The Gift of Music — a case for physical media


When the original iPod was released, a friend and I would sit for hours at French Roast , debating whether in the future people would want a “tangible product” or inferior free things like mp3s would suffice. My friend passionately argued for the value of the physical product, for the graphics & liner notes, audio fidelity, for having something to hold in your hand — while I argued that physical product created clutter, that ownership tied you down, made you live in larger apartments than you needed.

Not only are mp3s winning, but now you don’t even have to buy a large-capacity iPod anymore, since everything will be streamed from and backed up to the “cloud”. You just need a data plan — you probably remember yourself as a child, pleading with your parents to buy you that record you always wanted; now you’re probably hearing “please, can I have a smartphone, with a data plan?” from the kids’ bedroom.

The tangible gift of music is rapidly disappearing. Instead of gifting our latest greatest discoveries, we splurge on $300 headphones, iThing/KindleNooks, luxurious appropriate leather cases and car chargers.

In a way, even buying a CD at a thrift store loses meaning — why pay $3 for something that’s essentially free with subscription? Why buy CDs when everything is on Spotify, why buy DVD/Bluray when everything is on Netflix? You already “have” it. We no longer give the gift of music, we no longer share music, but we facilitate music. Why feed a man a fish, when he already has a lifetime supply of bait, and all he needs is a new fishing rod?

What’s missing from all of this is a sense of commitment to building a collection. As a teenager, I would spend considerable time organizing and maintaining my collection – alphabetizing, re-sorting, listening and trying to find missing links — trying to find the perfect recording of Mahler’s Seventh, Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht (Transfigured Night). Earlier today, I pulled out a treasured recording of Willem Mengelberg conducting Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life) — only to find it on Spotify a few minutes later, in two different transfers. It felt like Spotify was wagging a giant middle finger in my direction, and I hesitated to check further into their stock of historical recordings.

“Collecting – what a waste!”, this century seems to say. “Why hoard when you can stream, why buy when you can rent, why fall in love with something when love is fleeting? Do you want your children to be saddled with a house full of outdated garbage when you die?”

And the only reasonable response I can come up with is “yes, I do.” Because each time we go into a museum, or an antique shop, or a thrift store, or an older person’s rent-stabilizied apartment with a roomful of real smelly books, our mouths drop in wonder. Few things feel dated — discrimination, for one, technology for another… But art? I can’t think of a single item that feels “dated” — primitive, maybe, formative, but not dated.

Give the gift of music — if you don’t like CDs (I don’t blame you), give vinyl. If you don’t like vinyl, give sheet music. If you don’t like sheet music, give musical instruments – one could always use more violins, recorders, pianos and accordions. Give music lessons, host jam sessions. Give a gift that fills a room, a gift we all can share.


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