Saturday, December 20, 2014

Put the record on

This morning, I saw that Roger Green had posted “The Compact Disc and me”, about his slow adoption of CDs and some of the issues around that. I identified with much of what he said, though, my tale heads off in an odd direction.

Like Roger, my first CD was given to me, though I’ve forgotten if that was the only one before I bought my first one, or whether there were others. In any case, it was quite awhile later that I bought a CD player.

Also like Roger, I had quite a few vinyl LPs, though, unlike Roger, only maybe a couple hundred, including several 12-inch singles (what they once called “disco singles”), records with extended mixes of songs played in dance clubs.

I also had a stereo cassette deck, but bought only a couple recorded tapes, and only because the alternative was a CD, which I couldn’t play. Instead, I used it to make mixtapes of songs I liked, to match moods, etc.

Some time in the early 1990s, I finally got a CD player, but I only bought a couple dozen CDs before I moved to New Zealand, and I brought them all with me (unlike my LPs, most of which I left behind; all my 12-inch singles came with me, though).

Fast forward to 2001, and the first iPod was introduced. However, in New Zealand at that time, there was no legal way to put music on them. The iTunes Store didn't open until 2003—not that it mattered, because it didn't expand to New Zealand until 2005.

The lack of a way to buy digital music mattered because at that time "format shifting" (like, converting a music CD to MP3 format) was illegal under NZ copyright law. So, only musicians who wrote and recorded their own music had a legal way to put music on an iPod until 2005, and even then, people couldn’t legally digitise music they owned on CD.

Obviously, everyone ignored (or, more likely, didn't even know about) the law and converted their CDs. In fact, I’d been converting my CDs for years by that point so I could listen to them on my computer or to make CD versions of my old mixtapes. Some people also used illegal download sites like Napster, too, but that was mainly because there was no legal alternative.

New Zealand copyright law was changed in 2008 to allow format shifting of music CDs, but people are required to keep the actual CD and, theoretically, have them available for inspection by representatives of the copyright holder (not that it was likely to ever happen). The idea was to prevent people from buying (or borrowing…) CDs, ripping them to MP3 then selling (or returning…) the CD. Fair enough, but it means people have to store the CDs forever—theoretically, anyway, and we all know that people will ignore that and get rid of their CDs (for the record, yes, we still have all the CDs we’ve ripped to MP3).

Nowadays, I buy all my music as digital downloads, mostly through iTunes Store, which certainly isn’t perfect. For example, often music released in other countries isn’t available here, or is released much later. This mostly affects back catalogue items or things from less popular artists; content from big artists is usually released globally at the same time.

The other thing that’s wrong with iTunes NZ Store is that we pay more per song and album than US customers do. Mind you, we’re used to that, since we usually pay more for Apple-branded products, too.

The reality is, there’s not much alternative any more. All our CD chain stores are gone, and CDs are now mainly available from a few larger retailers. One of them, Australian chain JB HiFi, also sells vinyl LP records, which kind of brings it all full circle.

One of the main advantages of LPs over CDs, and CDs over digital downloads, is something that Roger touched on in his post: The liner notes. I’d add cover artwork to that, because, in my opinion, artwork has suffered in the digital age. Visuals just aren’t as necessary to snag sales, so while some of it is still quite good, much of it now is pretty bland and unimaginative. I could also count on one hand, I think, all the digital albums I’ve bought that came with what they call a “Digital Booklet”—basically, liner notes. None of that is really a complaint, more a sort of sad realisation; I just think that good artwork and liner notes add to the experience.

What’s the next form music will take? Personally, I think it’ll be some form of streaming, but that’s a topic for another day. Right now, I’m going to go put some MP3s on—that just doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?


rogerogreen said...

I do have some random 12" records. Much of it either wasn't on CD last I checked, or, more likely, I don't need badly enough to convert.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

I found some of the 12-inch singles (or, the extended versions on them) on iTunes, but some aren't there. I digitised a couple, but plan on re-doing them at a better bitrate. Well, eventually I'll do that…