Monday, May 5, 2014

Taking The Collecting Out Of Music

Bobby Owsinski/Forbes

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Everyone collects something. It might be clothes, shoes, baseball cards, bottle caps, coins, cars or an exclusive subset of these and thousands of other items. Regardless of your income strata, its a sure bet that there’s something that you collect, sometimes even without realizing it. Collecting allows people to relive their childhood, connect to history, relish the thrill of the hunt, or sooth some emotional urging that they may be totally unaware of.

For most of the history of audio recording, people collected music too. Many fans amassed massive vinyl and CD album collections that covered broad music categories, while others concentrated just on the recordings of a particular artist, or even just the songs they particularly liked. A “record” collection was something that in many ways defined who you were, because your collection was shaped exclusively by your musical taste.

Your Collection As A Window Into Your Soul
Think back to the time when music consumers purchased physical products, be it vinyl or CD. What was one of the first things that you did when you went to a friend’s house? You’d inspected their record collection, if not right away, the first chance you got (it was a great way to pass the moments when the friend went to the rest room or the kitchen). After all, it was a window into the person’s heart and soul. A collection based exclusively around one genre might label you as intense and focused, while one that spanned genres and styles might mean that you were open-minded and free spirited, at least from a quick glance. At the very least, it gave you both some common ground.

When music consumers transitioned to digital music downloads in the early 2000s, music began to lose that unique collectibility. Sure there was still a hint of it left, but the definition seemed to change as it became more about the number of songs on your iPod, or how much of your CD collection was converted to digital. The problem was that music collecting at that time seemed to become more about quantity rather than quality.

The Music Collector Dies
In today’s streaming world of Spotify, YouTube and Pandora, the spirit of the music collector has been effectively killed. You might say that playlists are collections, but when there’s little in the way of a financial or physical expenditure in the pursuit, there’s also little to lose, and a level of passion becomes dormant as a result. There’s not much to be proud of, nothing to show off, nothing to pursue, and precious little to cherish. Music is stripped of what may be a pivotal emotional connection.

The music industry could use a new tangible item to sell, and for consumers to collect. The problem is that its main product has always been its delivery medium. Until some new technology comes along that replaces the convenience that digital music supplies with a more appealing product that you can hold in your hand, the industry will have to rely on the physical products of the last century and the dwindling customer base that still consumes them. As we listen to our streaming service of choice, the “new” recorded music business is currently without a collectible product, which continues to contribute to its financial challenges, and the fan experience is that much poorer because of it.

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