And in the end…

After a brief discussion with a friend today comparing and contrasting the merits of print vs eBooks, I began to re-examine my obsession with record collecting (and with materialism of any form).  I’ve been grappling with both sides of the collectibility coin for years, but the end of a calendar year seems a fitting time to look back and reflect on exactly what I’m doing and at what cost.

My purchasing of printed books has become more selective and refined in the past year (as it has for much of the public with eBook sales still on the rise.)  Statistia.com forcasts that ePub sales will exceed those of printed books by 2017.  This has been my most active year ever for book purchases – the same year I built myself a virtually-departmentalized library of eBooks.

eBooks vs Print Chart

Similarly, my vinyl purchasing has become specialized as well.  2014 has been Innerspace’s most-active for both digital and vinyl acquisitions, with each directly inspiring activity in the other.

107 LPs (accounting for each of the discs in multi-disc box sets) were purchased in the last 5 months alone, making the second half of 2014 our busiest purchasing period in the history of the Innerspace Library.  Actual spending for album acquisition in 2014 (purchases between Jan 13 and Nov 26) totaled $1,140.30, including all spending for overseas shipping and other courier services, with a mean monthly expenditure of $103 for the 11 months of activity.  The vast majority of these purchases were special-edition, limited releases, and original-pressings of milestones from my favorite genres.

Comparatively, 4,138 of my digital album folders were added or modified in 2014, (though this number includes folders in which tag maintenance or restructuring occurred during the last calendar year.)  The increase in digital album “consumption” had a direct impact on my vinyl-ordering activity.

But increasingly, the reasons I’ve used to justify my LP purchases are being eroded by the changing landscape of the FLAC community.

And so I thought I’d take each head-on.

beethoven-with-headphones
CLAIM 1: Vinyl often features better mastering and production quality than their digital counterparts

The genres I collect, particularly avant-garde, modern classical, ambient, and experimental electronic music have an audiophile fan base dedicated to the digital preservation of these recordings.  Where once fans had to rely on pirate remastering work by Purple Chick and Dr. Ebbetts (among other legendary engineers), the democratization of recording technology has made home-archiving inexpensive and easy without having to chase down shiny black discs.

And for albums previously only available on wax, we have claim #2.

okeh1007side-bsleeve

CLAIM 2: You can’t find these recordings anywhere else

Thanks to archival technology, there has developed a large and well-networked community of collectors eager to share their rare vinyl recordings with the rest of the world.  The community has evolved to the point where vinyl-only issued and limited-press recordings are now readily available in the form of community-generated digital lossless archives.  While commercial networks like Spotify offer only a tiny fraction of these recordings (I think there are six) due to their limited commercial interest and costly rights negotiation, actual fans of the music have stepped up to the plate and made the albums available where a commercial market has not.

"Armand De Brignac" Champagne Party at the VIP Room

CLAIM 3: Supporting the artist

This is a moot argument in my specialized case and in the case of those like me.  99% of the albums I buy are used records pressed forty years ago.  The used market has little to no impact on composers and artists, (with a few special exceptions like that of Rodriguez).  One exempt title which comes to mind is Thom Yorke’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes LP.  Yorke made headlines when …Boxes became the first album ever to be sold through a commercial torrent channel, demonstrating the viability of the sharing medium.  I saw my purchase of the deluxe LP as a contribution to a cause I supported.  But those two exceptions aside, I don’t think Ludwig or Karlheinz need my money that badly.

audiophile-main
CLAIM 4: It’s all about the experience

The experience is one of the outstanding merits of vinyl albums with which digital music cannot compete.  Selecting the album, removing it from its artful gatefold cover, dropping the needle, and so many other elements of the vinyl experience remind us of the value of music in an age of digital gluttony.  The experience is what still motivates me to purchase records, but with greater selectivity than before.

REAL FRIENDS HELP YOU MOVE RECORDS

With the erosion of the above arguments in vinyl’s favor, the reasons against collecting grow larger than ever.

