Monday, March 07, 2011

Barely Legal Sounds Good

Bordering on bankrupt, financially and culturally
Since writing last year about my revived vinyl fetish, I’ve undergone something of a conversion to modern mores. As with most human endeavours, my incentives were driven by raw economics. A year ago, if people were bemused that I still bought music in a shop, it had no effect on me. But someone telling me about legalsounds.com - where any song out of the three million plus available costs nine cents - has now interminably altered the way I buy and listen to music. That is, cheaply, and without having to leave the house.

Usually I ignore tips like this on the grounds that they’re either a scam, or they make my computer crash, or you need to purchase new software, or they bring angry lawyers and musicians flocking to my front door swinging their guitars and demanding royalties. But Legal Sounds not only works, it’s very simple too, at least on an Apple laptop. The only drawback is that you have to put at least $25 on your account, but I did that weeks ago and am still in credit.

Yesterday I was passing the local branch of Borders, which is about to close down due to bankruptcy and encroaching obsolescence, so I went inside searching for some bargains. This was nothing like the basket-stuffing bonanza many of us enjoyed when Tower Records collapsed – Borders was offering a mere 25% off what was already a thin selection of CDs. I picked up three, but by the time I reached the checkout I’d put them down again. Even in a closing down sale, their total cost would have bought me around 300 songs at Legal Sounds (love the name – you just know they must be illegal or, at very best, barely legal).

It’s hard to mourn the end of retailers like this who’ve been happily gouging the customer for as long as they were allowed to. Any store that thought selling single CDs for prices up to $20 each was a viable business model in the current age deserves to go down. True, the Borders bankruptcy is largely due to its failure to develop a Kindle or Nook equivalent for book readers, but extortionate asking prices in its music section will hardly have helped. Some of us have paid more than enough for too long, so go on, turn it into a bowling alley.

In the medium term, only the odd eclectic indie retailer among music shops is going to survive, alongside second hand warehouses in the middle of nowhere turning over stock offloaded by people who are not only going digital, but reducing clutter at home. How will musicians eat and be able to snort coke? They’ve already worked that one out – by touring and charging unfeasible amounts of money for tickets, hoping that fans who’ve been downloading their music for nothing, or next to nothing, will feel guilty or devoted enough to splash out.

Faced with a $40 concert ticket, plus all the service and handling fees that the intermediate parasites throw in, my own reactions are now tempered by the thought of how many songs that money will buy me online. Shops like Borders (and the music section at Barnes & Noble is equally guilty) have turned browsing for new music into a generic and expensive pastime. The music industry will always find ways to survive, regardless of whether or not it deserves to, but the record shop is probably serving its final generation of customers.

4 comments:

Gorilla Bananas said...

What makes you so sure you were being overcharged? In a shop, you got personal service from another human being and a smooth CD you could stroke with your fingertips or chuck like a frisbee. There's more to music than sound. A lot of music is written for tone deaf people.

Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop said...

My experiences of record shop sales assistants would be: 70% utterly indifferent, 28% sneering, 2% interested in having a conversation with me as a human being about what I'm buying, so I don't feel like I'm missing anything that would have otherwise enriched my soul or made my day. I've a big enough supply at home to fondle and frisbee at my leisure.

No Good Boyo said...

The good news is that this post will generate a surge in visitors to your web blog.

The bad news is that they will be attracted by the phrase "barely legal".

Here come the one-handed typists.

nathan3e said...

Borders always has been completely useless. I received a $25 gift card two years ago and was able to find precisely zero CDs I wanted at one of their gigantic Minneapolis stores. I ended up ordering two 33 1/3 books, which I am reasonably sure they ordered via Pony Express.

There used to be great record store in downtown Minneapolis by First Avenue called Northern Lights. Fully 98% of the staff was both indifferent and sneering. My experiences at the Electric Fetus here and Other Music in New York have been wholly positive, so better places do exist.