When I was much younger I used to fantasise about having £1000 to spend in a record store. I thought it would be an amazing experience to sweep through the racks of vinyl and just choose everything I wanted to listen to. In those halcyon days when albums cost about £1.89, it seemed inconceivable, even with my eclectic taste in music, that the money would ever run out.
Then I would come back down to earth and realise that it was never going to happen. As a young lad growing up into a working class background, I would never be able to save that up from my pocket money. It was difficult enough scraping together the funds to purchase the latest David Bowie album, never-mind having the wherewithal to go on such a lavish shopping spree.
Instead, my mates and I had to ‘make-do’ with what we had. We soon realised that if we either clubbed together, or we took turns at buying new releases, we could maximise our assets. Of course, this did mean that we had to share each album. Those of us who didn’t get to keep the original, were faced with the task of setting the record running and then taping it onto a blank C60 cassette.
Come to think of it, when this exercise was in its infancy we had to go so far as to play the record and use a microphone to record onto the cassette (hoping that Grandma wouldn’t make a sound…..ssshhh) – then the ‘music system’ was invented with an integral tape recorder and the possibilities seemed endless.
Fast forward to 2012 and the world has changed beyond all expectations. For someone like myself who has a broad taste in music and a genuine love and passion for it, there appears to be a limitless supply. Groups have come along, such as U2 and Manic Street Preachers that started out as ‘new’ bands to me, but they brought with them longevity, building up a large catalogue of fine albums.
Many more have been added over time to the growing list of artists that I simply must keep up with and keep abreast of their latest release. And there is still nothing to compare to the thrill of hearing a new band for the first time and realising that they have something that excites you.
Unfortunately like most people on the planet, the growth in my earnings has not been anywhere near as explosive as the growth in available music. Hence, like many others, I simply have to be selective about what I spend my hard-earned cash on. The indisputable fact is, I cannot afford to buy all the albums I would want to, not by a long way. Especially as a key element of enjoying music (for me) is to hear it live and therefore I also need to keep some money back, with which to buy concert tickets.
There is an additional factor that comes into the equation. Technology keeps moving on. I have had the same albums in a number of different formats. As they are re-released in the latest incarnation, with (supposed) new improved sound quality, or greater flexibility of use, the result is that artists historically have sold the same core product to the same person on at least two occasions.
We also see re-issues of albums, but with the ‘added bonus’ of extra tracks. Granted, for some fans these offer a welcome addition, providing the opportunity to hear more music from their idols. Often though, the quality of these additional tracks leaves a lot to be desired and in many cases you can see why they were left off the original release. Obviously, we certainly don’t hear the record industry complaining about the increased revenues that these marketing ploys generate.
Of course I appreciate that artists need to earn a living and that if everyone copied their work they would be less inclined to make any more. I’m not saying I am in favour of people making copies of newly released albums available on the internet for vast numbers of people to download for free. To my mind it’s a question of degree.
If I lend the latest Beach House album to a friend, then chances are they will like it (because it’s excellent) and will become a fan of the band and potentially buy their next release, attend a gig, buy a t-shirt. In all likelihood that friend wouldn’t have bought the album because a) they had not heard of the band and b) they may have already spent this week’s spare cash on a new band called Dry The River and will want to share their (also excellent) debut album with me.
However, I do think there may be a case for allowing the back catalogues of artists – say anything over 2 years old – to be available for free download or at nominal cost. This allows people to discover new (to them) artists and to catch up on stuff they have missed. In reality, they haven’t got the funds to go out and buy every Marilyn Manson album, but they might buy the next one and go to see them on the next tour. Those of us who do much prefer to have the physical disc, with artwork etc also have the option of e:bay – a different take on sharing.
So music (file) sharing is nothing new, it was ever thus. However, in the modern digital age it’s much too easy for people to take this too far and this certainly has the potential to harm the industry. Is it a fact that this is already happening or just a perception? If those albums had not been illegally downloaded, would they in reality have ever been bought legitimately?
My view is that those of us with a conscience will continue to support the artists we like as much as our personal finances will allow. If less actual sales are taking place there may be an element that can be blamed on illegal downloading, but surely to a greater extent it’s the global recession that is having the biggest impact on the music industry.
People simply have less cash to spare and those in the music business may just have to accept that it’s no longer as lucrative as it once was. For me, sharing has always been a way to broaden musical experience, rather than simply save money.