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The Value in Betting on Music: What's Not Said in the Digital Music Debate

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The last time I can remember buying an album from a store was in 2006. I had ducked into a cramped record shop in Melbourne and asked the clerk what new Australian bands he could recommend. He handed me The Drones' "Wait Long By the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By."

That night, I got back to my hotel and fell into a trance. Since then, The Drones have led me through airport terminals, down interstate highways and into sleep more times than I can count.

Of course, the experience in that record shop could have gone the other way, as with so many albums. But that to me is the great fun of betting on music.

In the days of streaming services, we have available an infinite ocean of songs at our beck and call. We play them for 30 seconds at a time not because we don't like them but because we have that option.

While I won't say how this affects the soul, it certainly removes the risk and greater reward from the music discovery process.

I agree with Emily White that, as far as young people are concerned, the days of paying for albums are over. There's no going back and any moral/political arguments are irrelevant. However, I'd like to suggest that those of us, who (yes, I'm also a part of this group) complain about streaming services and piracy, talk more about the virtues of buying albums than the consequences of not. We must remind ourselves and others that taking a risk on an album, going to the store, finding something we've never heard of but has cool cover art, taking it home and either loving, hating or not giving a shit about it is an important experience. We should remind ourselves and others, when getting an album recommendation from a friend, not to scan the first seconds of every track, but trust our friend AND ourselves, buy the album and give it a real listen. That way, if we love it, we'll love it all the more for owning it (not just the album but the experience of loving it), and if we don't, we'll learn something new about ourselves.

I'm not saying that this process has to be serious. I'm saying that sometimes it's fun to take it seriously.

Looking into the future, I don't see myself buying many more CDs from the store. I won't miss driving to Tower, but I'll miss sifting through the used bin. I'm glad to use Spotify, Pandora and the like, but once in a while I'll need that old-school fix (without leaving the house).

iTunes and Amazon technically do the job, but the experience is too sterile (in that icky, digital way). I recommend a website called Musicrage, which I've fallen in love with recently. They hand-select packs of albums, organize them by genre and put them on sale for a limited period of time using the pay-what-you-like model. The site gives me the sense that I've grabbed five great looking/sounding albums off the shelf while remaining totally convenient (it's online). I should note, at this point, that Musicrage is currently selling my album and so this blog is a bit of a conflict of interest. I can assure you, however, if I were only trying to promote my album, it would be a whole lot shorter.

Naturally, there remain many offline resources for serious music discovery: the dollar bin, the garage sale, your Great Aunt's attic... If you don't have a vinyl collection, start one. It's the truest way to reverse-condition your brain from noshing on music to feasting. And if you have a collection, but have stopped adding to it, I recommend treating vinyl as reward, something you buy when you really and truly fall in love with an album. And if you're still a CD collector... you're crazy and I love it. I have a really great shop in Melbourne I can recommend.