REASON 1: They weigh a ton.

Ask anyone who’s been generous enough to help me move.  Collecting records requires the dedication of space and the enlistment of an army should you ever need to relocate them.  I know it’s part of vinyl’s charm – they are Objets d’art, but they’re admittedly a burden at the same time.

REASON 2: The stuff I’m after costs a fortune.

That $100 a month is over a grand at the end of the year that I could put toward living more comfortably and taking care of my beautiful partner.  I’m grateful that I am able to accommodate the limited disposable income I have for a fulfilling hobby and as a means of social interaction, but greater selectivity may yield a greater reward in the end.  Contrariwise, the only available digital resource for these vinyl-ripped and rare recordings is the file sharing community, which is 100% free.  And there isn’t much that can compare with free.

REASON 3: Accessibility and Organization

What I love most about our Digital Library is that it is meticulously organized and instantly indexable by multiple points of metadata.  With just a few clicks I can export charts and visualizations of library data for my annual reports.  And with 100% of the content on my home server, I can access any track wherever I go.  My unlimited data plan grants me uninhibited access to my content in FLAC without needing to transcode to stay below a corporate-determined threshold of data.  I take several TB of content to work each day, enjoy it on the walk there and back, and DJ my office for the 8 hours in between.

(Oh yes… and 13,000+ albums don’t take up any real estate on the shelf.)

And so…

Moving forward into the new year, I’m going to significantly pull the reins on my vinyl-buying impulses.  I might attempt to quantify my purchasing decisions with a 3-question qualifier before buying (as I’ve a fondness for doing things mathematically.)  There will still be incredible albums here, and there is no reason I can’t talk about a FLAC vinyl-rip and throw up a shot of the LP… (it’ll be our little secret.)

I welcome your thoughts.  Please feel free to share your support for or against this notion.  And I’ll see you in the new year.

STOP. THE. PRESSES.

Dear friends, this will be a most candid and direct post.  No refinement or editing – just breaking and game-changing news.

I don’t care that I’ve just posted a video a few hours ago, and that it is “poor form” to double-up, particularly with a hastily-typed announcement.  But I consider this a music milestone.

As anyone who reads my articles knows full-well by now, I’d long-ago lost the majority of my faith in contemporary song.  Save for a few select artists I’ve followed for many decades, I invest most of my research and vinyl-purchasing energies in classic recordings of the past 50 years.

But this evening I read a piece of news that instantly motivated me to detour my behavioral form.

Thom Yorke announced today that he is releasing his new solo album via a new model of Bittorrent – one with a paygate channel for distribution.

Tomorrow's Modern Boxes

I was immediately motivated to purchase the album for several reasons:

1. The album is sold and distributed independently by the artist, demonstrating that the self-proclaimed owners of the industry are no longer necessary.

2. The digital version of the album is a mere $6.  (For six bloody dollars an album, I would instantly start paying artists directly for digital music.)

3. He offered (and I bought) a deluxe white vinyl edition of what will surely be an historic recording.

4. …which ships from the UK FOR FREE.

5. and which included an instant lossless FLAC, WAV, and lossy MP3 download of the complete album.

Sincerely – thank you, Thom for shattering my preconceptions about modern music and for proving to the industry the viability of Bittorrent.

Thom Yorke

Published in: on September 26, 2014 at 11:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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So I sandboxed, poked and prodded at iTunes for the first time… and ended up with a manifesto.

iTunes-Logo

You know what’s coming, but if you delight in watching me writhe and convulse in the corner, read on.  I’d never once connected to itunes.apple.com as I knew in advance that it had nothing to offer.

But a 17 year old kid assured me that they provide various masters of each recording for the listener to sample to help them identify which they should purchase.

This was, of course, completely false.  By “various masters” he meant that Dark Side of the Moon was available in TWO formats –

 The 2011 CD remaster
ooooooor….
The 2011 CD remaster (with bonus tracks).

So there you are.

