Sunday, September 11, 2005

We can't rewind; we've gone too far

We made a lovely trip to Barnes and Noble yesterday, because it's not like the house is full of books we haven't read yet or anything.1 At the checkout line, we found the tiny impulse-buy music display. This was not too hard to pass up, being filled with things like That's What These Damn Kids Today Call Music Volume 6,702.

But I took a little closer look, and found Herbie Hancock's new release, Possibilities. By all rights, this should be a hell of an album, featuring guests like Annie Lennox, Sting, Joss Stone, Raul Midon, and Angelique Kidjo. It was tough to pass it up, but I did. And I can sum up why in one sentence:

iTunes has spoiled me.

I don't just mean that I've sipped the Cupertino Koolaid, although that's dangerously close to true. I mean that my preferences as a music consumer have changed because of digital music storage, playback, and purchasing.

For starters, I have definitely become a "try before you buy" person. In a related incident, I buy singles now. Time was, I would buy an album for the big single, or just because I like the artist. I can't see myself doing that anymore. I want to hear at least that 30-second snippet of every song before I decide to buy the album. (And I really appreciate it when a brick-and-mortar store has a listening station.) If I'm not sold, I want the freedom to decide which individual songs I buy.

Then there's the physical storage issue. I don't really need to buy more physical CDs. Most of the time, CD booklets are mediocre at best - the art doesn't particularly interest me, I get lyrics much less often than I like, and it's a miracle to actually see liner notes. Let's face it: I'm going to take that CD and put it in my computer anyway, so honestly, if it's my money going down, I'm better off to start digital.

(Sidebar: digital music services should figure out how to do gifts better. I can't give you a particular album from iTunes; the best I can do is give you a gift certificate and instructions. I ought to be able to send someone a particular album, or better still, a mix. Have that ready by Christmas, will you?)

And finally, there's the price issue. If I don't really want the atoms, I shouldn't have to pay for shipping and storing them. Even though iTunes is not $9.99 all the time anymore, I think they're still usually cheaper than buying the physical CD. It's kind of funny: in the early '90s, I believed pretty strongly that a CD shouldn't cost much more than $10, and 10 years later, I can defend that idea again.

Audiophiles will tell me I'm wrong, that AAC is a lossy compression format and I'm not getting the full sound that I would on a CD. I know that they're mathematically right. I also know that I don't own any equipment, including my ears, that can tell the difference. In fact, my lossy music files sound damn good (to me) when I plug in my iMic and listen to them on the stereo instead of the tinny laptop speakers.

Sadly, Possibilities is not on iTunes (yet). There are samples on Hancock's web site, and it sounds like something I want more of. The bookstore (I live in a town where you can say "the" bookstore) is getting out of the commercial CD business, so I'm unlikely to be tempted until the next time we go to The Big City, or Herbie gets the disc on iTunes. We'll see which happens first.

1 And what did I buy, you ask? Learning Unix for OS X Tiger. It's a real page turner. They're setting Steve Jobs up as the main suspect, but I think Linus Torvalds did it...


P.S.: Yes, I'm a child of the 80s who's humming "Rockit". And I bet some of you are too.


Blogger tommyspoon said...

I tell you what: that new iPod Nano may be what brings me into the cult of iTunes...

7:09 AM, September 12, 2005  
Blogger Joe said...

Still leaning toward the Shuffle, myself, although I do want to see the Nano.

8:34 AM, September 12, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It took several months to transfer several thousand CDs from jewel cases to plastic slipcovers (when I decided that I was NOT going to purchase a new storage unit; incidentally, they now take up less than 1/3 of the original space, in spite of the fact that most of the opera and musicals needed their original packaging).

Since then, the only music I've purchased in CD format is from small local/folkie artists I like to support (and who aren't available on iTunes, etc.). There's nothing like breaking open a couple of thousand jewel cases to convert a person into a musical non-materialist.

I was using Dell DJs for a couple of years before the last one died (I had a total of 5 - and no, I don't use them while cliff diving) and I decided to give up on Dell.

I didn't buy an iPod originally because a) I'm not nearly cool enough for an iPod, and b) I'm cussed. But I put off finally giving in because I was less than enthusiastic about ripping my CDs in a new format (sigh). But a recent review of that iPod Nano in the WSJ really piqued my interest. I will definitely trade less storage space for a hardier product.


Check out the first letter in the Ethicist column in this week's NY Times Magazine:

8:56 AM, September 12, 2005  
Blogger Hugh said...

The main reason you don't care that AAC is such a lossy compression format is that popular music has never been about great sound. No one told Joey Ramone to re-release his albums on that stupid Gold CD format, just like no classical CDs are originally released in that format.

Is Clapton's Crossroads a better album now that you can hear it in 24-bit sound? Of course not.

1:09 PM, September 12, 2005  
Blogger lemming said...

Love my itunes - love it love it love it. If I spent more time away from my computer, I would invest in an ipod.

P.S. Noah Wylie did it - he was hiding behind the curtains.

(Yes, I openly admit to having watched a TNT Original Movie.)

2:16 PM, September 12, 2005  
Blogger GrigorPDX said...

Umm ... ditto? :-)

The music store has always been an exercise in frustration for me. They never have what I want and it's always overpriced. Why go through the stress of driving to some stinking hell mall in suburbia (with gas at $3/gal!) only to find they don't have what I want when I can sit on my patio sipping a beer and downloading those Ennio Morricone spaghetti western tracks I wanted on my WiFi laptop for 99ยข each?

5:16 PM, September 12, 2005  
Blogger Joe said...

Eileen - what format did you rip to that iTunes can't read? Just curious. And thanks for the NYT link.

Hugh - I continue to maintain that I'm simply incapable of distinguishing "great" sound from "good" sound. But your point is well taken; it's not like I'm trying to run a Milli Vanilli show off my iTunes...

Lemming - I thought that was a nice turn by Wylie. The couple of weeks he spent shadowing me really paid off.

Y'know, I've said too much. Never mind.

5:54 PM, September 12, 2005  

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