It was a couple of years ago, but I remember being in the local record store when a customer was inquiring about Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. He wanted to know if it was available on vinyl and was shown a sealed copy of the latest reissue; a double LP. The price? $59.99. The customer – well, he can’t really be called that anymore since he baulked at the price – turned his nose up, “$60! – pfff…”
The way I figure it that’s a pretty decent/standard deal. We can decide that vinyl is expensive – it’s almost never discounted. Or we can decide that vinyl is the price it is – and there are a lot of factors involved in landing that LP from England or America or Italy or Germany or Australia to a store in Wellington or Auckland or wherever. We can decide to buy it – or we can decide to not buy it.
Now this non-customer was of course within his rights to refuse the item at $60. But it got me to thinking about the price of music. You see a copy of Bitches Brew (an album that is worth having if you ask me) will set you back about $50 on CD; maybe even a second-hand copy goes for that these days.
If that’s the case I don’t think $60 for the double-LP is so bad.
But I’m a vinyl buyer. And I’m a music buyer. I started buying cassette tapes when I was 10. I mowed the lawns for my parents and for my aunty and uncle across the road. I got $10 from each lawn and that $20 went on tapes. Every week I got a new tape or two. I built up my music collection buying brand new cassettes and blank-tapes to copy records on to.
I was late to CDs. I bought my first CD in 1992. I still remember my first compact disc: Loaded by The Velvet Underground.
When I moved to Wellington in 1995 I had pretty much given away my tape collection. I kept a few for car-trips but the majority were dumped; passed off to friends.
I started buying vinyl in 1995 too. But it was mostly CDs. In recent years I buy more vinyl than CDs; I do of course still receive CDs to review – not all that often now really. You might say I get them for free – but there is always a cost.
So, I’ve glossed over my buying history as a way of pointing out that I am happy to pay for music. I always have been.
Of course I’m also a bargain hunter. I’ll find things at the cheapest price, sure. I don’t like going in to JB HiFi too often though. It smells like a weird mix of new gumboots and old semen. And I am happy to pay a few dollars extra to avoid that smell; to avoid the weird bright lights and spam-styled price stickers alerting you to something you’ve never needed for half the price you figured you’d never have to pay. I have bought from there though – because a Lou Reed documentary for $2.99 is still – roughly – $17 cheaper than I would find it anywhere else. I’ll take the smell for a $3 DVD once or twice a year.
But back in the CD-buying days, back when I would buy three or four a week, sometimes more, price was definitely a factor. I worked in a store and got staff-discount but I still bought from other stores if I found something I wanted. The price being right – well that was an occasional bonus. If it was something I really wanted I paid the money. And I still will.
I have records I love that have cost me $2 – Trini Lopez’ Live A PJ’s, say. And I have records that have cost me close to $200 – a box-set of Daniel Johnston LPs for instance. It was not possible to get the box-set for $2. It was possible to get Trini for that. You pay the price if you think the price is fair. The Trini Lopez album pops and squeaks and that is okay. (You might say that so does Trini anyway). It’s a $2 LP. It’s given me more pleasure than some of the LPs I’ve spent $30-40 on.
I hardly ever download music. And my reason for not downloading is mostly because I don’t need to. I am getting a lot of music through my own purchases and through reviewing. I only download music, funnily enough, because record labels now send download links instead of sample CDs. They want you to describe their product – for review, for promotion (in their eyes) and they won’t give you the actual product. But hey…
I wonder if downloading can be blamed entirely for people refusing to pay a particular price. It’s certainly not the focus of what I am writing about. I’m writing about the value of buying music. If you use the argument that a retailer forces you to download because they are charging too much you have to admit that you are not actually getting the same product. You are getting a version of it – and it’s not the same experience.
You can purchase through iTunes and receive the files; it might come with a “digital booklet” – but it is not the same as owning the CD or the LP. Sure, you’ve got the music and if that is all you wanted fine. You’ve also paid the price that iTunes or whatever site is charging – but it is a different experience that you have downloaded. And it will not sound as good. It will not give you the same connection.
Part of buying music – for me – has always been about studying the purchase. That might mean stopping for a coffee in town and reading through the liner notes then and there. It might mean taking the record straight home, cueing it up and relaxing back with a wine – or saving it for a special experience; friends are over and this purchase is part of the evening, just as the wine and the meal and the conversation will be.
I’m not saying you have to have that same set of ideas/ideals. You can have whatever rituals you want for purchasing and listening to music. But to just accumulate – to click and drag and take for free is placing no value on the experience of music.
We can trot out the same sad lines that always appear – “I only download international music, but I’ll always buy New Zealand music because then I know the money is going to a person who needs it”. A bizarre double standard if you ask me; really nonsensical when you think about it.
I’ll spend $50 on a vinyl copy of a brand new album (or a classic reissue) if I have the $50 and can justify it. I don’t spend anything on going to rugby games – because I don’t go. I don’t spend very much on concert tickets because part of my job allows me to go at no charge – but there’s always a cost. It’s a tool of the trade essentially as a music reviewer. So my money that I don’t spend there goes on recorded music. It’s a hobby, it’s a passion, it is – at times an obsession – it’s part of my life and it’s just something I do. I feel the same way with books. I spend a huge amount of money every year on books. And I would rather have the item – when I really want it – than to borrow it from a library or read online. I still do borrow from libraries; I still do read things online. I still borrow books from friends, just as I loan mine out. But I am happy to spend the money – to me it’s the cost of an interest. I don’t go skiing, I don’t race cars. I don’t travel the world.
My life, in your eyes, might be sadder for the fact that I don’t ski, race cars or travel. But in my eyes (and ears) I’m very content for the music that I have. It tells my story – it is part of me. My records are my photo-albums. My records are my reminders of the good and the bad. My records are my connection to people, to friends and family. My records are absolutely an indulgence. They are also a badge of honour. They are lifeblood.
I assign a value to buying and owning music that is a justification for the cost charged.
My question here is what value do you place on music? Just because we can get a (poor) copy of something for free – it’s available and easy – should we do that? Do you place any value at all on the package, the tactile item or is it just the music that matters?