Yeah, yeah, I know that I’ve written a few articles about the merits of streaming music, especially in an environment where streaming makes up 80% of all music consumption (individual genre stats are not available, but I’m guessing it’s safe to say that southern gospel consumption isn’t quite at the same level – especially if you’re a fan of certain artists). I may have even irritated some in the industry with my steadfast stance for digital music distribution in some form (although I will freely admit the current model leaves much to be desired in terms of creative compensation).
But compensation aside, there is a major downside to digital music distribution for consumers (downloads or streaming) that most music customers don’t immediately realize – if an album is discontinued for whatever reason, that’s it. It’s gone. If a physical copy wasn’t made commercially available, then you’re just out of luck.
The irony in this situation is that it actually gives distributors FAR more control over when and how their music is made available. If a record label wanted to make an album available for a limited time, they can easily do so by pulling an album down after a certain time. Sure, there will probably be those who have made their own digital copies somehow through digital ripping, but on the whole, the album essentially goes away.
This can be especially helpful if a label or artist decides they are not happy with a particular product (or want to pull a George Lucas and just change something for the sake of change). Let’s say that a song is released to the public, only for someone to discover a recording oddity after the fact (which, as long-time readers will know, does happen from time to time). The distributor can pull that particular recording and replace it without having to re-press a whole new physical batch or issue a recall. Not only that, but the original flawed recording is nowhere to be found (unless, again, someone took the trouble to digitally rip the music prior to a switch).
In a way, digital distribution gives artists far more chances for a mulligan; if they don’t have to worry about flawed copies floating around, they can be more relaxed in their efforts – perhaps even leading to complacency rather than putting in every effort to release a top-quality product the first time.
Compare that to a physical CD (or record or tape), where an album is released to consumers, purchased, then discontinued. Said album may no longer be made, but copies of it still exist and can be sold/traded among fans, meaning that it never truly goes away unless every known copy is somehow recalled or otherwise destroyed (which, in this digital age, is extremely hard to do, as most everyone makes a digital backup of their physical media anyway).
This is the main reason that I still remain a consumer of physical media when it comes to certain artists or albums. I don’t want to be at the mercy of a record label or distributor to hear commercially-available music just because I was late to the party. Also, being a collector, I am always on the lookout for those oddities that may have only been around for a limited time, or were quickly replaced by later versions of the same product for whatever reason. In southern gospel music in particular, there are quite frequently multiple versions of a single album due to group member changes. If these albums were strictly limited to digital distribution, then the “original” versions would simply be erased and replaced with the “updated” versions. Physical copies ensure that both versions can be heard.
So yes, while I am for digital distribution of music, I am also still very much a physical distribution consumer. As I’ve said in the past, there are plenty of ways for both formats to co-exist in an effort to reach the widest audience possible.
But then again, this IS SG….we’re not always known for going for the widest audience.