Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Day I Lost My Virginity

Like most kids my age (11 in 1971), I started buying music on 45s. They were usually 92 cents apiece at my favorite stores, and I usually bought one at a time. On rare occasions, I'd buy two, and sometimes, if I were feeling really rich, I might get as many as three. I bought my first K-Tel compilation album when I was 13, but history records the first "real" album I bought (later that spring) as the Rolling Stones' Hot Rocks 1964-1971, a two-record set for which I paid something like seven dollars.

I didn't exactly go crazy buying albums after that--when I went off to college in 1978, I could fit my albums into a couple of carrying cases. When The Mrs. and I set up housekeeping together in 1982, I had maybe four milk crates full. And even today, my music library is probably smaller than you'd expect. At last count, I had something over 700 CDs and maybe 600 albums, plus an uncounted number of cassettes, mostly dubbed from vinyl and CDs.

I know people whose record libraries number in the thousands, and at least one guy who has something like 10,000--but the reason mine is smaller has nothing to do with my buying habits being more discerning than theirs. It's mostly because I'm a cheap bastard. Plus, I've never been in the habit of buying something because I want to hear it once. If I can't imagine a disc getting into the player on repeated occasions, I'd rather buy donuts or something.

The last year of my fulltime radio career--1993--I read an article in an industry magazine suggesting that the days of record labels shipping hard copies of releases to radio stations would soon be over. The article speculated that new releases might be delivered to stations by satellite, the same way newscasts and programming were delivered. And so we pictured ourselves sitting in a studio with a tape recorder rolling, waiting for the new stuff to come down from the bird. In those pre-Internet days, nobody imagined that it might be possible one day for music to be delivered directly to individuals.

I knew people who were into downloading music as early as the late 90s, back in the high Napster days. I never did it myself. I knew it would be time-consuming over dialup, but that wasn't the only reason. I was still locked into thinking of music as coming on flat pieces of plastic.

Sometime around 2003, I took my first tentative steps into downloading. The online magazine Salon offered free downloads to subscribers, mostly previewing new artists and releases, so in an attempt to get at least somewhat hip, I downloaded 'em--and they stayed buried on my desktop computer for quite literally years. Only when I got a laptop did I exhume them. The first few business trips I took with the laptop, I also lugged along a case full of CDs, until it dawned on me that I could simply rip music to the laptop and not have to mess with the pieces of plastic. This was quite a revelation--when I realized for the first time that music could be separated from the tangible object holding it.

Since then--over the last year or so--I have downloaded a lot of music from various MP3 blogs and other websites on the Internet. I've never paid for music that way, however. Last month, when Rosanne Cash's new CD Black Cadillac came out, I dutifully went to my favorite record store and laid down their usual new-release price of $13.99. But Black Cadillac may be the last new album I buy that way. Because today, I downloaded Van Morrison's new Pay the Devil, just out this week, from iTunes. It's not that I don't like going to my favorite record store or anything--it's just that I could get the new Van for $9.99 from iTunes without leaving my house. True, I don't get the little insert card with the artwork or the plastic case--but I decided I can get over that, if only because I have dozens of CDs I've copied from various places, and I don't have the inserts for them, either.

I did burn Pay the Devil to CD right away, however. I might want to play it in the car, or on the big stereo in the living room, after all. Not only that, even though I've made some small strides, my 35-year habit of equating music with owning flat pieces of plastic isn't broken quite yet.

Next up: Donald Fagen's Morph the Cat, which comes out next week.


At 8:59 AM, Blogger curmudgeonfish said...

Maybe one of these days, iTunes will even have a digital file that actually sounds good, too. That's when I'll quit buying CD's in favor of downloading. Portability and convenience are one thing, but some of us still care about how the music actually sounds.

At 11:50 PM, Anonymous karen said...

i must not be so discriminating. i got myself an ipod and some damn good computer speakers, took the stereo to a resale shop, and sold all my cds to friends for $3 a pop. i actually listen to more music than i did before, i can carry it with me wherever i go, and i have more room on the shelf for books and pics of grandma. not even burning a cd mix of my choice can compare to the fun and whimsy of Karen Radio. if "real" music sounds better, i must not know enough to tell the difference, and frankly, i don't care. i'll save my pickiness for live shows.


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