Tag Archives: streaming

The Importance of Artifact

The reports of the existence of the “last” Blockbuster store in Bend, Oregon, is treated as though here is something that is completely quaint and old-timey: “Yes, son, way back when we used to go to a store and rent movies on discs. And sometimes we actually bought them!”

And on the subject of buying discs, while Best Buy, which had been the #1 music retailer, had announced that it was going to stop selling CDs, it has modified that. It will continue to but with a greatly minimized selection; there will probably be more selection of Keurig coffees.

In this era of downloading and streaming, the notion of buying physical artifacts like discs is becoming increasingly unthinkable.

While vinyl discs are making something of a comeback, you rarely hear any arguments about the fidelity of the sound as being a reason for this occurrence. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that many of the purchasers of vinyl probably have some crappy Crosley record player upon which the latest novelty is played. Sure, there are audiophiles who have never given up the grooves, but they’re becoming like philatelists in the age of email, which has then given way to texting.

But a question that seems to go unasked is who benefits from this? And I would argue that it is the purveyors of the digitally based music (or video) products.

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Listening to Gresham’s Law

Back in 1558, Sir Thomas Gresham, who was the financial agent for Queen Elizabeth I, articulated what was to become known as “Gresham’s law.” The law has it that “bad money drives out good.”

He was talking about physical currency.

One way to think about this is to take a quarter out of your pocket (assuming that you’re reading this in the U.S.; if not, it doesn’t make any difference although it will be less physically obvious).

When you look at the coin edge-on you see a sandwich of materials. There is a copper center covered by two shiny layers.

Said quarter is 91.67 percent copper. The shiny stuff is nickel and it makes up the remainder.

Prior to 1964 quarter were made of silver.

So in Gresham’s law, the “bad money”—the metal sandwich—drives out the “good,” the silver, which has a much higher value in terms of the metal alone. Almost as soon as the cupronickel quarters appeared the silver quarters disappeared. Some were saved by coin collectors. Some, no doubt, were melted down (which, by the way, is illegal) and sold as metal.

What does any of this have to do with music?

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Apple Music and the end of ownership

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.

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