Missing Physical Music

As I sat in a bit torrent stupor, downloading dozens of classic Pearl Jam bootlegs I had traded on cassette back in the 1990s, I couldn’t help but think how sterile and boring the experience was.

Sure, there are benefits. Like getting much better quality recordings of these 1991 and 1992 club gigs, and finding shows that had been hoarded back in the pre-2K world of tape trading. But there was no interaction with anyone, anywhere. Not even an email.

Tape trading, for those who remember it or took part, was communal. Even if you set up your trades via email and mailing lists like most did, you still had to prepare tapes and packages to mail and have conversations with the trader on the other side. After over ten years I finally met a trader friend in person just a few weeks ago.

That got me to thinking what other things I miss about physical music (tapes, vinyl, CD) versus today’s digital abyss.

Check out my list below including a few real benefits to digital music that almost make it all worth it.

Wearing out a cassette

When cassettes were what you bought in a store with artwork – before we just worried about the blank ones for concert trades – you could easily play the cassette so much that the lettering would wear away. This happened to nearly all my tapes as I didn’t have a ton. But I kind of miss those days when the few albums you had were sacred and you flipped them over in your walkman a few times a day.

Rummaging through used CD stores

I can’t even imagine how many hours of my life were spent not only shopping for CDs but trading in my unwanted albums for new ones. Sure, most used CD shops charged obscene amounts for their new discs, but you’d have a good credit towards them from your trade-ins. When I lived in Florida I would drive 30 minutes just to go to the used store with the better indie rock selection.

Discovering vinyl

Vinyl records were so passé when I was growing up. Everyone was heralding the CD as the ultimate in audiophile mediums and the record was an antique. In high school, my stereo actually had a built-in record player and I got some good deals on discs. Mostly I just listened to classic rock my mom had forgotten existed in her collection.

But it took Pearl Jam’s espousal of the warmth of vinyl to make me give it a serious try in college. All their Christmas singles were released on vinyl by the way. So I bought a Thorens turntable and checked out the difference between vinyl and CD version of their records and a few others.

Now with record labels providing MP3 codes along with the purchase of new vinyl I can see me buying more. Although I have no place for stashing records.

That leads me to the big positive of digital music.

There is no physical form. A 2TB harddrive is the same size as a handful of compact discs. I currently have about 2,200 albums taking up just 255 GBs of harddrive. And that’s not even my entire collection of CDs. Those are now in CD albums, about 20 of them scattered behind the couch, in the crawl space and in bookshelves. Makes the 2TB harddrive seem pretty minimalistic and efficient.

And with digital you can find just about any piece of music out there? And in just a few minutes of searching. For a busy dad that’s nice. Although I barely have time to surf idly on the Internet for music, let alone spend an hour sifting through albums in a record store.