Can music survive in a downloadable and streaming only world? Who would have thought of the possibility of that Door’s song, “When The Music’s Over” would be prophetic?
A number of folks have been saying lately that in near future, the only way we will be able to get music is via streaming or download, “that is the direction the market is going”.
I’m going to make a prediction, it may not last as long as many folks think if people love music in all it’s aspects and will likely hurt the hi-fi industry.
Why do I say that? Music is an energy when you boil it all down. There is no denying the effect music has on us as humans when we listen to it. Don’t believe me? Have you ever heard a song that you can’t get out of your head for a day or more? Stop for just a second and think why that is. That is just scratching the surface. Have you ever noticed how music can change your mood? Have you ever noticed how it can even change the feel of a room or place? Perhaps you may have not consciously been aware of those things, but I guarantee you have felt them and been affected. Have you ever been someplace that is playing classical music and found yourself automatically talking very softly and carefully even in a crowded room? I can go on all day just with this fundamental proof that music is energy that affects us, but that is not what I am writing about in this article. I wrote that to make a point a bit later.
I believe that music is more than just sound. Of course, taking music in live is the ultimate way, but let’s set that aside for the moment as those opportunities are far and few between for a number of reasons. After all, how many of us have artists at their beck and call that can come over and play live in their living room? (None of us as far as I know).
So that makes vinyl records and even CDs the next best thing. Now with the mundane first, when you buy something you expect to get something in return that you can feel, touch, use, etc. With downloading music, it isn’t the same. There is nothing to hold your attention, nothing to grasp on to. Having music strictly as a download or stream is basically borrowing it on loan and rather limiting. First you have to get on your PC or phone or tablet, etc. and download the files hoping they are not corrupt. To playback, one either has to fire up their PC or just play through their phone and ear buds or look for a good Bluetooth speaker (not that easy to find). In the alternate case one can buy special gear to accommodate playback of said files on their Hi-Fi system, but that is very expensive. Also, PCs can only give so much good sound and are not the best for playback. (There are noise issues, software issues, etc). On top of that, nobody has yet found the perfect digital format that doesn’t kill the feeling of music. MP3,Hi-Rez, DSD, MQA…….none of those are able to deliver the feeling of music like physical media can in my opinion. Even CDs for their flaws can deliver the essence of music if done well and played on a good player in a decent system.
The argument can be made that new vinyl records are too expensive and that is true, but used ones are not, even if you factor in the cost of cleaning them properly and the fact that even new records need to be cleaned anyway.
Let’s say for argument that we are talking about $1 per song making a 12 song album cost only $12 as a download, it still is not as good compared to physical mediums, both in staying power and sonically. For one thing, one has to buy special additional gear to play the files back through a Hi-Fi system and that doesn’t make it cost-effective either. Essentially, you are paying and getting diminished returns straight away at best.
So what are you getting for your money with streaming and downloads? Nothing! You are getting essentially vapor, little file packets flying through cyber-space. You are getting something more fragile than any record or CD that will not last nearly as long. With a media like vinyl records or CD you get something you can keep and use whenever and as much as you want without extra hassle, more importantly you can truly engage with the music because you have additional info in the form of art, notes, etc. and most importantly, memories, even before you put on the record. I imagine that most folk’s Hi-Fi systems have at least a CD player and/or turntable and if not, there is at least a turntable for every budget. (That is not so with digital playback gear). I would think it is more convenient to just turn on the system which takes less than a second, pop a CD in the player and hit play or put a record on the turntable and lower the needle. With downloaded files these days, if you don’t have an uber-expensive gadget for playback incorporated in the Hi-Fi system you have to hook up the computer, boot that up, wait until it is complete, bring up the software for playback, find the file,……and so on before the music starts. Does this mean streaming and downloaded music is inherently evil or something? No.