I tend to disagree with the notion that MP3 will seal the fate of CDs. MP3 serves the convenience-culture, it offers the quick-fix answer but lacks the tactile, physical ownership that comes with a CD purchase. SSuperior audio quality (and the ability to rip to MP3 (un-DRM’d anyway) makes it versatile, while the album art is something that an MP3 player can never truly replicate. Casper at OMM has a slightly different take on it…
Caspar Llewellyn Smithm in the Observer Sunday April 29, 2007 The Observer Chances are that Arctic Monkeys will break a new record today, with every track from their Favourite Worst Nightmare – an album that bracingly offers the sound of yesterday, today! – poised to smash into the Top 75 singles chart. For a group that deals in a primitive sort of rock’n’roll, that’s pretty evolved behaviour, even if this is thanks to the relaxation of the chart rules at the start of this year, allowing downloads to count towards final chart placings. First MySpace poster-boys – although the Sheffield tyros scoffed at that notion themselves – and now this. Article continues
It looks like another notch on the bedpost for the digital Casanovas – those who’d seduce you into believing that a wired-up world is where it’s at – with more good news to follow. If the rumours are true, the antiquarian bookseller Amazon (est. 1995) will finally launch its own music download service within weeks. Hold tight, because this is going to be like Godzilla versus King Kong, although it’s not quite clear whether Amazon founder Jeff Bezos or Apple and iTunes chief exec Steve Jobs will get to wear the gorilla outfit.
Events have changed swiftly since EMI announced in January that it would service digital stores like iTunes with digital-rights management (DRM)-free tracks. For those who haven’t been paying attention, the nub of it is that, at the moment, tracks bought from iTunes can only be played on an iPod when you’re out and about – which is why that other fancy-dan MP3 player you were once given immediately joined your own private museum of obsolescent electronic devices.
Steve Jobs at Apple has blamed this state of affairs on the record companies, citing their zealous insistence on DRM systems in order to prevent piracy. But from next month Apple will sell music from artists signed to the ailing EMI without any kind of protection, albeit at a 30 per cent higher price. (If that makes the whole business sound a little sleazy, you wouldn’t be far wrong.) Reports suggest that Amazon is in talks with the other labels so that, when they launch, every track on offer will be DRM-free. What might happen next is far from clear, but for most interested parties it sounds like good news. As a staff blogger on the Wired News website argued this week: ‘Consumers will have a lot more choice in where they buy and where they can play their music, the [other] online stores get to sell content on to iPods, and the record companies might start making enough money to stop them suing everyone.’ Phew.
Finally we can all stop fretting about the fate of the industry. Even better, we can start celebrating the imminent demise of the CD. Right now, that might sound silly. However many downloads Arctic Monkeys end up selling, 85,000 CDs flew out of the shops on Monday. Globally, downloads still account for only 10 per cent of the market. But for aesthetic reasons if nothing else, the day that the last CD gets melted into an ashtray will be a day to savour.
It’s funny to hear Paul McCartney – one of our most forward-thinking artists – say he really wanted to make his new CD ‘a desirable object’. However nice the artwork for Memory Almost Full, which is released in early June, it’s hard to imagine anyone making a fetish of a plastic jewel case. The point is presumably that Macca’s 21st solo album is also his first since leaving EMI to sign a deal with the Starbucks-backed label Hear Music – another sign of how the business is changing. On the day of its release, every one of the coffee chain’s 45 million customers will hear the former Beatle’s record playing in-store and be tempted to pick up a copy. (Plus you can bet there have been discussions about creating a special Macca-ccino.)
Of course, many people won’t be interested in the intricacies of such deals, but rather in whether Macca dishes the dirt on Mucca. The Sun has revealed that the record contains lines such as: ‘Nobody here to spoil the view/ Interfere with my plans’. Having actually heard the thing myself, I can add: ‘I’ve got too much on my plate/ Don’t have the time to be a decent lover’. But then the next song takes a different tack: ‘She makes me feel glad/ I want her so bad/ My heart is beating madly for her’. So go figure. Yet others will simply take pleasure from the fact that it’s a cracking record with some nifty tunes.
So death to the CD. But its replacement – the digital download – is far from perfect. One problem for real music fans lies in the changing face of charity shops. ‘It’s the big chains,’ Andy Jupp, the self-styled Charity Shop DJ, told me earlier this week. It is his bugbear that in trying to update their image, leading charities like Oxfam and Save the Children won’t stock just any old vinyl any more. ‘People bring in their old records, thinking they’ll find a home, but they just get carted straight out the back and end up as landfill. Really, it’s a scandal.’ So where should one look for that rare James Last disc they’ve been coveting for years? ‘Try the Cats Protection league,’ is his advice.
Sunday April 29, 2007 The Observer