To Have Or To Hold?

For the better part of the last 4 decades, physical media collections have been proud displays of one’s tastes and passions. These displays of Records, Tapes and CD’s were at one point, a very common thing to find within a persons home, but in recent years a downsizing movement has taken hold. This movement has seen collections pared down physically to be stored digitally, thus allowing the owner to free up valuable household space. In part of my ongoing discovery of where I stand with my music collection I had to look within to determine if I preferred moving to a digital format versus having the physical copies to easily access. The question is: To Have or To Hold, do I keep the music itself or do I want to physically hold the liner notes as I listen?

On a whole, gone are the days where people crave physical forms of music. Aside from your random 40 year old, looking for a first edition of Fleetwood Mac’s The Dance, or a young 20 year old, trying to be “hip” by gathering a collection of rarities and b sides, everybody seems to be going the way of digital. As with everything, arguments can be made for purchasing your music online vs walking down to your local music shop and supporting the local business.

Two of the larger pros to going the digital route, would be the ease of doing business and the size factor.

Digital music is extremely easy to to search for, and once found, even easier to purchase. Both terrestrial and online radio services cover all different sorts of genres and services such as Pandora, Last.FM and iTunes, allow for a quick and easy search for songs and artists. Most services which sell music in mp3 format will also allow you to keep your credit card information saved so that purchasing music is as simple as clicking the buy button and letting it download onto your computer.

Digital music is also extremely compact. Whereas CD’s and vinyl albums can take up lots of space in a short amount of time, the mp3 takes up next to no room. Currently my laptop houses 240 gigs of music, or just over 37,000 songs. To put that into perspective we’ll use some numbers. If an average album contains 12 songs. (these are just round about numbers that I pulled off the top of my head). that would mean that my music collection (in physical form) would come in at a whopping 3,083 (a third bedroom would be needed to house this large amount of music). CD’s are one thing, but imagine trying to fit over three thousand vinyl albums into your home. And that number grows because I already have a stack of vinyl and an overly large box, filled with CD’s.

The digital aspect also allows you the ability to take your music with you, pretty much anywhere. The iPod has only grown more impressive over the past five years, shrinking in physical size while expanding it’s memory to allow more songs to be held. For example, a 2 gig iPod shuffle (the size of a loonie) can be purchased for $49.00 and can hold anywhere from 300 to 500 songs. If you jumped up to an iPod nano, the standard 16 gig can hold over 4000 songs (or 333 albums if you use my numbers from above).

For my generation, this is just the way it is. We want everything at our finger tips and we want it to be as convient as possible. Can you even imagine trying to pack up some kind of portable record player, to use on a road trip? Or how about lugging around a big case to house your 8 tracks?

Looking back on it now, I even find the idea of casette tapes to be clunky and annoying. Blank tapes had to be labeled properly so that you could make sure they were in the proper case, and when they weren’t the mad hunt would begin and don’t we all remember having to sit next to your radio, with the blank tape in the player while waiting to hit record and stop at exactly the right moments, just so you can hear the newest track from your favorite band at the time. Remember when you would miss the first five seconds of the song, or maybe the DJ began speaking while the song was playing and you would have to line that tape up all over again the next night and hope that it went smoothly. It’s these types of memories which make me appriciate how easy it is with iTunes.

My two biggest gripes with the digital era would be, the lack of owning a physical copy and the decrease in quality being put into the music.

I realize that my argument for the pros would indicate that I don’t have a need for the physical element, but there is something nice about being able to hold something you’ve purchased. When you spend $10 on a download, all you have is a little less space on your hard drive, where as before you could take the cd, or vinyl out of it’s case. You could see it, touch it, display it, hell you could even smell it (vinyl that is).

I can remember walking into Taz Records for the first time and being in awe of the great atmosphere. They had the t-shirts hanging on the wall, the rows upon rows of old vinyl, which produced a scent that oozed throughout the air helping to create the rustic, old school feeling being draped upon it’s customers. The employee behind the counter wasn’t dressed in a shirt and tie, but wore jeans and a t-shirt and he could talk to you about music. He would answer questions you had about different bands, and would make suggestions based on certain music you liked.

But best of all, you could flip through the physical copies of the albums. You were able to see the design work, or the snapped photos, which would make up the covers of the albums and inside there was more. Pictures, stories and lyrics were just some of the material you could find on the inside of the album. It not only allowed an artist to present something unique and different, but it also allowed the artist to connect with the fan in a different way.

The most recent example that comes to mind would be the Foo Fighters cutting up the master tapes of their latest album, packaging each piece with a cd, and allowing fans the opportunity to own an actual piece of the process.

At it’s heart and soul, music is something more than just pictures, pieces of tapes or even sounds coming through the speakers. It’s an individual taking the time to create a story, or a feeling about something, someone or someplace. It’s about your fathers 1966 Mustang, or about the first girl who broke your heart, or the memories put on paper about a family member who might have passed away. Call it what you want, but there is no denying that it is something extremely personal, and this appears to be the aspect which gets lost in the digital age.

With the new age technology it appears that anyone, with a couple of bucks, garage band, some musical equipment and very little talent, are able to pop out an album. The internet has become a hot bed for wannabe musicians spanning coast to coast. With the simplicity of programs such as garage band, a simple click of a button allows anyone person the ability to record, delete, correct, record, delete, correct again and again. Where at one time a band would actually need to be talented in order to produce an album, nowadays you just need some time; the machine will provide the talent (hello auto-tune).

Now don’t get me wrong, there are still bands out there who put in the time, take their licks, hit the road and play 200 live shows a year, but for every one of those three Lana Del Reys pop up. Of course, at some point these frauds will have to actually perform live (everyone remembers this dud) and people everywhere will stand up, point a finger and call shenanigans on the performance (or lack thereof) but why should we even have to get to that point. Sure back in the 60’s and 70’s you would always come across a wannabe here or there, but today it seems as though we’ve been overrun and I put the blame on the technology. In 2013 the ease of recording music has paved way for a wave of mediocre musicians, who are here for a good time (in their own minds) but not a long time.

Bands such as U2, Bruce Springsteen, Rush, Neil Young and Bob Dylan are still kicking around and going strong, but they seem to be a dying breed. Now we are inundated with the likes of Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Karmen and Lana Del Rey. These new artists take for granted, the process which went into creating a quality album. Britney Spears might sit down and write a song, but by the time she’s ready to record it, ten other writers have taken it and morphed it into something else.

Vinyl represents a time where musicians would put their all into producing the best product they could. It represents a time in which true feelings would bleed out of the speakers. It represents a time where talent was needed but also needed to be honed and maintained. It also represents large amounts of storage space, organizational headaches (alphabetical order vs chronological order) and upkeep issues.

The answer to my question, to have or to hold, still eludes me at this time and to be honest, I’m unsure if I could ever really commit to a decesion either way but as we all know, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.


About the author


Jeff is one-fourth of the group that makes up HAFILAX. His usual ramblings can be read right here on the website. If reading isn't your thing, he also hosts the Basement Tapes podcast.