Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ten Years of Music Reviews

Today marks ten years since I posted my first review on this blog: Morrissey's 48th birthday concert at the Pageant in St. Louis, Missouri. It's hard to believe that I've managed to write almost 200 posts on this blog in the meantime. I have no plans of stopping now, but as I mentioned in my previous post, I'm in the process of moving to Berlin, where I expect to continue growing my tastes and expanding my interests. I will miss the wonderful festivals and the plentiful concerts by local and touring acts that grace the Austin music scene, but I suspect that Berlin has its own treasures to uncover.

Quite a bit has changed in ten years, both personally and in terms of the music industry at large. Ten years ago, when I was at the peak of my collector's mania, I was living in St. Louis and second-hand vinyl was plentiful and cheap. Hence, I amassed a huge collection of vinyl often purchased as cheap as a dollar per record. Online retailers such as iTunes were already growing in popularity at that time, and CDs were already clearly on the way out, so they were generally also plentiful and cheap.

Now I'm in the midst of packing my things in preparation for an international move. While I'm considering what to take, I'm substantially trimming my physical music collection. Those cheap 90s CDs with terrible packaging that I criticized in one of my first posts were some of the first things to go. As previously mentioned in my post about selling my old Devo records, my tastes have also changed somewhat, which made getting rid of some things easy. However, my preferences on how to collect have only continued to evolve, and since that post I've even gotten rid of the Hot Potatoes greatest-hits album that I advocated for.

In that case, I at least kept a digital copy. Since hard drives are so cheap, it's an easy choice to keep a lossless copy of a CD whose packaging is unimpressive but whose musical contents are still worthwhile. (I've written about that before, too.) Even vinyl records have started to lose some of their appeal to me. At this point, I only want to keep my absolute favorites, the prized rarities, the limited presses from my friends, or the ones with the incredible artwork. Considering how expensive new vinyl is, especially compared to lossless digital downloads, it's rarely worth it for me anymore.

Ironically, I still love record stores, even as they continue to transition to selling more and more vinyl and there is less and less that I actually want to buy in them. There's still an appeal to the hunt and the random chance that leads to a new discovery. And anyway, I no longer feel obligated to indefinitely keep everything I buy: I can always spin an album for a few months and then decide to pass it back into circulation. This gets to the heart of a complicated issue: the matter of collecting versus curating. The reality is that there is too much good music to possibly own it all.

Streaming is a convenient middle ground, but I'm not entirely sold on it. On one hand, the low royalties associated with it are well-documented and the source of much consternation. On the other, it does make music widely accessible in a legal manner that was never possible before. Some royalties are better than none, and the discovery aspect is real. Despite my hesitation, I can't deny that Spotify is incredibly useful at times. I still love SoundCloud, too, even if I'm concerned for their long-term stability.

The increasing market share of streaming services reinforces the question of the ephemerality of music. For better or worse, I still cling to the notion of possessing music, but now I accept digital possession as valid in a way that I never let myself before. However, even that concept of possession is changing for me. Do I really need to have a flac or mp3 of every song I like? Is it really worth tracking down every obscure b-side of a new favorite band? Why bother, when I can just find those tracks on a streaming service on the rare occasions that I actually want to hear them?

Obviously, I haven't quite made final decisions on these matters, and I suspect my preferences will continue to change. In the meantime, I'll still be going to concerts and writing up reviews when I can. After ten years, I'm happy to report that I still enjoy live music and critical analysis thereof. I'll still be listening to as much recorded music as ever in one format or another, and I will probably continue to occasionally get inspired enough to write about that, too.

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