Submit to the Bits

2011 is the year I came to terms with the inevitable decline of physical media.  I’m behind the curve on this, but my worship of audio fidelity, physical portability and consumer freedom have held me back. Three factors have changed my curmudgeonly, compact disc hoarding ways: Bandcamp, Google Music and cheap hard disk space.

I’m never going to pay money for compressed music; it’s as simple as that.  You’ll never get me to pay a cent for an MP3 file.  I listen to music in four discrete scenarios: in Hi-Fi on the home stereo, on a portable digital music player while commuting, in the car, and at work.  If I buy music, I expect to own it in the highest possible fidelity.  Bandcamp enables this by selling music in the open source, lossless FLAC format.  With a FLAC version of an album, I can burn it to CD with no loss of quality (covering the home and car scenarios, for the time being).  I can also convert FLAC to any compressed format I desire without the usual cross-encoding degradation.  I’m a big fan of the open source Ogg Vorbis format, so my portable music player (iAudio 7, at the moment) is filled up with those files. FLAC makes my music collection future-proof.

Google Music has drastically changed my listening habits at work.  Instead of being stuck with the same set of albums on my portable device all day, I have my entire music collection in front of me.  For all intents and purposes, Google Music looks exactly like my CD racks.  Google Music did, however, force me to convert all of my music to 320 kbps MP3 files.  Since I already had my music in FLAC, this was a triviality of CPU horsepower and disk space.

Sure, I still like to sit and admire the loaded, looming CD racks in my living room.  But my house isn’t getting any bigger, and my hard drives are.  Despite the best efforts of flooding in Thailand, hard drive space is still ridiculously cheap.  I’m now able to store my entire music collection in three formats and back it all up correctly.  Yes, I’m a bit loony.

Somewhere in the confluence of these factors, I made a mental leap.  I started to regard my “music collection” as something greater than the physical shelves of CDs.  The bits are ubiquitous enough to have changed my idea of ownership.  I now feel just as comfortable buying an album from Bandcamp as I do purchasing a CD.

I’m never going to get rid of my CD collection, and I certainly won’t stop buying them; I probably just won’t buy quite as many.  Now the rest of the record labels just need to get a clue and sell music through Bandcamp; my dollars are waiting.

As an aside, this excellent blog is an incredibly useful, ongoing summation of all the metal to be found on Bandcamp.


MaxR said...

Excellent write up (and thanks for the plug).

Flac also helped me make the mental leap you talk about. With mp3's I had the nagging feeling that there's something missing.

Bandcamp also makes it so damn easy. Click click click and there's more metal on your harddrive. There's also the warm fuzzy feeling that at least 85% of your purchase goes straight to the artist (or Profound Lore, The Flenser, 20 Buck Spin etc).

All of that wouldn't matter if there wasn't any good metal on Bandcamp, but that is certainly not the case. I know of a few more labels that are considering a Bandcamp page, so 2012 looks good so far.

i still find it so hard to give in. i have that latent tactile bias yet to overcome. unless it's in my hands it just doesn't feel real to me. and i'm such a nerd i'm the kind that reads thank you lists and stares at album art while listening to stuff. i'd really hate to give that up.

that said, i know my days are numbered. you're exactly right. it's a change that needs to happen and it's only curmudgeons like me holding out at this point.

To be an asshole, I've heard the difference between an mp3 at 320kbps and FLAC is not discernible to the human ear. I think this is a long standing argument in many forms of media (refresh rates are another for visual quality).But the fact of the matter is, I don't wanna store FLAC files (what like a GB an album?) as the point of electronic media is ease.

HOWEVER, I do agree with you. I find myself adverse to CDs 1. because they're usually cheaply packaged, and 2.if I'm to spend 10-15 on a cd, I'll spend the extra 5 or so for the record. But the physical>intangible.

As a recent graduate with a part time job and internship, I simply don't have the cash to buy everything I listen to and I'll openly admit I download a lot of music "illegally."

I think our age differences can also factor into the discussion as I did grow up with a tape player, but by 12 I was downloading on Kazaa and Napster (boy was that a mess).

ALSO (sorry, I hope I'm not Bombarding) each year I think the only positive financially speaking in the music industry is the sale of Vinyl (up 25% or so this year I believe).

atanamar said...

You're absolutely right about FLAC/320 kbps. I'm pretty sure anyone who claims they can hear a difference is lying. But I don't actually listen to FLAC (at the moment); I use it for archival purposes. And I agree; the point is ease. So if a new, smaller, better format comes out (just like OGG sounds much better than a similarly encoded MP3, to which I will attest), I'd like to be able to utilize that format. If I bought MP3s, I'd be stuck with MP3s forever. With FLAC I can cross-encode to any lossy format in the future with no penalty. This is all about being future-proof, and anal, for sure.

As for vinyl, I purposely left it out of the conversation. I do not partake, but I can appreciate the allures. But in the end vinyl is neither easy nor future-proof, and feels oddly un-utilitarian to me. But I applaud folks who are willing to shell out in the name of aesthetics and aural enjoyment.

Lastly, I don't think there's a person in the universe who doesn't utilize the vagaries of the interhole to conjure up "free" music. But I make a sharp distinction there, at least in my head. That shit's not a part of my "collection". Again, anal, but if I dig it I'll eventually buy it, one way or another.

cilladon said...

Fantastic article. Very interesting and I can understand the love for CDs. I still want to 'properly' own music by bands, despite all the free streams, Spotify and Bandcamp. When I have the free time to have a proper digital collection and system to download and backup, I would consider going all-digital. But for now I prefer to keep buying CDs, rip them for my mobile phone and then know I will always own the music coz of the CD on the shelf.


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