Danny Asks:

Danny MacMillan 26 January 2008

Why… buy everything online?

Apparently the recent fuss at EMI has sounded the latest death knell for the music industry. Since outsider Guy Hands (the CEO of private equity group Terra Firma Capital Partners, so not exactly someone with inside knowledge of the music industry) has taken over he has managed to alienate Radiohead, force out the Rolling Stones and lost the big name draw of Paul McCartney.

Now I’m not exactly the biggest fan of the music industry – I thought that Radiohead’s ‘honesty box’ release of their latest album was a stroke of genius – but I must admit that I do feel a bit sorry for Mr Hands. After all, he has only set out to meet the challenges which confront the music industry in the 21st century – the increasing popularity of live shows, illegal piracy and the growing influence of the internet in the way we all buy music.

Which brings me onto something that I can’t allow myself to fully endorse – online music shopping. Don’t get me wrong, paying 79p a pop for a single seems like pretty good value compared with the price of a single on CD. There is also, of course, Myspace, which is a great forum for discovering new bands. However, online shopping robs us of the sublime pleasure of rummaging around shops looking for those great records you never knew existed.

I’ve always loved record shops, both big chain ones and the small independent ones that I used to frequent before they started closing down. I get quite a kick out of looting around bargain bins, wondering what that great tune playing over the store speakers is, walking out with a stack of CDs, reading the liner notes on the bus journey back and then getting home for that great moment of the truth – the excitement of ‘is it going to be any good?’. All of that for me beats the sterile experience of sitting in front of a dimly lit screen, clicking on things you know you want and never being able to stumble across some great unexplored gem.

Looking at the stack of CDs on my desk at the moment I can see a few – a wonderful record of Eastern European folk songs I picked up for about two quid, a compilation of early blues, country and jazz records on the subject of smoking and the debut release from Etran Finatawa, who are a brilliant desert blues band from Niger – which I know I would not own had I not chanced upon them in record shops.

This isn’t just an issue for the music listener. With films and television programmes becoming much easier to download and the forthcoming advent of e-books it seems that people are content to collapse the whole of their cultural life to a single screen. Of course there are advantages – easy access, no need for loads of storage space, almost certainly cheaper – but it’s so dull.

Now I’m sure by now you probably think that I’m one of those people who are borderline autistic when it comes to their music collection, who have to be able to feel it, touch it, alphabetise it then decide they don’t like that and spend hours arranging CDs in the order they bought them. Well, yes, I am a bit like that. But, like exploring the shops, I’ve discovered more great records looking through the CD collections of friends and family than scrolling through lists on a screen.

So the next time you fancy buying some music do yourself a favour. Close down iTunes, log off from Limewire and get out to a record shop. If you’re anything like me it won’t do any services to your student loan, and you might feel that you are lining the pockets of people like Guy Hands. But I guarantee that if you look hard enough you’ll find something that will become one of your favourite records, and that’s something you just can’t do online.

Danny MacMillan