Nothing Special, Really

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I realized sometime within the past 30 days that I haven't actually bought myself any CDs this year. Usually, I'm dropping $50 a month on CDs, if not more. The fact that I'd gone at least 11 months, if not more, without buying a CD was sort of disheartening. When I made this realization, I almost felt like I'd let someone down....I just didn't know whom.

There are a couple reasons why my CD purchasing habits have changed so drastically, and they're all sort of interwoven, but the main reason is that I just haven't had the disposable income this year to drop some cash on CDs (in fact, on at least two occasions, I've actually gone to the record store to sell CDs, and DVDs, that I no longer cared for). So, since I don't have the cash to get new music, all the music I've obtained this year I got via downloading for free. No, not "illegal" downloading either. I'm going to transition away from my story for a bit to explain this.

Downloading something for free is not, per se, illegal. Neither is downloading many things. There's this big misconception that the act of downloading is illegal. The truth is, providing the material for someone to download is illegal. If you look at all of the lawsuits that assholes like the RIAA have filed, you notice that every single one of those is for uploading or for hosting material to be downloaded. The reason Napster went down wasn't because they were downloading so much music, it's because they were actually hosting the files to be downloaded. Anyways, I could get into a much bigger discussion about that, which I may do at some point, but that's not the story for today.

Anyways, through downloading, I've been able to find a lot of new music that I wouldn't have had the means to find out about otherwise. New (to me) artists like St. Vincent (my vote for Album Of The Year), The National, Peter Bjorn & John, Girl Talk, as well as the latest albums from some of my favorite bands like Radiohead, Interpol, Arcade Fire, The Frames, The Shins, etc. I'll try to stay away from the argument for downloading tangent again, but in support of my actions, I should note that I bought tickets to see all of those artists this year, except for The national, PB & J, who I couldn't afford to see at the time, and Radiohead, because they haven't gone on tour.....yet. This is the basis for my argument for downloading - I could either give my $14+ to a record company for a product that I may or may not like, or get the music for free and invest my $14+ to see the band perform for free. I'll choose the latter any time. Again, I digress.

Despite my affinity for downloading music, I'd still probably spend the money buying more CDs anyways if I could afford it, and that's because I believe in supporting independent music stores. For years, I had the same dream that so many others have had - to own my own record store. It seems like it'd be the best job in the world (and High Fidelity confirmed this as fact), but the fact that CDs are a dying medium, as well as the truth that many others are doing a much better job of running a record store than I ever could, killed this dream pretty quickly.

I'm lucky enough that I have an incredibly kick-ass record store just two blocks away from my apartment - Easy Street Records. They have everything you'd want an independent record store to have - great selection, reasonable prices, a friendly staff, and they host in-store performances, it seems, at least once a week. They also carry a huge selection of used CDs, DVDs & vinyl as well. How can you not love a record store like this? I don't think of a record store as a store, I think of it as a place to hang out, a place to discover new music, a place that facilitates actual artists by giving them a place for the music to not just be sold but also heard & felt. In my opinion, an independent record store is just as vital to music performance as are videos & concerts. I have to emphasize "independent" here. Retailers like Best Buy & Walmart, corporations like Clear Channel & Viacom are a different story. They don't promote artists, they simply push product. What I'm talking about here are organizations like Easy Street, Sonic Boom, Amoeba, KEXP, etc. that help introduce new music that isn't just the latest product for you to buy.

As if I didn't need another reason to go to Easy Street, they were having a 20% off sale this weekend on EVERYTHING (excluding sale items). With a little bit of cash left over from working mega-OT lately, I walked down to Easy Street to fulfill my duty as a music appreciator. I had full intentions of buying a buttload of new music, but I got there too late and only had a half-hour to shop before they closed up.

I'm not sure if it was only partially or completely due to feeling rushed, but as I was browsing the store, I couldn't find anything to buy. I couldn't think of any new CDs that I wanted to buy or artists to check out. I found St. Vincent's album, but I didn't feel like investing my money in music that I already had, a problem I ran into many times over that night. When I did find music that I didn't have & wanted, it was already on sale, which meant no 20%. I went to the used section, but then I realized that I wouldn't save as much from the sale if I bought used, and what I did find used, again, I already had on my computer. So instead, I browsed the used DVD section, only to hear the announcement that I had 10 minutes left to shop. Dammit! I went back over to the CDs, found a couple that I really did want, and made my way out of the store.

If I had enough time, I could've spent hours in that store, or at least I'd like to think that I could have. I know I used to be able to, but last night, walking around in the store, I actually started feeling bored. Even though I'm happy with what I bought, I don't feel as excited as I used to when I bought new music. It almost feels like I bought stuff out of obligation - I found myself thinking many times "Do I really want to spend my money on this? I could just download it instead." CD shopping, and following music in general, has become a waning interest for me. I still get my daily music news & I try to get to as many shows as I can, but I just don't feel like I have the energy for checking out new artists like I used to. Honestly, that kinda makes me sad.

I do feel like the problem is mostly an economic one. If I could afford to, I feel like I could see myself spending more time in the record store. But I just wonder how much longer I have this in me. 10 years ago, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that music wasn't just a hobby of mine, it helped define me. The music I listened to influenced who I hung out with or how I felt about certain issues. Music has always been the soundtrack to my life (yes, I know how cliche' that sounds). Pull out any one of the CDs I have and I can probably tell you, pretty vividly in fact, the first memory that I associate with that album. Back then, I had few passions in my life that were bigger than music. Today, I don't know if I still feel the same way. I'm not quite sure what's changed that's made me lose part of my interest in music, but whatever it is, it's a bit depressing.

BTW, if you're wondering what I purchased:

Hvarf/Heim by Sigur Ros

Broken Social Scene presents Kevin Drew's Spirit If...

Werewolfs & Lollipops from Patton Oswald

A gift for Wac which I cannot say


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