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Physical or digital : what’s the best way to own music?

Digital music has existed for a while, disk players have been around since the 80s and it wasn’t too long after that they started being portable. As technology develops more and more it’s a divisive topic on what’s the best way to own your music.

YouTube is basically the only way people watch music videos anymore and much like books or gaming or any media that can be digitised there is a constant battle to stop the online monolith from swallowing physical media.

On the side of physical you have vinyl, a more vintage style for sure but also the most immersive sound quality that you can get from the comfort of home. But as time marches forward the downsides of vinyl become more and more apparent. Nothing can beat the appearance of vinyl, and a couple records on display makes for standout decoration but it’s also not the easiest for carrying about. It’s not something that you can listen to on the go and even if you carry your vinyls with you carrying something to play them on is much heavier task.

With CDs and tapes, you can mitigate these problems, having more portable music. Though the smaller plastic cases aren’t quite as attractive as a vinyl’s, the fact that you can bring them anywhere is a definite plus (especially given the many portable ways you can listen to them). The downside of any physical format though is that you always need the music with you, and if you can’t find that one album you want then you’re fresh out luck.

But with digital media you sacrifice perks of collectability to have convenience instead. With services like Spotify and Apple Music you can have limitless choice at any time, and it can help you find artists you may never find otherwise.

Being bombarded with limitless choice isn’t all that great though. 

When you can listen to everything at once it stops being special. With any streaming culture, (not just music, but film and TV like Netflix) the brand owners don’t want you to discover as much as possible, they want you to become compliant with limitless choice. And when people get compliant to having choice it makes them less engaged. If you go out and source only music that you want to, you’ll be much more likely to listen to it.

With streaming you don’t even get to keep the music, no matter how long you’ve been paying for it.  So, if you want to use a streaming service to source and organise your tunes you have to be ready to commit to constant payments or be ready to recollect and reorganise everything when you stop using streaming.

The cost is a lot less though, and if you listen to music frequently then streaming will gets you the most for your money. 

Maybe online music stores where you get to keep what you pay for is the solution. If you were to turn somewhere like Bandcamp or iTunes, you get the convenience of music anywhere but in a capacity that is more personal.

With these kinds of shops, you get to download the mp3s anytime you want, giving you more freedom with your music and letting you feel more like it’s yours to own. Having your music as a file means you can easily shift it across devices and even have it in multiple places at once (even though it’s just as online streaming doesn’t let you do this).

Not to mention Bandcamp offers a pay what you want model more beneficial for independent artists who can be payed what their fans best see fit. 

Whatever your preferred method, each has its own ups and downs. That said though I think each has more positive than negative, and the fact that we have the freedom to choose between them is the most important factor of all.