Thursday, November 03, 2005

Clinging to the Wreckage

Last night I had a dream in which I was in the upper floor of an empty record shop; empty that is of records, just row after row of dusty racks and that look one gets after the removal men have gone but one or two items are left scattered haphazardly around.

Now my dreams often involve wandering around empty or abandoned buildings so it would be wrong to read too much into this but it does dovetail nicely with the ongoing speculation about the death of the record. As posited a few times on this blog recently CD’s and LP’ s in the digital age make little or no sense. All the mastering and pressing and cling filming and logistics (planes and boats and trains) required to get the artefact to the shop, so you can go down there take it off the shelf and then have it put in a little plastic bag by some record hop bozo to then carry it home on the bus (no doubt studying the sleeve on the way) and then finally get it into a CD player to hear it when, with a click or two you can download it makes no sense – or does it?

Yesterday there was a report that despite predicted sales of 37 million iPods by the end of 2005 download sales from the iTunes store seem to have plateaued and still represent a small percentage of overall music sales. We it seems are still in love with the artefact. It could of course be something to do with pricing; even in the Uk it can actually be cheaper to sometimes buy the CD than to download it. You can then mp3 it and hey you are quids in. But it’s probably not pricing, it’s more to do with habits, and our tendency to put value on things.

For example if I put out a CD it will probably be a run of 500. The first 200 will sell pretty quickly and the next 300 may take a couple of years to go but eventually they will sell. Somewhat bizarrely if I were to make the same material available as a free download perhaps 20 or so people might download it. It certainly won’t get reviewed and will have all the impact of a squashed lemon. Downloads it seems just don’t seem that special “thing” appeal. You don’t feel like you own a download in the same way that you think of owning a record, which is of course why people are happy to download tracks illegally and not to pinch CD’s from HMV.

So for the artist at the moment it makes perfect sense to carry on with architecture of physical distribution. But for how long will we cling to the wreckage of these outdated forms? Arguably one way to make the download more tangible, more special is to increase the visual content; to attach the cover art. But cover to what exactly when there is no object? What is that little square all about is it to stop us feeling adrift, why do we feel so lost without the pictures?

But the ineffectual nature of a tiny rectangle as visual accompaniment only serves to highlight the lopsided nature of music without pictures. We will probably continue clinging to the wreckage just as long as the message suits the old format.


Steven Ball said...

which is of course why people are happy to download tracks illegally and not to pinch CD’s from HMV
Are you sure it hasn't got more to do with the burly security guys and the electronic tags? :)

Philip Sanderson said...

Yes sure the security helps puts peope off but even if it were laxer I think the majoroity would not steal; people like would seem