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How I stopped buying CDs and started loving music

05 Apr 2004

I’ve been consuming more music in the last 18 months than ever before. And not only has there been a lot of music in my life, but I’ve been astonished at just how many incredibly good artists there are these days. Two years ago, I was frustrated by the terrible state of commercial radio, and occasionally downloaded a few songs from bands I was familiar with. Today, I’m awash in new music. Here’s what I do:

I keep a running list of the bands I’d like to hear. This list is compiled by lots of online reading (allmusic and metacritic being two of my favorites) as well as constant conversations with friends, online and off.

Then, when I have a little free time, I download artists from that list using the original and best P2P service ever created: Usenet. I generally pull down 10-15 new albums a week. That may seem like a lot of music, but I’ve found that between my Audiotron and iPod, I listen almost continuously while I work or walk around the city. That gives me the opportunity to note which stuff I like, and which stuff I can throw away.

In the course of a month, I’ll generally end up with four or five new bands that stick in heavy rotation. Conveniently, that fits very well with our habit of seeing a show a week. At a show, I dump some cash on the band at the merch table. I usually buy a plastic, lossless archive of the music I already have, or maybe a tshirt.

So is this bad? Am I hurting the artists by “stealing” their music? I was talking to Jenny Conlee, accordion player for the Decemberists, at their last San Francisco show about this. She said she would much prefer to sell stuff at the gigs, rather than through stores — though it doesn’t scale as well. She told me that if you bought their album at the mall, they might see about $.80. Amazon nets them just over a buck. But at the gigs, where they sell CDs for just $10, the band keeps half. Not to mention the percentage of the door take.

Can’t get to shows to support your favorite bands? More and more, artists are encouraging file trading (or, grudgingly admitting it happens) and getting more creative with it. Wilco, for example, is happy to see their songs on the network, and ask that if you download them, you also send a few dollars to Doctors Without Borders. See the details on justafan.org.

Could it be possible that we may not need the labels? That maybe music fans and artists can find their own ways of connecting with each other? And maybe, instead of a few hundred millionaires, we might have thousands and thousands of musicians making a decent living? Could that be possible?

I hope so. ​