Online Music

Why am I clinging to the compact disc?  A disc lacks the character and well-worn quality of vinyl.  Compact discs require energy for pressing, packaging, and transport to record stores.  Most labels refuse to pony up the extra money for cardboard packaging, proliferating the infuriating jewel box and its inevitable shards of broken plastic.  (And those f@$&ing stickers along the top!)

Despite all of this, I’m still buying my music on disc.  I’ve written before about how much I love selecting an album from the stacks, the anticipation as the disc slides into the player.  But I also have my rituals for buying music: listing potential albums in my notebook, the monthly pilgrimage to the music store, and the intermittent reading of liner notes at the stoplights on the drive home.

Since moving to a new house, I have kept my music boxed up in the basement.  I listen, instead, to the virtual versions on iTunes.  I also stream radio (KEXP and KPLU) through the computer.  Transmitted through the amplifier to speakers, the music sounds great and is, literally, at my fingertips.  While I have embraced this virtual play, I still struggle with buying music online.

I’ve never gotten the same satisfaction from iTunes.  Yes, it’s convenient and possibly cheaper if I just buy the songs I like.  But what about the undiscovered gems that aren’t played on the radio?  And I have nothing to show for online purchase—no liner notes or titled spine to jog my memory as I’m perusing the stacks.  The songs just appear in my list with just the click of a button and an online credit card transaction.  It’s just too easy.  But beyond that is the lack of texture and context.  I do actually consult liner notes for curiosity, research, and album dating.  I appreciate the placement of one album within a band’s catalog.  I’m not just listener but a curator.

Which brings me to Bandcamp, an online music retailer I discovered when searching for information about the band Yellow Ostrich.  What I like is that each band has its own site, featuring the most recent album with artwork, playable track list, and liner notes.  Check out the site for Yellow Ostrich.  You can listen to the entire album before purchase (which beats the ninety-second clips through temperamental headphones in the music store).  Plus, the other albums tile down the right side of the page, and you can click to a page for each.  A virtual card catalog/jukebox—it’s enough to make me change my ways.  To get started, check out the Yellow Ostrich track, “Whale,” my favorite.   In the words of the lead singer, “Never look back / never look back.”

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