I’ve been using Apple Music for a couple weeks now, just like everybody else. And I’m starting to think this might be the thing that finally pushes me over the edge away from the purchasing/owning/collecting mentality that has been a part of my life and identity since I joined the Columbia House tape club and got thirteen 8-tracks for a dollar. In high school I would take my dishwasher paycheck and buy a new imported Smiths 12-inch every week. I’ve got boxes and shelves full of CDs. I like physical media.
But the truth is I listen to 90% of my music via iTunes on my computer in my office through decent Klipsch speakers. I have a real stereo and the remaining 10% of my at-home music listening is divided between vinyl and SACDs through a vintage Project One amp and Advent Prodigy Towers. I listen to CDs in my car.
With new music my process has been to buy the CD and rip it to MP3 or ALAC and then add the songs to my iTunes library. I then throw the CD in my car or in a box or on a shelf. Or I’ll buy the record and use the download card. I have an elaborate series of smart playlists that help me make sure I give all new music at least four spins before falling out of heavy rotation. Higher ranked songs get played more frequently. Everything with three stars gets played at least once every four years or so. I’m anal. And this system works for me.
I rarely buy downloads, and almost never from iTunes. I think downloads are grossly overpriced for what you get: lossy files with no liner notes. I’ll happily spend $20 on a record, but I won’t pay more than $2.99 for an album download. Especially when you can usually get the CD for $9.99. CDs are not very glamorous but they’re lossless and they’re permanent.
I’m not a Spotify subscriber either. Back in the day I got MOG for free because Glorious Noise was a member of its ad network. Then when MOG became Beats I paid for that until it was obvious that Apple was going to shut it down. I use free Spotify once in a while to make and share playlists and occasionally to preview something. Spotify has the critical mass right now where you can assume everybody has it. But YouTube is easier if slightly less reliable when you just want to research a song.
Now Apple Music comes along and integrates with all my existing playlists. To add a new album all I need to do is search for it and then click the plus symbol and there it is. It’s right there in my “Unplayed new songs” playlist. If I were someone who paid for downloads I can’t imagine ever buying another one again. Why would you? All you need to do is click the plus symbol.
And really, why should I even bother to buy the CD now? Sure, the Apple Music files are lossy and there’s no promise that a label won’t pull an artist’s music off the service at any given moment, but those are inconveniences that might not matter that much after all. At least not enough to deter me from using it.
So far I’ve downloaded the Velvet Underground’s third album 6-disc super deluxe box, Kacey Musgrave’s Pageant Material, the latest Courtney Barnett album that I’ve been meaning to pick up on vinyl, and I’ve got the new Jason Isbell sitting there all greyed out just waiting to be officially released. Buying the physical media on Amazon would set me back about $115. I doubt if I will buy any of those now unless I find them super cheap, used somewhere. An Apple Music subscription is going to cost me $15 a month for a family account after my three month trial runs out.
Should we care that rights holders are only getting a tiny fraction of the money they’d make from a download or a physical sale? I’m not naive enough to think that most real artists will ever see any royalties either way, but I have helped run a tiny record label and I’ve seen the difference between sales and streams. Is there a better way to support your favorite artists now that there’s no need to buy music? Maybe start by designing less ugly-ass merch?
It’s a strange feeling to think about changing my consumption habits so fundamentally. I’m a collector. I like to own things. I surround myself with stuff I think is cool. Is that a Generation X thing? I wonder how Nick Hornby feels about all this.
Then again, who knows? I’m only two weeks into this. I could change my mind completely. I’m sure I’ll throw a fit as soon as I can’t get something I want, and I’ll become just like all those Spotify crybabies who have temper tantrums when Prince pulls his catalog, thinking that paying $120 a year somehow entitles you to everything ever recorded. Maybe it’s true that most Americans only pay $40 a year for music, but we’re not average Americans, are we? We’re music geeks.
Crap, as I was writing this I just tried to get the Kendrick Lamar version of “Bad Blood” but it’s greyed out. Boo! What’s up, Taylor? I thought you were on board. Oh well, guess I’ll just go to YouTube when I need to hear it…
Previously: A Fond Farewell to a Friend – In 2005 I gave away my vinyl collection. I’ve slowly been building it back.