The notion of total conversion to digital music has long been anathema to enthusiasts. And it’s easy to see why. By nature, music fans are collectors, and having some kind of physical artifact representing our emotional (and, yes, financial) investment into someone’s art is crucial to some. Yet, as a rabid consumer myself, I’ve been gradually making the physical-to-digital conversion over the past few years.
Today, I finally feel comfortable embracing this statement: I will never buy another physical album.
Now, before you scream “…but VINYL, MAN!”, let me just say this: Vinyl doesn’t work for me. I know why some people love it, and I fully understand the appeal. But the majority of my listening hinges on mobility, not ritual. The act of immersing oneself in a record, sitting down and just listening with sleeve in hand is a romantic one, but not a practical one. For me. It’s just not how I roll.
As for the compact disc? It’s a dated, unwieldy format that hasn’t been useful since the days when you could actually cram a Discman in your JNCO pocket. Most CD purchases I’ve made in the past half decade have seen just enough daylight to get ripped to my hard drive, only to be unceremoniously shoved into one of the moving boxes in my storage closet.
The problem with CDs is that manufacturers are actively trying to combat the thing that makes them so distasteful in the first place, but the adaptation is actually making them worse. Compact discs are a colossal waste of plastic with a finite lifespan; your collection is going end up in landfills and/or the ocean within your lifetime, and in a music-format landscape where they’re hardly essential, compulsive CD purchasing is actually pretty irresponsible. As a reaction, labels like Deathwish Inc. are issuing biodegradable jewel cases.
That certainly sounds appealing. Aesthetically, though, they honk. Deafheaven‘s Sunbather was wrapped in a discarded tampon box, and Young And In The Way‘s latest was issued in, literally, a slab of black cardboard. What’s the point of buying a physical manifestation of a recording if it adds nothing to the overall experience?
(And on that note, if you want something to display on a shelf in your living room, try books. They look nicer, and they might even teach you crucial things about the human experience. Like history. And empathy.)
Which brings us to cassettes, which have recently seen a resurgence among lo-fi black metallists, crust punks, and noise artists due to the ridiculously-low production costs. This is, and will always be, a niche thing. Are they a cool little retro token? Sure. But they’re never going to come back with the force that vinyl has, mainly because they sucked total ass the first time around.
Even so, getting a cassette from a band is still a step up from being handed a download card.
And now we’re digital.
Until recently, your digital options were 1) theft, or 2) iTunes. For collectors, oddly enough, the former option was more appealing. Not only because the notion of paying ninety-nine cents for a single song is a business model tailored to late-stage major label single-driven bullshit, but it allowed us to sample a wide range of sounds we would’ve never been exposed to. Then, after the fact, we could seek out the band and support them directly, instead of plunking cash into the coffers of Apple and/or whatever particular label / middleman that was skimming off the top.
In 2014, you can explore the entire digital music world guilt-free, as well as put money directly in the pockets of artists. The trick? The one-two combo of Spotify Premium and Bandcamp.
I’ll readily admit that ditching physical music media was made a lot easier by my stint as a “professional” music critic (quotes required because it’s not a sustainable profession if you’re more of a WRITER than a SALESPERSON), where downloadable promo material was issued via services such as Haulix and iPool. But, shockingly, Spotify’s “related artists” feature is actually more effective when your tastes are more specialized and obscure, in direct contrast to crapulous predecessors like Pandora. The searching capability is nearly infinite, especially when you’re sampling subgenres outside of your particular wheelhouse, and you don’t need to cram your hard drive with illegal downloads in the process.
But what if the cool new band you were tipped to isn’t on Spotify yet? Well, if they’re smart, they’re probably offering their wares for streaming and/or download at Bandcamp, which has a phenomenal app that not only allows you to stream the new artists that you stumble across, but also access your entire library of purchased material on the go. No hard drive, no iPod synching. Just you, your phone, and the jams.
Allow me to quote myself in order to make a point (and hopefully garner three or four new Twitter followers)…
Nothing screams “local forever” like a ReverbNation page. Pro it up and use Bandcamp, people.
— Jordan Campbell (@wolfpockets) November 30, 2014
Using ReverbNation to promote your band in 2014 is like clinging to Myspace in 2011. You’re doing the Internet wrong, people.
Look, local bands make a LOT of mistakes when it comes to marketing and presentation. Taking all of the usual missteps out of the equation–an unappealing moniker, amateurish graphic design, half-assed promotional photos, publicizing recordings way before they’re ready–the most basic thing a band can do is present themselves on a platform that’s professional, customizable, accessible, shareable, user-friendly, and home to an active community of users. I mean, scope this embed right here:
How sexy is that? Your band might not have Otrebor sitting behind the kit, but you can at least share a platform with a band that’s garnering some acclaim. Or, better yet, you might get some listens when some jackhole plugs your album into their blog. AND IT’S FREE. (Sort of.)
Using ReverbNation makes it seem like you’re content to be local, and no one can afford to do that anymore. The landscape has changed. No one is going to fall in love with your band just because you’re bringing a certain style to a certain market, because a listener’s ability to bring customized sounds straight into their living rooms is easier than ever. Let’s be real: There is no demand for your product. NONE. This isn’t a statement of snark or malice. It’s just a reality: Music is in plentiful supply, almost to a fault.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put yours out there. But it certainly means that when you do, you should use the best tools available. You should treat the entire world as your stage, not just your hometown. Using ReverbNation is like putting together an EPK–which nobody really uses anymore, anyway–and just letting it rot on the vine without putting actual PR legwork behind it. With Bandcamp, you’ll at least be throwing your wares into a pool of hungry consumers. Sure, you’ll need to have the recording quality and art direction to swim with the pack, but if you aren’t making yourselves presentable, why the hell are you putting anything out there in the first place?
No one can afford to carry out their “demo band” phase in public anymore. There’s too much fully-developed stuff at our fingertips. Handle yourself like you’re a big deal, and maybe your audience will think so, too.