Last weekend, my wife and I were purchasing new phones at a local Best Buy and decided to do a little Christmas shopping as well. My father had asked for a couple of CDs so I headed over to the music department. We are Rhapsody subscribers so I haven't been in the CD section of a store for at least a year if not more. I remembered Best Buy's massive CD selection and thought if anyone stocked the classical CDs my Dad wanted, it would be Best Buy.
Well, Best Buy's music department is now smaller than that of Walmart or Target. I almost walked right past it! I knew this day was inevitable, but it still struck a chord of sadness in my heart. As a kid, I all but lived in record shops (actually, cassette tapes but that doesn't sound as cool). I spent hours searching though the racks enjoying the sexy, silly, and sometimes scary cover art of unknown artists vying for my auditory attention. If I close my eyes, I can still vividly smell the paper and ink from the insert of a freshly opened cassette.
Enter the CD. I was a senior in high school when I got my first CD player and my tastes were expanding from the rock, metal, and early grunge of the late 80's to include blues and jazz. The exercises of my earlier years were repeated as I seeked out a whole new genre of artists. However, the record shops of my youth were all but gone unable to compete with the big box retailers like Blockbuster Music and Best Buy. The covers were more class and less crass, and the while the booklets didn't quite have the intoxicating fragrance of my cassettes, they had a charm all their own with pages of artist photographs.
Enter the MP3. My friends all boasted about their huge collections of songs which they downloaded for free from Napster, but I just couldn't do it. All the love and joy music had brought me over the years was well worth the money I've spent, in fact I look at it as an incredible bargain. Even the music mega shops couldn't compete with free and I saw the fall of the Virgin Megastores and Tower Records. At least I still had Best Buy...
I quietly condemned the actions of many of my friends, but as the epidemic spread I became for vocal regarding my disdain for this theft. Apple answered with their ala carte solution and Rapsody (and its various ancestors) with their subscription based solution, but the damage was already done. The magical romance of music was murdered and commoditized in the new generation where the chase shifted from finding unknown and exciting new artists to how quickly you could find an unknown site to pirate it. I'd bet with a year or two Best Buy will no longer carry any CDs at all.
And so here we are, at the end of the physical medium of musical distribution and the formative years of the virtual distribution model. Its hard to imagine where we'll go from here, but I sincerely hope the youth of today can find the inspiration, companionship, love, and joy that music provided me as a child.