The record was the first great preservation medium for consumers, and its value is still appreciated by music lovers everywhere. I have a record collection myself, as many lovers of jazz do, since the original issues were LPs, well into the 1980s.
The tape was never an effective killer of the record, though the compact disc certainly was. In kind, the mp3 is threatening the longevity of the compact disc, though so far I don’t think it has quite won.
While there are those among us who still argue that nothing beats that nice, warm analog sound, the rise of digital music is undeniable, and neither is its convenience. Apple CEO Steve Jobs was spot on when he introduced the first generation iPod by touting that you could have 1,000 songs in your pocket.
But, as Wayne Bremser of harlem.org points out, there are several remaining issues to be overcome before the iTunes Store model is good for music.
Being good for music is definitely different than being convenient for the listener. Whether or not listeners care about liner notes, album artwork, and lossless audio remains to be seen, though it seems as if the battle is being lost steadily. As far as I know, CD sales are not on a huge slide (though I understand that figures are down), while digital music downloads are definitely up.
But there is something about the iTunes model of single song purchases that represents a shift in paradigm that I definitely do not like.
In the 90s (or whenever), you’d buy an album and complain, “I wish I could just get the hit song off of it.” Now you can get nearly anything and for a mere 99¢ on iTunes. Record labels are only now creating more effective marketing strategies to take advantage of this. But there is an art in creating a whole album, and this is slowly dying.
Albums used to take a lot of heart to create, as entire suites or themes would be put together to make a coherent statement. Some examples of this in jazz are John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Charles Mingus’ A Black Saint and a Sinner Lady.
Even TLC (Crazysexycool) and Jodeci (The Show …) have had albums that tried to tell an entire story, to varying degrees of success.
I like that model. An entire album. An entire body of work from an artist that serves as a historical marker of their style at a given point in time. Looking back through my favorite band Soulive’s catalog, one can see distinct change in musical style that is quite fascinating to explore and continually provides insights that are only revealed to the true devotees who are following a group’s growth.
Bremser makes the points that seem to resonate throughout the jazz community, and I suspect collections of fans from other musical genres (who doesn’t love a good Beatles album cover?) also miss the spectacular art work, informative liner notes, and physical product of past musical media.
The primary point of Bremer’s that I’d like to reiterate concerns artists. Music is and always should be about the interaction of the people creating the music and the people enjoying the music. Music is a collaborative effort, and as such, proper credit is due.
Digital music has empowered independent musicians and created hits that the musical machine hasn’t capitalized on. But at the same time, digital music in its current iteration threatens the due recognition and credit for the personnel who were integral parts of the creation.
In a sense it is a sad return to the early history of recorded music, in which many performing artists weren’t even given credit for their contributions to the album! iTunes and the other digital music stores should have, at the very least, a proper analog to liner notes that acknowledges the personnel who helped make the music happen.