A Glorious Past
Like many of you, I have spent a ton (perhaps best described as a very large bucket-load) of cash on music over the years. First there were albums, then cassettes and then the move to replace all of those albums and tapes with audio CD’s. It has been an expensive proposition, to say the least. However, as I sit back in my chair typing this text, I am listening to a custom MP3 mix from some of my favorite artists and I realize that it was worth every single penny. I’m glad I coughed up the dough, because music is one of those things that can touch you to the core of your being. It can drive your mind and your emotions like few things can. But lately, the emotion I am feeling most when I think about music is anger.
Why am I angry? Because it looks like the end of an era is at hand. For decades we have been able to make custom mixes of our music, from the radio to tape, from LP to tape and lately from CD to CD. But all that may be changing as the already rich and completely greedy record companies implement their various forms of copy protection. I’ve talked before about how the RIAA is pushing a particular method that does actual damage to the music in the form of “gaps” or “drop outs”. In order to get these to play back properly, a certain level of “error correction” has to be done at the time the music is being processed. In many cases, home players can handle most and possibly all of the errors, but computer CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives are not designed with this level of error correction. As a result, tracks ripped from these CD’s will be full of gaps and drop-outs, essentially lowering the quality to below FM radio levels. Of course, this creates a very serious problem for the consumer, but depending on how you look at it, it might just do the same for the RIAA.
Musical Morality Play
I have never felt good advocating piracy of any kind. The line has always been pretty clear, and I try not to cross it if I can avoid it. If a bud gives me a copy of a game or music CD to look at or listen to, I actually go out and buy it if I end up playing it beyond a simple trial period. Almost like a demo, you could say. I have felt good about purchasing music because the quality and longevity has improved beyond what it once was. I was getting great sounding music with a lot of flexibility and I could record custom mixes to cassette to play in the car. When I got my first CD burner, I was jazzed because I could make custom mixes and copies of my favorite full CD’s for the car too, meaning that if a thief broke in and stole the inexpensive copies, I could make masters again from the original disk, just like we did with LP’s. But because of the RIAA, things are different.
I find myself facing a moral dilemma. If I go to the store and purchase a CD in the very near future, chances are it is going to have “damaged” music on it thanks to the new copy protection. This means if I try to make a copy, it is going to come out sounding no better than an FM radio broadcast that has signal drop-outs. Why should I pay for damaged music when I can just record it off of the radio and have a similar listening experience?
If someone else buys the CD and rips the damaged tracks to MP3 and posts them on the net, you essentially have below FM quality music that you can download, which is only one step removed from recording the tracks off of the radio yourself. Since the music is damaged anyway, why not just go ahead and download the tracks and suffer through the poor quality for free like you did back in the day with FM and Cassettes? Why buy music now? The CD’s in stores surely aren’t “CD Quality” any more, right? So why bother paying for the music at all? Just record it off the “internet radio” and then make your custom mixes.
Those are the questions I’m wrestling with now, and I’m leaning heavily on the side of never purchasing another music CD again. All I have to do is go online, get some “FM” recordings and make my own damaged custom mixes and save myself the cost of paying for broken tracks from the store. If old loyalists like me are wavering, I wonder how many others are too? These “FM CD’s” are just not worth the money. So, I’ll savor the “Pre-FM CD’s” that I do have. Pre-FM CD Track Of The Week: “When The Levee Breaks” from Led Zeppelin.