Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Evolution of a Gen-X Music Purchaser

It's April 16th, 1996.  I'm sixteen years old. On the 49A bus heading north on South Western Avenue I scan the faces around me. I feel sad for them. Not because they’re stuck riding the bus, but because none of these people look like they’re on their way to pick up “Evil Empire” - the sophomore effort from Rage Against the Machine – my favorite band. After four years of waiting, it will be mine. My patience wears thin as we approach Archer Avenue. Once there, I'll cross the street and catch the west bound bus toward California Avenue. At California, I’ll cross Archer again, avoid the kids from Kelly High School and proceed toward “Kroozin Music”.

"Kroozin Music" was a staple on the southwest side of Chicago; it was for me at least. Located in Brighton Park, It was where I purchased almost every tape/CD in my collection, until the Best Buy era began and I learned that paying eighteen bucks for a CD was highway robbery. Thanks a lot Best Buy. The place reeks of Cloves cigarettes, or weed.  Probably both. The poster-filled walls mimic my own - or is it the other way around?  Pre-black-album Metallica plays through their crappy stereo system. What sets this place apart is they don't put Nine Inch Nails, Guns and Roses and Slayer in one category called "Rock". They understand the difference, they understand me.  Knowing the difference is the difference in places like this.

I hand the long-haired, metal-head clerk my eighteen bucks and he hands over the CD. He throws in a t-shirt as well as some stickers. It's my lucky day. I pull the t-shirt over my school-uniform top and dart out of the store.

I am Jack's nostalgia.

It's March 13th, 2000. It’s 11:24 PM. I’m twenty years old.  In a parked car under the Tower Records on North Clark Street, three friends and I bob our heads and listen to the new Pantera album.  I've had the CD for over two months.  It officially goes on sale in thirty six minutes.  In this rare instance, I'm willing to buy a CD I already downloaded. My friends are willing to buy it even though I burned a copy for them.  Unfortunately, the CD isn’t even that good, but Pantera is one of my favorite bands and I'd feel bad not paying for it.  Sadly, I can't say the same for the rest of the crap I download on a daily basis.  Billions of bytes and not even a real music collection. I grab tracks like a hoarder at a garage sale.  Do I feel remorse for basically stealing music? Not even slightly. We all know most bands on major labels don’t make their money from their album sales; they make it from touring and merchandise.

I am Jack’s justification.

Seriously, who am I hurting?  I'm not robbing a liquor store here.  It's just an uncompressed WAV or AIFF audio file encoded using Mpeg-1, Mpeg-2 Audio Layer 3.  The encoding process removes any sound that is deemed beyond the auditory frequency of the human ear.  This is how the file size is so small.  This is how I'm able to download entire discographies on my crappy dial up connection.  I toss my cigarette out the car window, get out and head toward the elevators. Share away everyone.

I am Jack's youthful angst against corporate greed.

It’s November 2003.  I’m twenty four years old.  As I stand in the checkout line at Best Buy - the Kill Bill Soundtrack in my right hand, the Tupac Resurrection soundtrack in my left, I do not know at the time that these are the last two physical CD’s I’ll ever purchase.

I am Jack’s understanding that not all change is bad.

It's September 7th, 2010. I'm thirty-one years old. While reading a book on my iPad I receive an e-mail from iTunes informing me that Linkin Park's new album “A Thousand Suns” is officially on sale.  It's 10:23 PM central daylight time.  Fifteen digital tracks which I pre-ordered using a digital gift card I received for my birthday two weeks ago have begun downloading. I close "iBooks" and open "Remote" on my iPad. It’s a nifty app that connects to my iTunes library over my home network.  All fifteen songs are there, in order, properly tagged with cover art.  I hit play. The music blares through my computer's four hundred watt audio system. The house vibrates with each progressive bass kick.  I lean back on the couch and enjoy the music.

I am Jack's non-sexual crush on technology.

Well. Wait.

I can’t help but think back to Kroozin Music.  While I purchase almost everything on-line these days, there’s something to be said about the tangible.  About interaction. About involvement. About not relying on an elaborate algorithm, which based upon music in my library and my purchasing history, scores my tastes in particular genres and then tells me what I might like. Even if it might be somewhat accurate, is music really something we want data mined? It’s like the beginning of “Dead Poets Society” when Robin Williams forces his pupils to rip out the contents of a textbook which discusses a mathematical formula to weight the quality of poetry. As someone who writes algorithms on a daily basis even I think there are some things best left alone.

Don’t get me wrong; there is something quite magical about hearing a piece of music, running Shazam to identify said song, and being able to purchase it instantaneously. However while iTunes is a great way to consume content, I can’t help but feel like I’m shopping at Sam Goody, and if you don’t know why that’s a bad thing, then you probably don’t understand why Nine Inch Nails, Guns and Roses and Slayer shouldn’t be grouped together under a catch-all category.

“Kroozin Music” understood that, and I still miss it.

I am Jack’s nostalgia 2.0.

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