Digital Music & Collectors

Digital Music & Collectors

Let me preface this post by saying this – I am a fan of music being available in digital formats. The convenience of being able to listen to pretty much any song I want on demand (for a nominal fee) at high quality is amazing. This is part of the reason that consumers have shifted away from physical formats; it’s much easier to tap or click than to get in a car, drive to a store, and try to find the CD you’re looking for (especially for a music geek like me, who would drive to Walmart at midnight to get the latest releases).

However, digital music DOES come with drawbacks – namely, the lack of a tangible, physical product. Everything is 1’s and 0’s – virtual music, if you will. If your preferred method is streaming, you are at the mercy of having an internet connection (or, if you’re traveling, a cellular data connection). Downloads have an advantage of being local files, but you still need that initial connection to obtain them, and to use them on more than one device, you have to transfer them somehow, either by a network connection or a flash drive of some sort. In both cases, if a device malfunctions, you not only lose your ability to play that music; you lose the music itself.

Contrast that to having a record, tape, or CD of some sort. You have a dedicated physical medium in your hand that can be played independently. On top of that, if a tape player bites the dust, you can just get a new tape player and keep playing your same old tape. If a single record gets scratched, you don’t lose your entire collection; you just have to replace that one record.

Now, if you get tired of that particular album (or find out that it’s worth a decent amount of money), you can sell it. In most instances, this does not harm the original artist, as they have already been paid for the album when it was originally purchased. Their end of the transaction is complete. If you sell that album to another individual, it’s a direct transfer, and the same number of albums still exists, so no piracy is involved (although if you mark it up significantly, there might be some moral questions involved).

In the digital world, however, you cannot re-sell digital files (at least not legally). Most digital downloads these days come with embedded security in the files that prevents them from being played by another user or account. Besides, if you “sell” someone an mp3 copy of an album, you’re not transferring ownership; you’re simply making a copy. You are making money off of a product that you are duplicating yourself, with the artist not getting any compensation. That, by definition, would be piracy, and is no different than making CD-R’s of an album and selling it at the flea market. Even if you give the files to someone without charging, it’s still producing an illegal copy by law.

This was part of what started the whole digital music revolution – music pirates who were trading files online in the late 90’s and early 2000’s via Napster and Limewire. Every time a file was shared, it wasn’t transferred; it was duplicated, and since digital duplication (typically) doesn’t involve generational deterioration (a copy of a copy of a copy), one purchase can result in numerous copies floating around – copies that were not paid for. So an artist got paid once for a copy, then that copy was used to make many digital copies for which the artist got squat.

But does this also mean that there will be less and less “collector’s items” in the future? Instead of an artist printing 1000 copies of an album, and those albums becoming rare finds on the collector’s circuit, there are virtually infinite copies available of new music, because it’s easily duplicated and transferred. In fact, some artists aren’t even releasing physical copies anymore because the majority of their fans will just listen to it on a streaming or downloading service anyway. Even if an album is deemed “out of print,” and no longer available digitally, all it takes is one person who has a digital copy, and it can be made widely available pretty much instantly. This was another draw of the initial “download boom” several years back, as a lot of the songs being downloaded were not widely available (although the process was still illegal, even if no money is exchanged).

Streaming music, on the other hand, means that the listener doesn’t even own the music; they’re basically renting it, and if a certain song or album is removed from the streaming service (which happens from the time to time), then you no longer get to listen to it, because you never owned it to begin with. It’d be like trying to collect library books that you have to return to the library.

While this doesn’t stop people from collection older music that predates the digital technology (or that isn’t currently available in an official digital form), it does potentially mean that anything an artist releases digitally may never be much of a collector’s item. The only exception I can think of is if a digital release had a song replaced quickly after release (perhaps an alternate mix not intended to be released). But even then, as long as SOMEONE has it, it can be spread. Heck, even songs that were never released can be made widely available thanks to a simple leak. Some artists have had entire albums leaked before they were intended to be released (which, in at least one instance, resulted in the artist scrapping the entire project and starting over from scratch).

So while there may still be SOME collectibles available in the digital age, they won’t necessarily be the of the same type, and probably not of the same value (as, again, digital files are much harder to assign a “value” to since they can’t be legally re-sold). This may be good for people who collect strictly for the completion of a collection, but for those who collect for potential re-sell value, they’re probably not going to find much to be excited about with digital music.

Kyle Boreing

Kyle has been writing for MusicScribe since 2008. He is a musician, producer, arranger, and occasional quartet singer, who pays way too much attention to recordings. He is an alumni of Stamps-Baxter School of Music and has shared the stage with many different artists. He also really likes movies that are "so bad they're good." Visit his website at www.kyleboreing.com, or follow him on Twitter @kyleboreing.

