer a place for CDs, tapes and vinyl recordings. Or is there?
There’s something special about being able to hold something tangible in your hand. My first CD collection in middle school consisted of only a few Metallica albums, Cake’s “Fashion Nugget,” and Bob Marley’s “Legend.” But through two computer crashes and a broken iPod, these soon-to-be antiques have been a staple to my music library. But more than that, they have personality. From the scratches on the case to the worn pages of the tracklist, I’ve imbued my character in these CD’s as much as they’ve imbued their character in me.
The download is a deeply impersonal medium of music. All it takes is one click to listen to a song. But with a new CD or vinyl, there’s a much longer connection with the music before being able to appreciate it. There’s the unwrapping and opening of the case, the booklet the artists have put together and the CD shining up at you. Unless it’s a vinyl. In which case the smell would probably hit you first.
But that’s only the first part of the equation. A good vinyl collection is always a sight to see, and the interaction and organization of a collection can be an experience in itself. And after that, physical mediums can be recycled, put back into circulation through music stores like Rasputin and Amoeba Music in San Francisco. They are given a second life. Generation after generation can dive into the music and feel the weight of the culture in their hands.
There’s no doubt that physical mediums are a dying breed. They simply can’t compete with the ease of downloading music online. But while some people appreciate music solely for its sound, vinyls and CDs offer a complete package that can be much more personal and satisfying than an online playlist.
So when you find that box of old records in your garage, take a careful look at it before you decide what’s garbage and what’s a musical treasure.