Today I bought some music on vinyl for the first time in at least five years, probably closer to ten.
I stopped buying vinyl because CDs, and then digital files, were infinitely more convenient to play on a computer, MP3 player or phone – the only ways I’ve wanted to listen to music over the past decade. My Last.fm account has a lot to do with that – being able to log and share my music taste reaps so many benefits in terms of new music discovery that I like to obsessively log every single song I choose to listen to.
In fact, I discovered my favourite band, The Fiery Furnaces, via Last.fm and I’ve since bought just about everything released by the band and its two members – brother and sister Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger. So, it’s no surprise that my first vinyl purchase in a decade is Cut It Out, a vinyl-only solo album by Matthew Friedberger.
Cut It Out is the fourth of six releases from Friedberger this year that will only be available on good old fashioned 12 inch plastic. I resisted buying the previous three – a subscription to the US-produced series was simply too expensive, and I figured that the individual albums would eventually be available digitally, even if I had to wait a year or too.
Then recently, I stumbled upon one of the vinyl-only tracks on YouTube and realised I’d been a bad fan - I’d missed out on multiple albums worth of material from a brilliant artist who (when I met him at a Fiery Furnaces gig a couple of years ago) had told me that further solo albums were on the cards – the least i could do was buy them.. I contacted Thrill Jockey, the US label releasing the series, to check – would it be released digitally in the future?
Thrill Jockey’s David Halstead replied to the negative:
Unfortunately, no. The subscription (or trying to get each individual record in the shops over there) is the only way to get the music. That was intentional to preserve the special aspect of the collection.”
So, having missed albums 1 to 3, I’ve bought number 4 on import from my local record shop. I’ve no idea how I’ll listen to it (I imagine that a USB turntable is a purchase in my future at some point, so I can get the music into the format I want it in), but something struck me as I handed over the money to pay for the album:
As much as I love Matthew Friedberger’s music and want to pay for it to help support him financially, isn’t it incredibly arrogant to release an album on vinyl only?
The idea of listening to music on a record player alone at home or in a small group of friends isn’t just old fashioned – it’s positively obsolete. These days I want to be able to listen to my music wherever I am, to share what I listen to on my Last.fm profile or via Facebook’s new social music features - listening without the flexibility and social dimension that digital formats provide is at odds with what music is today.
Sure it keeps the music special, but six albums’ worth of music so special that only a few thousand people will ever own it? That’s the musical artist equivalent of being Amish.
I’ll still buy albums number 5 and 6 of course (1 to 3 are sold out) but I’ll do it through gritted teeth. The music may be great, but to ignore the advantages of the 21st Century just to to ‘keep something special’ just irks me.