Agony Shorthand

Sunday, June 08, 2003
ON THE DIGITIZATION REVOLUTION…..I’ve waxed previously about the floodgate of musical discovery that is now opening due to the “digitization” revolution going on in bedrooms and dens around the world, yet I think I’ll stop to marvel at the benefits again. Forget burning CD-to-CD; I speak of the beauty of LP-to-CD transfers that are bringing untold amounts of unheard music to those eager enough to seek it out, at prices (10 cents a blank!) that can’t be beat. I speak of trading 10 CD-Rs at a time with music fiends in all corners of the globe, and finding that they’ve taken their ultra-rare punk rock 45 or 60s dope records or Hawaiian 78s collections and burned them onto CDs that you’ll never, ever find in stores, and that are full of music that you’ve been dying to hear or never heard about in the first place. It has been opening musical doors for me and no doubt for many of you. The morality and legality of such is an open question, but having a turntable, a preamp, a computer, and the right software is pretty much all you need to start roasting up your vinyl collection.

It certainly will have an effect on the collector’s market that I’ll bet is already beginning to be felt; tell me again why should I hunt down a DESPERATE BICYCLES 45 at top dollar on eBay or at a record swap, when someone’s saved me the trouble by recording their entire output on a single 60-minute CD, and made their own killer artwork for it to boot? If someone can top it with a legit release, great, but to my knowledge there are no takers. The invisible hand may well cast its shadow on prices paid for out-of-print 45s that never made it to CD (“Kill The Hippies”, anyone?) – though you never can tell with the collector mindset. There are many of you that are certainly still extremely uncomfortable with the compact disc and the digitization of punk rock, delta blues, old gypsy 78s, no wave 45s or what have you, and for you having the original vinyl is what it’s all about. While I sympathize, I think for me it’s about having portable access to every great song every recorded (and I’ll get there someday). I was of a similar records-over-CDs mindset until several life events forced my hand: 1.) Purchase of a car that had a CD player, coupled with 2.) an hour-long commute to work in each direction, which necessitated music, as well as 3.) enough of a divergence in musical taste with my wife that the home entertainment system was being used in the evenings mostly for our common denominators (John Fahey, 50s jazz, 60s girl pop, Stones, etc,) and not for those musicians in which I parted company with her (Drunks With Guns, Mainliner, Loretta Lynn). When much of my listening thus became “mobile”, the LP started suffering the indignity of non-use in my household – until the digitization revolution started.

Now the revolution is obviously breaking out all over the place, as evidenced by the sorts of CD-Rs for sale on the web, at record swap meets, and that are being made for me and you by our pals. It’s a development that is pretty profound for those of us who’ve been accumulating music for many years, one that I wholeheartedly support, but one that also might have some downstream effects on music making, effects that could be of some consequence to the musicians of today. I’d be interested in what you have to say about it.