On the bus back from an Oxfringe event last week I started chatting to the lovely chap from Witney’s only independent music shop. As we talked about work and play it struck me that in line with my new year’s resolution I hadn’t bought a CD so far this year. That made me both happy—that I could live without the sort of personalized and overengineered consumption that CDs in a small way represent—and sad—that although I’d had fun with Last.fm and the like, I hadn’t actually managed to purchase any new music, in spite of effort.
Being an anti-DRM zealot, UK resident, and furthermore nerdy Linux weed, my options are rather limited. However, as I made another attempt to find a retailer, I noticed that Last.fm itself links through to a company called 7digital, who looked rather promising. While their music does sometimes come with the taint of DRM, rendering it for my needs both technically and morally unplayable, the choice of format flavours depends on what the band or their label can themselves palate: most albums therefore seem to be available in at least MP3s (no OGGs, though, you fucking hippies). Their prices are competitive too, with eight pounds netting you most albums regardless of length. That translates to around 73p per track for REM’s Accelerate and 63p per track for Hot Chip’s Made in the Dark.
After a bit of hesitating and re-reading of their terms and conditions I took the plunge regarding the above two albums, and downloaded my first ever paid-for music. I’ve only ever downloaded music twice before, both unpaid: In Rainbows, which they let you do (and I bought in an expensive physical format afterwards); and The Grey Album, which the music industry didn’t want me to listen to and so wouldn’t let me buy. As a comparative débutant to this particular scene, I entered my credit card details and held my breath. And then suddenly I was there.
Without their widget, downloading from 7digital is only as convenient as clicking on a link for each track, although opening the links to all the tracks as multiple tabs in Firefox and setting MP3s to automatically download meant it was effectively done for me automatically, with two downloads at any one time meaning it was all on my computer within minutes. The tracks also continue to be available to me in my digital “locker” on the site, which means I could re-download them if I lose the original (or if I wanted to listen to them at work). The standard licence also lets me put it on a theoretical iPod and burn it to a more reasonable CD.
The latter option would seem like a cop-out, a weakening of my resolve, but: baby steps for now, please. I have a spool of write-once CDs gathering dust that I’ve had to discard one or two of every year or so owing to movinghouse damage, so this is as good a use of them as any. For now I’m at least accumulating neither CD cases nor CD storage solutions. I’ll move to an entirely electronic way of listening to music once I feel I can warrant splashing out on the technology to support it. Right now it would be ludicrous for me to stop buying commercial CDs for green reasons, but then splash out both financially and environmentally on an iPod or hard drive (in my old iMac turned media centre) to hold all my new supposedly non-physical music.