Thursday, July 23, 2009

A recent music Discovery

A few Saturdays back, I was perusing the new releases rack at Princeton Record Exchange (PREX) and found an album with some beautiful artwork that had “Vampire Weekend” scribbled across the price tag (VW isn’t due for a new album for a while). I was excited, but resisted the impulse buy and went home empty-handed. With some research, I found that I'd just seen the debut album entitled LP from the group Discovery, made up of dynamic duo Rostam Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend and Wes Miles from Ra Ra Riot. I got my hands on the music, and the tracks kept me coming back for more as I tried to figure out what was going on in my headphones: pop, synths, electronic, catchy, groovy, and colorful; that’s what I heard. My roommate came back from work with the mp3’s on his iPod, and we rocked out to it for the next three days. For serious.

Call me crazy (people have) but I enjoy buying music. It’s the physicality of a real CD, popping it into a really loud stereo for the whole album experience. Or just putting it on a shelf and looking at it. The music’s is half the package, and the CD and artwork seal the deal. If the artist can convince me it’s worth paying for their music, I will, like a “thank you, I’m really digging this.”

A week of listening to Discovery convinced me it was time to buy. I called PREX and asked, “Do you have any copies of Discovery’s album left?”

“Do you want on vinyl or CD?”

I was startled. “Um, either.”

“Ya, we’ve got a bunch of copies here,” he answered.

Vinyl? They had it on vinyl? As in a record? When was I?

Then I’m standing in PREX, CD in my left hand and vinyl in my right. Why would I even consider buying an album if I don’t have a record player? But why would I buy the CD if I have the mp3’s already? Why am I even considering paying for this music if it's already on my iPod?

I bought LP on a vinyl LP, and I couldn’t be happier.

* * *

This music purchase was different than most. I stumbled across the album while browsing at a music store on the day before it was supposed to be officially released, had it on my iPod that night without paying for it, and grew to love it with friends. But after I had listened and decided it was worth buying, I had to consider what I would be spending my money on. It’s definitely not the music, because I’ve already got that. Maybe it was the visuals; records are big, and record sleeves have lots of visual real estate; 144 square inches, to be exact. They're also beautiful, and in the case of Discovery’s LP, records are really big and beautiful. The album artwork is amazing, and the backside plays right into my [not-so] secret love for colorful transit maps.

I opened the record when I got home to find a foldout wall poster with lyrics and visuals, as well as a piece of paper with a link to download the album in mp3 format. It was suddenly clear this piece of vinyl wasn’t supposed to replace the music on my iPod or compete with the CD sales, but exist completely independently. The album looks gorgeous, and the fold-out poster unravels the music’s lyrical conundrums. The whole package releases the musical experience from the virtual, intangible world of the iPod, Hype Machine and YouTube, and adds physical legitimacy that you can see and touch, show off and admire.

I’m being over-romantic, but I can’t help but smile when I look over and see that Discovery album on my wall. Sure, I’ll spin it and listen a precious few times, but it will mostly stand as a friendly reminder of a musical discovery that helped me remember why music isn’t just for the ears. Music is something we can see and share with others, pumping us up, making us dance, slowing us down, or letting us unwind. Bands and artists better realize that while people love to listen, people also love if you've got more to offer than just a bunch of mp3's. Since getting music for free is officially “no big deal,” bands have a new responsibility, something that maybe existed in some stint of glory days in the past. If they want to survive—financially, artistically, however—they’ve got to expand their act. It's no secret that it's the concerts that pull in the big bucks, not the CD and vinyl sales. But if you give people a reason to buy some CD's or vinyl’s or something else...well, then I’m interested.

The direction of the music industry is a hot topic right now, and it wouldn’t be out of line to say that the future of music depends on how the music industry deals with change. For incredibly insightful further reading, check out Bob Lefsetz’s blog, The Lefsetz Letter. It’s all good, but maybe start with these posts: Michael Jackson Turning Points, Keith Urban at Staples, and Social Networking.

And be sure to keep listening.


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