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Music Media Mayhem

What is the best way to buy and consume music in 2024?

Robert Rackley
Robert Rackley
3 min read
Music Media Mayhem
Image by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

I go back and forth about how I like to listen to music and on what media. I've been doing this for 30 years, so I probably won't be settled anytime soon. Wes Davis writes for The Verge about vinyl outselling CDs for the second year in a row.

But it’s not hard to see why record sales are trouncing optical discs. CD players aren’t nearly as ubiquitous as they used to be. New cars mostly don’t ship with them anymore, and neither do computers. Plus, it’s impossible to impress anyone with your collection of jewel cases. But invite either your cool audiophile friend over or their nostalgic parent, and either is probably equally likely to pore over the tattered spines of your collection of garage sale scores, special-edition records, and concert trophies — and engage with you when you say things like, “Vinyl is cool, but it’s not actually better than a CD.”

Hey, I've got my CDs (most of which don't come in jewel cases anymore) in some pretty cool storage bins in my Ikea Kallax shelves. It makes for a nice-looking display. Although, I won't be hanging those things on my wall like my vinyl.

I'm going to assume that part of the reason vinyl is outselling CDs is that increasingly, music is released to stream and download and physically on vinyl with no CD version. I frequently see this on Bandcamp. The big exception to this trend is Japan, where CD sales continue to outpace vinyl.

CJ Chilvers has a post about why he is buying more CDs now. He gives a bit of background on how this came about, which involves recordings he loves being changed on the streaming services. Since your two real choices for music on physical media are vinyl and compact discs (sorry cassette lovers), he goes into why he favors the latter.

CDs have the best sound quality. At least they have the best potential for sound quality in physical media. They don’t always use that potential. But, for the music I love most, CDs often have the same or greater dynamic range compared to vinyl, without the degradation over time that vinyl experiences (or distortion, clicks, and pops).

I tend to think the longevity of my vinyl collecting is one of the reasons I now gravitate towards CDs. As I have discovered over the last 30 years, vinyl just doesn't age that well. For this reason, I've always been wary of buying used LPs. I would rather not buy an LP that's already been worn out by someone else. I've also gotten to a point where I don't want to wear out my music media myself, either. The cool factor that vinyl has comes with some serious drawbacks in terms of durability.

In all, Chilvers lists 14 reasons to underscore the rationale for his decision. The one that struck me most was that last item on the list.

It’s fun. I could eliminate all other reasons from this list and I would still be OK with buying CDs just for the fun of it. It’s why I would never discourage anyone getting into an all-vinyl hobby either. Since I’ve started buying CDs again, I’ve listened to way more music than I have since my 20s. I’ve also learned about good audio equipment: what it is, where to find it cheap, and how to restore it. I've found the best-mastered versions of favorite albums in bargain bins, while lower-quality “remasters” sell for 10 times as much. I’ve met new people, listened to new artists, and had new sonic experiences. What more could you ask for in a hobby?

I have only recently resigned myself to the fact that remasters are not always better. This is helpful to know when I get the urge to replace a perfectly good CD from decades ago with a fresh new remaster. Not only that, but a dozen vinyl variants of an album are starting to come across as desperate money grabs. The artist Billie Eilish talked about this in a recent interview focused on sustainability.

Eilish: We live in this day and age where, for some reason, it’s very important to some artists to make all sorts of different vinyl and packaging … which ups the sales and ups the numbers and gets them more money and gets them more…

Some trends, such as saturating the market with variants of the same album, portend hitting peak vinyl, but people have been predicting that for years, so who knows?

Noise

Robert Rackley

Orthodox Christian, aspiring minimalist, inveterate notetaker, software dev manager and paper airplane mechanic.


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