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3 Comments

  1. scottysearan
    Reply August 23, 22:15 #1 scottysearan

    I liked you article.
    I don’t believe that any of our record collectors believed we would be a collector when we first started buying our
    Though I can tell you where I bought a lot of my music, such as the store or concert where I bought my music.
    Radio DJs always were one of my heros. I would get on my bike and ride out to where the DJs were having a local remote. Didn’t matter the genre. They don’t do remotes like they did in 60’s today.. I can remember the radio stations having old panel bread wagons made up complete with turntables, cart machine and reel to reel recorders That was radio.
    Although I Have some memories of Gospel sings in Birmingham, AL. in the 50’s when I was 5, 6 & 7 years old., though it wasn’t till the mid60s that I fell in love with SOuthern Gospel Music.
    Though we listen to the Grand Ole Opry and heard those Friday Night sings from the War Memorial auditorium broadcasted over WSM It hadn’t really phased me. THough I did ask my dad to take to me of those Gospel sings
    But one Friday night in 1964 I heard Wally Fowler and the Ole Gospel Man, J. G. Whitfield talking about a new group that was taking the country like a storm and they introduced the Happy Goodman Family and they came on stage and sang THE OLE GOSPEL SHIP. they had four encores, evidently they were getting standing ovations. My life forever changed that night, I could feel the Holy Spirit coming through the radio airways as the Happy Goodmans sang.
    Now I am no stranger to Pentencostal Music since that is the way I was raised. My Dad was a Pentecostal Preacher and he didn’t believe in Gospel Singing for entertainment. My Dad and Mamam sang where my Dad would preach. But he didn’t like gospel singers. As a matter of fact he said the worst thing he ever done was taking me to a gospel sing.
    Going back to the Goodmans. THat night started my love affair with collecting Gospel Music back then though I didn’t call it collecting.
    The Next morning when I awoke I told my daddy that I wanted 3 dollars. Boy what you won’t 3 dollars for. I want a record. Boy we got records, we don’t need another one. We were poor that was like asking for almost a half days of wages. We lived in a one bedroom apartment with a shared bathroom with the landlord and my Daddy and Mother slept on a hie hideabed and my brother and I slept in one twin bed and my sister in the other twin bed
    At that time the only records we had was “Songs of Happiness-The Lefevres” and “The Sego Brothers & Naomi Sing” and “George Jones-Homecoming in Heaven”
    I told him I had heard a group called the Happy Goodman Family on the all-nite sing and I wanted their record. He give in because many years before he hard the Happy Goodmans singing with a preacher, C. T. Douglas in the Birmingham area.
    We lived about two blocks from the Sears & Roebuck store and there was a Lloyd’s 5 & 10 store near them and bouth stores carried records
    I went to Sears, No Happy Goodman family records. Statesmen, Blackwoods and the Speers but no Happy Goodmans. I walked across the parking lot to Lloyds 5 & 10 and they had one album. I was disappointed, it didn’t have the song I wanted.. But I bought I’M TOO NEAR HOME by the Happy Goodmans and I still have that record, though it’s grooves are badly worn and I have replaced it a couple of times But my love affair with Southern Gospel Music blossomed that night and my record collecting began that night. The price was $2.00 tax and all. The manager looked at me and I can remember what he said. You act there is something special about that record. And I replied that it was the ist record I have ever bought and there is some good singing on it. He paid the sales tax on that record for this happy boy and I said thank you..
    It would be four year later before I got to see the Happy Goodmans in person, Daddy never did question me again when I asked his for some money to buy a Happy Goodman Family Record, though he did on a lot of the other groups and I will call no names.
    Yes I know this a long reply but I will add you mention the morality of making a profit in record collecting.
    I have never been a person that thought it was right to adjust your prices to supply and demand.
    I have always thought that if you are making a decent profit when the command is normal and you raise your prices because of demand or scarcity, you are price gouging. That is one part of capitalism that I believe is wrong.
    I am not a socialist or a communist.
    Also I would to see the industry adopt an encryption in the music so that they could trace who made the copies from the original.
    I do agree with Gerald Wolfe’s stance on stealing of music.
    I am not able to collect the music like I once did because I don’t have the resources, But that does not give me the right to steal.

  2. Dean Adkins
    Reply August 23, 23:37 #2 Dean Adkins

    Long live vinyl!

  3. djsfromcleveland
    Reply August 27, 10:15 #3 djsfromcleveland

    I’ve collected albums, cassettes, mostly CD’s videos on VHS , and DVD’s, i have quite a large collection compared to other people. I do not do the digital music thing, i just can’t get into that. I may have done it once or twice. But i love collecting the music on a hard copy, love looking at the artwork and liner notes too.

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