Music: Is the Physical Format Dying?

(Now *that* is clever in the pic above...CDs that look like vinyl!)

Yes, yes, I know that the question I'm posing in the title of this blog posting is hardly original...

As I'm sure many of you did, I grew up listening to my music on a variety of formats. First there were records, which belonged to my dad, from the 1960s and 1970s. When I would get home from school, I'd go into his office, pull out all of the records I wanted to listen to, and spend hours in there listening on his stereo until he got home and I had to leave the room. I cut my musical teeth, so to speak, on that great music that I still love listening to today: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, etc. I spent hours studying the album artwork, the lyrics, the packaging, in addition to learning all of the words (and later on when I began teaching myself guitar, the music) to all the songs. Then there were cassette tapes...I bought loads of albums on tape, copied others from my friends, and used to request songs off of the radio, tape them, and make my own mix tapes. Then, in the late 1980s/early 1990s, CDs came out, and they were were amazing at the time. You could skip songs quickly, like on vinyl, but at the press of a button, and the sound was so much better than scratchy vinyl. From when I got my first CD player at age 13 (in 1993) until, let's say, 2009 or so, I amassed a *HUGE* collection of music on CD...while I've whittled away a lot of bad albums I no longer listen to, or redundant releases (like Greatest Hit albums), at my peak I probably had something close to 1500 CDs. I have a strange compulsion that, when I like a band, I must own *ALL* of their albums, no matter what. Coupled with the fact that I'm addicted to music, you can see why I grew to have so many discs.

But, something has changed within the last few years. With the rise of iTunes and iPods, digital music downloads, and the internet, buying, storing, and listening to music has become easier and more convenient than ever before. For instance, when I was in high school and then college, I had a 50 CD changer with 4 large speakers for blasting my tunes. Honestly, I haven't used that stereo in probably 7 years now. I can get *BETTER* sound by plugging my iPod into smaller, more powerful speakers, or even through the mini-speaker set I have hooked through my computer. I now carry around 15,000+ songs on my iPod, over 110 GB of music, so my *ENTIRE* collection of music is literally in my pocket, while my CDs sit in boxes in the basement (much to the relief of my wife and kids, who don't have to look at them lined up on shelves in the house anymore!). Right now, they're only there as a physical back-up.

I resisted downloading music from iTunes for a long time...I like physical copies of my music, both to have as backup, and to have the album art. But something has changed in my mind over the last couple of years. With a growing family (my wife and I now have four children between the ages of 6 years old and 1 month old), space and time are at a premium. It's not as easy as it used to be for me to trek to my local record store and browse for a couple of hours before buying some discs (although I still do this when I can). And what little space we do h in our home is taken up by kids books, toys, movies, clothes, etc, not to mention whatever things my wife and I have (and I have to plead guilty addition to all of my stuff, I have two guitars, a bass, an amp, loads of pedals and other music gear...I'm just as guilty of being a space hog). So the longer my CDs have been in boxes, the less I yearn to have them within easy reach. And digital music can be stored on a hard drive that's not much bigger than a CD case itself!

I'm at the point now, old codger that I am, where there's not nearly as much new music I listen to (and thus, buy) as there used to be...I think most of it is garbage, and the bands I do follow religiously have been around for years so it's usually a bit of a wait in between releases. So now, if there's only a song or two I like, I'll download them from iTunes. And over the years, I've mentally cataloged the many bands I listen to into "tiers," the top tier being my absolute, all-time favorite bands that I will never stop listening to. *THOSE* are now the only bands I will buy new CDs of, for a couple of reasons, namely the money and the physical space they take up. Plus, I care enough about those bands that I *need* to have the physical release for its art. Everyone else, I'll just purchase it on iTunes.

I've finally given in to the digital much as I resisted, it *is* more convenient, quicker, and space-saving, not to mention cheaper (in most instances). I know many fellow audiophiles will point out that purchased music online is in mp3 format, whereas CDs can be ripped to lossless formats like FLAC before going onto an iPod. But honestly, with those bands who I download, I don't care enough to have it in lossless...the convenience outweighs that. My transition from purist to embracer of the digital age is almost total, although like I said, I do keep a spot for physical releases for the Top Tier of my music library!

So what do you think? How do you purchase/store your music these days?


  1. Now I still buy CDs because I think the experience is quite different, but maybe I'll change my mind in the future. Legal downloading is acceptable for me, but I also have a strange compulsion. It is that I won't download a song if I don't like most of the songs on the album. Instead I'll just listen to it online. I don't like listening to a pool of songs that are unrelated to each other all the time.

  2. I also like to buy CDs...I love the artwork, the packaging, etc. But due to space and $ limitations, I only do it now for my "essential" bands.

    I love iTunes for downloading the song or few songs I like from certain artists where it's worth it to buy the whole album...very useful (and cheap!)

  3. I basically choose by virtue of how appealing the record as an object is these days.

    If it has beautiful packaging, and the vinyl includes a free download and/or is a heavyweight pressing, I'll always buy LPs as a first resort (unless it's a compilation, in which case I'll buy it on CD).

    If it's nice packagaing but no free download or heavyweight vinyl, I'll buy on CD.

    If the packaging is horrid, I'll steal online or, occasionally, buy from iTunes.

  4. Jonathan, interesting criteria...I can definitely see your logic in doing that. One thing that's certainly nice these days is that we all have *options* for how to purchase and consume our music.


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