It's hard to choose what is best about buying a new CD. It might be the trip to the record store and the anticipation as you ride home with it in your hands, barely able to wait until you can hear it. It might be ripping off that plastic wrap and the fresh smell of the inserts inside. It might even be flipping through the booklet reading every lyric and credit--like looking at a piece of art. All of this, however, is changing. And that may not be a bad thing.
Unless you've been completely out of touch in the past six months, you've no doubt heard of online services such as Napster, Scour and MP3.com, who are in extensive legal battles with high players in the music industry. The future of downloadable music is a hot issue on both sides, with no one in agreement as to what that future will be.
One thing is for sure: artists need to be paid for their music. It just makes sense. If you put in the work and effort to create music people want to listen to, why shouldn't you be given compensation? Until now, this didn't always happen.
However, within a week of each other, Warner Music Group, Emusic.com and BMG Music have all announced initiatives to begin selling electronic music online.
All three projects should be given great praise for taking giant steps into relatively new territory, but it doesn't seem like the music community is going far enough. Napster's free file sharing service is still in operation and despite signing with BMG--who soon after dropped their lawsuit--there are no plans to stop their court battles to save it. Scour too is continuing its legal battles and improved its situation after its recent sale to Listen.com. And the prices are still too high to offer an economic alternative to good old-fashioned pressed CDs. With all this in mind, it's hard to wonder why anyone would pay into these services when they can get it for free.
So what should happen next? First, Napster should realize that with BMG it will have a crucial role in the sale of electronic media and make more of a compromise with their file sharing service. This is a great medium to distribute new up-and-coming artists, but as far as commercial music is concerned it is only going to hurt any positive accomplishments in the future.
Second, the prices need to go down and quality needs to go up. MP3s provide less-than-CD-quality audio tracks and extras such as inserts and CD covers are both expensive for the average consumer to produce with any quality. As well, the burning equipment to make CDs is not affordable for most people.
I'll give these companies credit for what they've done thus far. Unfortunately, price and quality have yet to find a common meeting place and until then, I'll be waiting for the bus to take me to the record store.
James Keller can be reached at email@example.com