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Online Distribution Killed Music and Other Dying Pleasures

A 12-inch (30 cm) 3313 rpm record (left),
a 7-inch 45 rpm record (right), and a 5-inch
(120 mm) Compact Disc (above)
Source: Wikimedia Commons
I'm of the generation whose first experience of buying the latest music was to purchase 45 rpm 'singles' - having been born at the very beginning of the 1970's. Other formats were around of course, LP's, 12 inch singles and audio cassettes but 45s were the cheapest to buy for someone whose main source of income was parental pocket money.

All of these formats were popular up until the mid to late nineteen eighties where music distribution transitioned onto Compact Discs.

As clunky as it all was, buying your favorite singles and then eventually recording them onto a compilation audio tape was quite an enjoyable pass time.

Not only that but if you had a favorite musical artist you'd buy all their singles, not just for the featured song but also for the possible gem of a 'B-side' that didn't appear on their LP Album (which you also bought). The real fans even bought the extended 12 inch singles in which the artist usually took a great song and ruined it by dragging it out longer into some kind of dance mix.

Then there was the album art to be enjoyed. Especially the art of a 'concept album' which usually went above and beyond the regular photo of the band - unless you were a Pink Floyd fan, in which case nearly every album cover was a work of genius (or an Iron Maiden fan who didn't care for their music but thought their album cover art was something special).

CD's kind of kept the album alive along with not just cover art but cover book inserts. However the smaller size diminished the appeal some what.

All through the nineteen eighties and nineties collecting and listening to music was a pass time that was quite important to me. Particularly in the nineties where I really started to search out newer, less mainstream music.. usually music labeled 'alternative'. So much of it was by bands that have become mainstream as they progressed.

I have a collection of LPs, 45s and CDs that people used to enjoy looking through to see what I had. A collection that I could browse and select an album of music that suited my frame of mind when creating art in my studio or just looking to sit back and relax.

As the music industry transitioned its self kicking and screaming into the online distribution of singles, thanks to online music stores like iTunes (and my entire music collection can now fit on my smart phone), I've stopped buying music.

Not only that but I've almost stopped listening to it as well (save for the fact that you can't completely isolate yourself from music if you watch TV or go to the movies).

It's not a purposeful thing. I didn't just decide not to buy music or try to avoid listening to it. Part of the fun of collecting music for me was the album. Even though artists still release albums digitally online it's just not the same as going out and buying music from a record store. Then bringing the disc home and listening to every song because it's on the CD. Hearing the tracks that never get any radio play because those songs are for the true fans.

When you buy a single online, that's all you get. There is no 'B-side' featuring a completely new song or even an alternate version of the single you might not have heard otherwise.

I know you can buy albums online but I don't feel compelled to do so if all I'm getting is the songs. I want the cover art, the book insert, the experience of learning to appreciate songs that would never work as singles but work within the context of an album. An album that I can hold in my hand and say 'yes I bought this'.

That's the real problem with online distribution and downloading music. You're not actually paying for anything tangible. You're just buying a code. Your MP3 player already has the ability to play every digital song released. All you're doing is buying the codes that make it play those songs you want to hear.

Collecting movies is going the same way with movies on demand services. You can still buy movies on DVD and Blu-ray but for how much longer? Will these download on demand services kill the one reason apart from the film to buy a movie on DVD... the DVD extras? Are they going to disappear like the 'B-side'.

Computer Software purchases are just about all digital downloads now. I haven't bought software in an actual box from a computer store in nearly 10 years, if not more. That's not really a bad thing but I do miss not having a printed manual. I can't begin to tell you how much easier and quicker it is to learn software with a printed manual as opposed to one displayed onscreen as a PDF file.

I'm actually not bemoaning these changes - well perhaps with music I am just a little. Being able to buy things online as digital products is a great thing. Particularly in terms of cost. I'm sure I would've embraced paying 99 cents for a single in a heart beat considering we paid somewhere between $5 and $7 for a 45 single back when I was a kid.

I just miss being able to buy the tangible, hold in your hand item. Maybe I need to start collecting something much more tangible... like action figures perhaps!

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