As I looked at the calendar earlier this week and noticed I am closer to turning 28 than I am to still being 26, it dawned on me that I have been purchasing music for over 15-years at this point. I don’t know if I can pinpoint the first release I convinced my parents to buy me when I was young, but there are several standouts that come to mind. There was the three copies of Blink-182’s Enema Of The State on cassette that I wore out while riding my bike through our small town, as well as a CD copy Backstreet Boys’ immensely popular album Millennium, which my parents drove to across state lines to buy me on release day. I could name several more instances, but I think you get the idea that buying physical copies of music is something that has mattered a great deal to me for a long time, and it continues to be important to me in 2015. I don’t buy nearly as many CDs or cassettes today as I did at the start of the new millennium, but I do buy vinyl on a regular basis. I also subscribe to Spotify, and I’m more than certain I will at least give Apple Music a try when it becomes available over the summer, but even if I love that new platform I will scan record stores, eBay, Discogs, and Amazon for great deals on physical product ever chance I get.
Just last week I was doing an interview with Modern Vinyl when they asked me a question I had heard a dozen or so times before. We were discussing comedy on vinyl at the time, and someone inquired as to why I buy music at all, let alone on a physical format like vinyl. In their mind, streaming services are cheaper, easier to access, and easier to share. They also take up a whole lot less space than a physical music collection. That person, who shall remained nameless for this post, was absolutely right. All of those facts about streaming are incredibly hard to argue with, especially if the main thing you’re looking for when considering how to consume music is convenience. Life doesn’t get much more convenient than having almost every song of the last hundred years at your fingertips, 24/7, for one low monthly rate. I’m not here to argue that point, and as I already stated above I use Spotify regularly, but even with the convenience offered by that service I still believe there is need for physical releases in my life, and the reason is, in a way, incredibly selfish.
I buy music because I want to one day be able to share the albums I love with my future children. If not with them, then at least with the person I marry and the friends we make together. If it helps the bands, great, but at the end of the day I buy music because I want to share that particular song or album with people I care about. You could argue that is something easily accomplished with streaming services, but I disagree. When someone links to an album on Spotify or Rdio it looks like every other release on the platform, and there is often very little, if any, album notes to be enjoyed. The music is simply presented, through digital stream, as if it were any other file that was double clicked.
To me, the best way to share and discover music is through the exchange and promotion of physical product. Sitting down with an album someone you care about loves so much they bought it and dedicated a place in their limited living space to keeping it safe for future generations to enjoy is a very special thing, and it’s something that is becoming increasingly rare in the digital age. I think you can learn more about a person from the albums they care enough about to own than you can from hours of conversation. Their physical music collection is an extension of themselves as it shows you what matters to them, what influences them, and what they hope to discover when seeking out new art. It tells you about the sounds they enjoy when happy, sad, angry, or a little bit of everything all rolled into one. It tells you what bands and musicians keep them company when everyone else is busy with something or someone else. It show you their safe zone.
The first vinyl I ever purchased was a dollar bin copy of Bob Seger’s ‘Live Bullet.’ I wasn’t a gigantic Seger fan at the time, but my dad told me that when he was young ‘Live Bullet’ was the first album he made a part of his own vinyl collection. By following in his footsteps to not only own the album on vinyl, but sit in my room doing little more than listening to it spin and moving only to flip sides, just as he did thirty years or more prior, made me feel a connection to my father and the way he saw the world as a young man I’m not sure I could have even begun to grasp if I just pulled up the album on my phone and let it play while going about my day. In fact, I know it wouldn’t have been the same, and while the album may have sounded just as good, if not better, I wouldn’t have felt the connection to my father I did while listening to Bob sing “Old Time Rock And Roll” live from Detroit in the early 1970s on vinyl. That’s not to say the experience wouldn’t have been good, as I’m sure the album plays just as well in its digital format, but the experience would not have been the same.
I have no idea where technology is headed or how it will impact the way people consume music, but as long as I am able to buy music in physical form I will continue to do so. The idea of sitting down with a fellow passionate music fan, digging through records and sharing the experiences that lead to an album joining a part of my personal collection is everything to me, and if I could do that with my own offspring it would be a dream come true. I want future generations to not only know of physical music, but cherish it. I want them to understand the indescribable level of joy one feels when seated in a room with nothing on except a record with the power to change their lives forever. That power is still present in hundreds, if not thousands of records releases annually, but until we as a culture learn to put down our distractions and focus solely on the music pouring through our speakers the ability to feel that power is going to be hard to come by. If you find it, don’t ever let it go.
James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him on Twitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.