Recently, I acquired what, to my ears and eyes, is a very beautiful thing—the Australian Split Enz box set, Enz to Enz. Including remastered versions of all nine studio albums, plus two compilations, The Beginning of the Enz and The Rootin Tootin Luton Tapes, the set is gorgeously packaged and all I could really hope for in the world of Split Enz.
Now, before you stop reading because you could care less about Split Enz, let me say now that the point of this blog is not to celebrate or defend Split Enz. Oh, I would be more than happy to do so, but perhaps in a later posting. What the point of this actually is, is the mysterious fate of box sets.
When I was proudly unveiling the set to the rest of the Into the Music staff, our intrepid owner Greg made the point that box sets are the place where good CDs go to die. OK, I don’t remember his exact words, but the point is the same. This got me to thinking – is he right? Will Enz to Enz become just another pretty trinket on my already overstuffed shelves of pretty trinkets? Something to gather dust and be forgotten, just like my juicer and inspirational meditation guides?
I was determined this would not be the case. Over the course of the weekend after I purchased the set, my boyfriend and I worked our way through most of it. I felt vindicated. I would not fall prey to apathy and be too lazy to open the set when I wanted to hear Mental Notes! The box would not merely become a part of the landscape of our living room, seen but not truly appreciated!
That was about a month ago. This afternoon, I took the set down from the top of the TV stand, wiped the dust from its formerly pristine, shining cover and realized we didn’t make it through the whole set. There are still three discs to listen to, one of which I’ve never even heard before. Having it in my hands made me excited again, this thing of beauty that promises so many musical delights. But then I think about my Velvet Underground set and how I walk by it multiple times every single day, but when was the last time I actually listened to White Light/White Heat? Or even registered the set’s presence in my collection? Or my Cheap Trick set? Will my recently acquired Nick Drake Fruit Tree box suffer the same sad fate?! Will I never listen to Bryter Later again?!
What mysterious alchemic reaction takes place when CDs are bundled together in a lovely package that renders them seemingly invisible? And how can I break the cycle of the box set graveyard?
In recent years the record industry has been turned on its collective ear by the rise (and rise) of peer-to-peer file sharing. In the wake of mp3s, massive downloads and iPods has come a shift in how folks acquire their music. In place of picking up a CD at your local music store, people now download from a peer-to-peer server (legally or illegally) or (hopefully) buy from the bands themselves. Or perhaps you rip music from your own CDs or pick up one of those fancy new USB turntables and digitize your Vinyl. The net effect of all this is that people seem to be turning away from buying new or used CDs from stores. We’ve already seen the impact as a few major retailers have closed their doors, not only A&B here in Winnipeg but also the Sam The Record Man chain in Canada and Tower Records in the U.S.
If this seems like the death knell for CD and Record stores in general, think again. While the CD format has taken a hit as of late, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. This reminds me of what happened to the LP market in the early ‘90s. For many, the writing was on the wall for LPs as it now appears to be for CDs. There was a widely held perception that LPs had actually disappeared, there were no new releases and some thought you’d never be able to purchase a turntable or stylus again. For the Vinyl faithful, LPs have never gone away and now we are witnessing a modest but solid revival of the 12” and 7” Vinyl formats. It’s far too early to write off CDs. It continues to be the most widely held format among music collectors. And the operative word here is Collector. For myself, the idea of a file on my computer (or iPod) fails to get me excited. I still see value in music as an artifact, the tangible LP or CD (or insert your own format of choice) up on the wall. It’s about holding the item in your hand, pouring over the lyrics or sleeve notes, lending it to a friend. And I’ll take the sound quality of either CDs or LPs to a compressed MP3 any day.
The future of music retail may not rest with the major retailers. Corporate stores are still based on profits and paying returns to their investors. It could be that once those profits hit a certain threshold we may see even more of these stores close. Independent retailers such as Into The Music hold a different place in the hierarchy. We are more connected to the independent music buyer and depend less on the sort of blockbuster marketplace that needs the biggest sellers to sell a lot of units. The excitement around here is when the new Nick Cave comes out or a new collection of rare records hits the shelves (every Monday in our LP “New This Week” section, in fact).
So in launching our website, our main goal is to reach out locally, to connect with Winnipegers to let them know about the unique service we provide, the kind of stock we put out on a regular basis, the staff who work here and links to all things related to Record and CD collecting in the city. Check the links section for info on all sorts of local resources, from venue websites and what’s going on in town to where to purchase tickets to shows and where to pickup a good turntable. And don’t forget to check the staff page for all-time Top 20 lists and current faves.
In future posts, look forward to a wide ranging free for all from myself and all the staff at ITM. We’ll rant about our favorite new releases and all-time favorites. There will be concert reviews, industry slagging, record industry opinion pieces and articles taken from outer web sources to see what kind of feedback and comments we can get from you. Whatever it is, we hope you’ll join in and let us know what you think.
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