noun: record; plural noun: records
1. a thing constituting a piece of evidence about the past, especially an account of an act or occurrence kept in writing or some other permanent form.
Above is a very crude cut/copy/paste of Google's quickest definition of the word 'record'. Something that honestly I didn't expect to find such irony in until I stumbled upon my simple web search.
The record, album, tape, CD, MP3, track, FILE!? --- Listen... anyway you can put type to the meaning of recorded music, there's a new and required nomenclature for it. No matter how present and beaming the format may seem it still holds the same irony --- it's struggling to exist. Sounds scary right!? Well, I'm certainly not the first person to tell you how you should feel about the loss of the record or the music industry for that matter... we've been hearing this speech from every corner of the industry since the file sharing generation was birthed.
Do you remember walking into a record store? Do you remember Tower Records? Wherehouse, Music Plus!? Ok, maybe not the latter, but certainly the feeling of opening the door to a store that sells music can't be that foreign can it? In short, yes it can. I was raised in between the age of cassette tape and CD. A time stuck in between worlds really --- the digital age was upon us.
You might be asking yourself, what's your point? Is this just a cautionary tale of one's youth and comings-up? Yes and no in part, because this article is actually about the tactile element or rather how it's slowly disappearing into the history of itself. I won't lie that I certainly miss certain elements of holding onto a CD, peering at the cover deciding what it is... what it could sound like... what it could say... how it could make me feel. That my friends, is what I'm after here. This is what's slowly fading away into the shadows of format --- the life that a piece of art, a record of time, could have to an individual.
I am happy to say that one of my all time favorite record stores still exists! I grew up in the Inland Empire, spending many hours of my impressionable years at a store in Claremont, CA called Rhino Records (very much akin to the larger Amoeba Records here in LA). It was the archetype of record store ideology that you might see in films like 'Empire Records' or 'High Fidelity'. Basically, it was a self-owned, non-franchised, mom and pop sort of deal. Now, of course you could find all your newest releases (chart topping stuff was always available), but here's the thing, it wasn't put on display like you'd imagine. They didn't seem to care about selling 'those' artists as much as they appeared to care about the balance of all music they carried in their store. So basically you'd see a top 10 charting pop artist next to an underground college radio self-released record. It gave you the consumer the moment, the chance, to take into consideration what you'd like to put into your brain... not the other way around. It wasn't corporate marketing jamming a pop star down your throat, and it wasn't a hipster know-it-all forcing their own musical agenda. It was a wonderful experience --- you could find your own way just by the look of a record, the tactile element.
If my forlorn tactile memories aren't jiving, here's the kicker... Listening Stations! You could take all of that tactile experience, walking around the store for hours filling up a basket of all your wares... everything and anything that set you "off" and go right to a listening station and LISTEN TO IT! Before you say "you can preview a track or whole record on iTunes..." hey, if you've not experienced a listening station, you don't know what you're missing. The fruits of your labor are all splayed out on the table in front of you to sample. Were you correct in your assessment of that rock band with the cool cover? Is that Jazz record just as insane as the liner notes on the back assumed they'd be? Is that record your friend told you about really that good? That's the journey here --- the experience of the tactile hunt. Maybe it's the stoic hunter/gatherer in my DNA or maybe I just grew up in time on the cusp of revolutionary technological change, but in all the magical merit of iTunes (and believe me, I LOVE iTunes if not just for being able to buy an album in my underpants) but I yearn for that hunt for new and exciting pieces of music, adventurous bands and artists --- I want an experience, not a download.
As a musician, the absence of the tactile record is such an odd experience. I am always self promoting my projects and of course I've got CD's available. They've become a wasteland product in a lot of ways due to the fact that our cars, computers, home music Bluetooth theaters - literally can't play them anymore. How as an artist am I going to let you know what I've got to say from an image standpoint without that element? "Hi, nice to meet you... here's a flash drive of my music".... end of times there, friends. Yet, I know something will change for the good of all music-kind, I'm an optimist after all! There's too much creativity flowing in this world to let it become just an MP3, just a file - binary code without any expression.
So, with all of this in mind I should let you know that I'm a realist and also really love and appreciate the free movement of technology. I'm not sitting alone in a bunker spinning LP's and complaining about how life "ain't like it used to be". I actually really love the idea that music is so expansive and available. I love that I can get what I'm thinking of, just heard or expect to hear, right now and right at my fingertips. I just miss the hunt. I miss that tactile element and hope to see it ushered back into the new world on the other side of the line. Let's remember that music is not disposable, it's not just a file. It's something truly alive. Together let's push that dividing line back on down the road!