On Friday during a break at a Skinny Moo gig, I was talking to bassist extraordinaire Mike “Brown Note” Crow about the way people consume music nowadays. We talked about the fact that when people download songs or albums, maybe they get some small digital copy of the album cover, but not much else.
Mike said that one of the things he looked forward to most when he bought an album or a CD was putting on the music and then poring over the album art. Reading every word of the liner notes. Maybe finding things in the album design that were related to the music that he was listening to.
When vinyl ruled, the large format of the packaging was a big enough canvas for really cool art. At some point, the LP package went from a simple sleeve to book-style folders, some with pages of text and pictures. It was something like a guidebook to the album and artist that you could carry around in your pajamas, at least as far as the headphone cord would let you go.
CDs, with their smaller size, still had booklets that went with them. Sometimes the booklets folded out into one big sheet, and sometimes they were bound in the middle like a regular book. Either way, though, it was still something physical that you could peruse while listening.
Of course you can find all the information you want about an artist and an album on the Inner Nets. More than you could ever include in physical packaging. But somehow (even if you are sitting on the couch with your smart phone, looking at album details while you listen to the music) it’s not the same.
There are no pages to get dog-eared from countless re-readings. There’s no album sleeve to gingerly handle so it doesn’t get ruined. There’s nothing tangible that you take care of to show that you value the intangible music that the object represents.
So what is music worth to people today? Are songs just disposable nuggets that hopefully encourage people to buy t-shirts and tickets to shows? If everyone gets music for free, what value does it have?