There is a downside to digital music, especially if you’ve moved completely to digital downloads and have given up on CDs and LPs and want to be completely legal. Most albums only stay in print for a certain period of time. Famous records from artists like The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones tend to stay in print forever, but not so for the work of most performers. If you love a less famous band, say Quicksilver Messenger Service, most of their albums are out of print.
I would love to hear three QMS albums again, Shady Grove, Just For Love and What About Me on my Zune or iPod. They aren’t available from Zune Marketplace. Nor can I buy them from Amazon on MP3. Nor are they for sale at iTunes. I can get them from Amazon as Japanese import CDs for $15 each. Or I could track down the original LPs on eBay for less and then convert the tracks to digital. Just when I thought I had left the physical world of LPs and CDs, I’m dragged back in.
What this means: If you REALLY love an album buy a physical copy. Rip it, make backups, and store away the original for safe keeping. You never know thirty years from now when the nostalgic mood hits you and you’ll moan pitifully, “I’d give a hundred bucks to hear that album again.” Otherwise, Zen up, accept the fleeting quality of this world, and stop trying to clutch desperately to the past.
You’d think with digital record stores everything that was ever recorded would be for sale, but for legal reasons that’s not true. Like I said, if you’re criminally minded, just steal what you want off the net. iTunes, Rhapsody and Zune Marketplace should have everything because production costs shouldn’t be an issue. If the pirates can offer everything from free, why should the legal dudes have any trouble providing it for money?
I could wait and maybe Shady Grove, Just for Love and What About Me will be legally reprinted in the Zune Marketplace and Rhapsody libraries. But what if the contract is only for five years, and I want to hear those albums again when I’m 88? That’s the problem with subscription music – it’s ephemeral.
Why even have a publication period for an album in this digital age? Why can’t artists just sign up with publishers and have their work always in print and constantly available? That might happen in the future, but I can’t trust it now.
Nothing is for sure. I could buy those three Japanese imports and twenty-five years from now CD players could be as rare as turntables that play 78 rpm records. There might be technological reasons that put music out of print too. Owning a MP3 file, free of digital rights management, might have a longer useful life span than a physical album, but only if you backup like a compulsive fiend.
But this is also sadly funny. I just got a new Zune, I have access to hundreds of thousands of albums I’ve never heard, more than can fit in any record store I’ve ever visited and I’m crying over three albums that probably, if I had them, I’d only play once because there’s a reason they are out of print. Why don’t I make an effort to discover new albums to love rather than whining about old forgotten albums?
Over the years I’ve owned thousands of albums, many of which I can’t even remember, but every once in awhile will pop back into my mind and I’ll wish I had them to play again. I guess that’s human nature.
JWH – 12/25/8