Monday, May 07, 2007

My First Digital Album

Yes, I am a bit behind the curve. Many have written about the pros and cons of the MP3 digital format and I doubt I will cover any new ground with this post but I thought that in many ways it was important to note my impressions of my first downloaded digital MP3 album. It's a good one BTW - David Kilgour's A Feather in the Engine.

Pete sent me an invitation to join eMusic – something that was deja-vu like, since he was always 'inviting' me to join Columbia House back in those junior high school days to get free records – you know, 12 albums for $.01. This offer was similarly intriguing. They offer 50 free downloads with no commitment to pay a monthly fee, which as a subscriber is $15/mo. for 50 downloads or what equals out to be $.30 a song. How could I say 'no' to free music?

Of course you get no physical LP or CD. No artwork. No liner notes. No lyrics. Nothing to sell if you find that you no longer listen to it. All you get is a compressed computer file that downloads somewhere on your computer and when played back miraculously sounds like music (and much less so on a home system). Through eMusic a typical album will run around $3-4.

But really the most amazing thing about the MP3 stores is that you can preview tracks, pick and download an album quickly and burn a CD in very little time. I did one Saturday morning and it took around 8 minutes from download to burned CD. All the while drinking my morning tea in my comfy chair. So that is pretty close to instant gratification, although I had to remind myself that if I had been in a record store I could easily beat the 8 minute mark from store checkout to car stereo. That is if I had a razorblade. If not, it probably would be a much closer match.

Also, if you are more of the type to buy an album for that 'one great song,' those 50 downloads can probably stretch pretty far over 30 days. Since I'm the type who prefers the album format, my 50 downloads lasted less than 2 days. I got 4 complete albums. Worst part is this means having to wait 28 days until I can get my next instant MP3 fix. Don’t really like this part of the eMusic plan – why not just charge $.30 a track?

So an important question is how much would you pay for an MP3 album? This is not to be confused with what an MP3 is worth(which I will discuss later). My gut tells me it certainly should be priced less than half the cost of a typical cd. The iTunes/Yahoo! $.99/song puts the costs too close in my opinion. I feel eMusic's pricing is much closer to the right ballpark around $3-4 an album.

A good high quality cassette to dub an album used to cost a few dollars and would have the same omissions as the MP3 downloads like lack of cover art and resale value. And the cost would equal maybe 25% of the typical $8-9 LP (This is back in the "C-30, C-60, C-90 Go!" era). This is something I can relate to having done this countless times.

But I think I'd prefer to think of the MP3 tracks being free of charge and that there’s an added $.30 'convenience fee' per track for downloading. Somehow I just feel cheated thinking of paying money for an MP3 which to me has little intrinsic value. In the future will we see people putting their MP3 collections in their will to their loved ones? Well with MP3 collections there certainly wouldn't be any need for fighting over it since multiple copies are a snap. Just give everyone a copy – and hopefully they'll be content and won’t try and sell it. Because if they did they'll just discover Uncle Pete's huge MP3 collection isn't worth much on the open market.

Ok, back to eMusic -- If this were a perfect world, all I would need is a 500GB external hard drive, a MP3 player, an eMusic subscription and an internet connection. My life would be simple. No more clutter or storage issues, cleaning records or changing cartridges. Actually, no more records, no more CDs. Just highly organized music files neatly stored together alphabetically on my computer and accessible in a matter of seconds.

It is a nice thought. But for now that’s all it is.

Old School Mess

Since this space is supposed to have music here's a Link to David Kilgour's MySpace page with "Today is Gonna Be Mine" from A Feather in the Engine


Pete Bilderback said...

Hey Pete. Thanks for posting this. I have very mixed feelings about "buying" digital music, for many of the reasons you mention.

I guess I am old school, because for me the LP is still the king. I like it best not only because it offers the best sound quality, but because of the tactile experience it offers. Looking at the cover art, reading liner notes, heck I even enjoy cleaning the things. And I can just look at them and understand how they work.

I felt like a big part of that tactile experience was lost in the switch to CDs with their tiny covers and easily broken jewel cases (not to mention the fact that they sound worse than LPs).

So now with digital downloads we get even worse sound quality and no physical thing whatsoever.

On the one hand it's a bummer, but on the other it does give some sense of instant gratification, and the ability to preview music. It also offers a lower cost way to distribute music for independent artists.

Maybe I'll have more to say on this topic later, but this is a very interesting post.

Pete Bilderback said...

Is that a 10cc album on the floor?

Peter Hennig said...

Yes, 10cc's 'How Dare You'. Haven't listened to it yet. That pile is from a client who brought by 7 bins of Lps - still haven't had a chance to listen to most of it. Mostly 70's stuff - Supertramp, Robert Palmer, Styx - and a Klaatu lp. And the Buckingham Nicks Lp which I didn't have. I like that one.

Pete Bilderback said...

I keep meaning to pick up a Klaatu album out of curiosity (see post on The Hello People above). Is it the one with "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft"?

Buckingham Nicks can go for decent money if in good shape. Apparently the master tapes for the album were lost. I've never heard it.

7 bins of LPs is a lot. There must be some decent stuff in there if only by chance.

Peter Hennig said...

Yeah, it's the first Klaatu record. Not overly impressed with it but it is a nice 70s artifact.

The Buckingham Nicks record is really good -- didn't realize the masters were lost. That sucks.

Pete Bilderback said...

Actually, I had read somewhere that the reason the album had never been released on CD was because the master tapes had been lost. Upon doing some further research that may not be true.

The only thing I can say with certainty is that it has never been officially released on CD. My guess is that if Buckingham and Nicks wanted to they would put it out on CD, master tapes or no. Don't know why they haven't.