But I was already deep in the filth so I said, “what the hell” and started throwing artists at its ‘search’ box.

I figured I’d start out with the easiest of pitches – the 2010 EMI Beatles Box Set.

iTunes ONLY offers the stereo edition and doesn’t even HINT that the Mono Box even exists!

Beginning to sweat, I looked up their page for Captain Beefheart…

NO MENTION OF TROUT MASK REPLICA.  But that’s okay, it’s only one of the most important and critically acclaimed records of its decade.

The 49 awesome albums recorded by Ash Ra Tempel and Manuel Gottsching?  Not today, sorry.

Pete Namlooks’ monumental Fax +49-69450464 record label – not a single word of any one of the 238 legendary albums.

So I tried another approach – searching for Deutsche Grammophon classical releases.

Lo and behold – iTunes offers NO MEANS of searching by record label!

Want to peruse the Ninja Tune catalog?  Forget about it if you’re on iTunes.

Warp Records?  Ohr?  Brain?  Mute?  Mo-Fi?  Too bad.

And the 94 albums produced and recorded by LTJ Bukem on Good Looking Records and its various sub-labels?  You’re going to have to search for them one at a time. (Psst – don’t bother… they aren’t there anyway.)

Salvador Dali’s notorious opera, Être Dieu?  Not so much as an artist entry for the man.

Dig Nurse With Wound?  Only the 26 CD releases of their ~100 disc catalog are available for purchase.

The same applies to Tangerine Dream.  Beside an all-too-small sampling of their most popular early albums, iTunes is overrun with 80s-2000s compilations and soundtracks.  The pink years were easily their best work, but they never happened according to this marketplace.

Independent artists?  Not a single one I searched for produced any results.

Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity – arguably his best free jazz work – doesn’t exist.

The original German master of Stockhausen’s Kontakte?  Forget about it.

Wordless Music Orchestra’s historical live recording of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops?  Never happened.

Spacemind’s 62 hours of psybient works?  Not a one.

Raymond Scott’s Manhattan Research Inc. collection?  Issued in the Netherlands, but nowhere on iTunes.

The Electronic Music series produced by Turnabout records throughout the mid-60s?  Nope.

The popular Franklin Mint 100-disc Classical Collection?  Nadda.

NASA’s majestic Symphonies Of The Planets series?  The cat’s eaten it.

What It Is: Funky Soul & Rare Grooves Box Set?  Not a scrap.

(This one killed me) Kraftwerk’s three critical early albums – Kraftwerk I, Kraftwerk II, and Ralf und Florian?  No, no, and no.

Max & Dima’s 131 releases?  0 on iTunes.

Alban Berg?  Not even an artist page.

Anton Webern?  Zilch.  (However Shoenberg gets some unfair attention.)

Throbbing Gristle has 137 albums and singles.  Six of them are on iTunes.

The hundred-odd crazy moog/bachelor pad/and early synth records which defined the age of futurama in the 50s and 60s?  If not for iTunes’ lonely copy of Perrey & Kingsley’s The In Sound From Way Out, you’d never know they happened.

The mash up craze popularized by 2ManyDJs “As Heard on Radio Soulwax” series?  You’ll have to settle for Girl Talk.

Well done, iTunes.  At least we can say you’re consistent.

 ·                  ·                  ·

The world’s most popular public tracker currently offers over 6.2 million torrents, ranging from single albums to massive discographic archives.  And the top 168 active private trackers host an additional 1.6 billion torrents collectively.  Suddenly, iTunes’ measly 37 million individual songs seems rather inconsequential.

The audiophile community has built a tremendous archive of analog-only issued recordings which cannot be purchased digitally anywhere on the web.  This community remains the simplest and most informative resource for discovering rare music.  It inspires an average of $1200 in vinyl purchases annually for this user, alone… and there are many more like me.

I will not publicly endorse file sharing, but it clearly demonstrates the dire need for a change in the fundamental operation of the music market today.

#anythingbutitunes