Anathema To The Natives

This is going to be a bit of a boring one, I’m afraid. Look, I’m not saying my blog posts are a laugh-a-minute riot of intrigue and passion, but this one is a bit niche: It’s all about the way we legally and legitimately acquire digital music in a world where physical music still exists. Scintillating, n’est pas?

One of these days I’m going to have to ask my mother when I started getting so rabidly obsessed by music. This sentence originally started with the statement “I have a lot of music in my collection; I always have had”. The problem is that I never just stopped and thought “Yes, those are enough; I now have enough music to listen to until the end of days”. In fact I just kept buying. Keep. I just keep buying: let’s not do my obsession a disservice and suggest that this is a past tense issue, please.

That said, the way I listen to music has massively changed over the years, and the volume of music I listen to has changed over the years. (Not the volume of the sound – that’s why my hearing is so very shot.) I listen to my music collection all day every day at work, and I listen to it whenever I am going about my domestic chores: to quote Ozzy Osborne, it gets me through. I am music mad.

For a while I had thought it was just that I have diverse musical tastes – and I do – but that was just a convenient lie. I realised that, during certain periods of my life, I was buying music for little more than status. I was a shopaholic for CDs. I have large numbers of albums where I have never ever – not even once – listened to the music contained within. And the same applies to DVDs. All waste.

I’m not sure it was ever the thrill of the purchase that I was seeking. I think it was more about the thrill of the object. It’s why I’m such a sucker for fancy digipaks, steelbooks and vinyl. Thankfully, I have been able to divest myself of the great majority of my DVD collection. My music collection is a far more complicated matter. The CDs still clutter up my mother’s spare room for one thing.

I started off by mentioning digital music. This may all have seemed like so much of a digression. I took all of my legitimately purchased discs of plastic and ripped them on to a computer. I then used these computer files as my music collection, and turned my back on the physical objects. They gather dust, while I listen to them in the most convenient and accessible music format ever created.

And herein lies the meat of the conversation I am having with myself: I don’t want any more stuff – physical lumps of plastic – cluttering up my life; I do want to listen to lots more music, finding more and more exciting things to exercise my brain; I am happy to pay directly for what I listen to.

I wish that the music retailers were aware of that situation. Actually, “Music Retailers” is not a good choice of words: it implies the branch of Our Price I used to pour all of my easily acquired cash in to. Even the people who still sell music – Amazon and Apple – aren’t at fault. Or so I suspect. The fault lies, I think today, with the manufacturers of compact discs: buying digital puts them out of business.

Oh, if ever I had a catchphrase. I think what we need now is an example. I was reading my favourite magazine, Metal Hammer (not a plug or an advert, just a fact), when I saw a review for a compilation album by Greek black metal maestros Rotting Christ. I had been thinking about them when I was on holiday recently, and thought it was a great time to try them out. The problem was that their shiny new album was not available digitally. It was only available as a shiny new digipak, beautifully made.

I was able to sample their music for free on YouTube, and find that I found their offerings to be to my prevailing taste at this point in time. I was able to log in to my Amazon Prime account and find a few current albums which were available to listen to endlessly as part of my subscription. If I then want to dig any deeper, I am only able to buy their music. That is something I accept very willingly.

If the path I want to go down is not to buy their entire collected works – either in one go or over the course of time – but to buy their new compilation, my only option is to buy physical. Each of the albums which feed in to that compilation are available digitally (Around £95, as a reference), but it is not (It is around £15).Am I the only person for whom this is an exceptional disappointment? Yes.

The situation I now find myself in is that I bought the CD – and boy is it beautiful – and I still listen to the four albums I have access to on Amazon Prime. That means I have two different sets of music by Rotting Christ, each on a different – non-compatible – music playing app. I did this as it was the most cost effective method of getting in to this band. I can only resolve it by buying all of their albums.

And this is not the first time it’s happened, either. Last year I got hooked on Mastodon’s fantastic, if seemingly under-appreciated, Once More ‘Round The Sun. I found it on Amazon Prime: I could listen to it for free as often as I liked. As long as it was on Amazon Prime; I had had a few albums recently which had ceased to be so, so I had lost them. I never wanted to lose this one, so I wanted to buy it. The CD, with the amazing AutoRip feature (buy the CD, get the digital version for free, immediately), was cheaper than the digital purchase, so I now have the CD, too. I still don’t quite understand that.

Digital music is great, but however much you think you are living in an era of digital music, we are still very much in the transitional phase. Last year, for the first time, digital sales counted for more than CD sales. The first time. To so many digital natives that is anathema: only digital music exists.

Shops want us to buy, but they can only sell what is made available. If the manufacturer is making the CD available to them at a cheaper price than the record label are licensing the digital file for, then CD it is. That’s assuming the label are interested in selling digital in the first place. Oh well.