How I Buy Music, 2011 (Featuring John Wesley Harding)
I’ve been a fan of John Wesley Harding (aka author Wesley Stace) since he was nothing but a snide punk covering Madonna and Depeche Mode songs among his own acerbic tunes 20 years ago, so it’s not terribly surprising that I was interesting in getting The Sound of His Own Voice, his latest, when it came out today. Here’s how I did it: I went to Amazon, bought the MP3 version, and then as soon as I did, I popped up Spotify and started listening to it there.
Why didn’t I bother to download it?
1. Because Amazon will happily store it the cloud for me, where I can download it whenever I feel like getting around to it;
2. Because Spotify (or Rhapsody, to which I also subscribe) lets me play it even quicker than downloading it would, and these days there’s almost nowhere I’m going to be where I can’t stream it, either through wifi or my phone’s unlimited data plan — and if I am going somewhere these things aren’t possible, I’ll probably know about it ahead of time and can prepare accordingly.
3. Also, and I think probably most importantly from a philosophical point of view, the money I paid for the album at this point is not for a physical object or sole possession of electronic files but as an affirmative act to Harding/Stace to say “Hey, thanks for work.” I’ll note that this sort of thing doesn’t work for all forms of consumable media, but for music in 2011? Shit, man. It’s hard not to find everything you could ever possibly want to listen to out there in the aether. Harding’s entire discography pulls up on Spotify in less than a second; i.e., less time than it would take for me to locate the actual files on my computer. Music’s ubiquitous to the point that it’s simply not worth the bother to download and clutter up my hard drive. So, in this case: Money for the effort, not for the object.
(Which is not to say I won’t pay for physical objects associated with musicians; I just punted $100 to Jonathan Coulton for one of his Artificial Heart bundles, for which I understand I get t-shirts, a CD, and also, perhaps, a pony (I’m a little unclear on the details). But the music? Heck, JoCo streams it off his own site.)
And you may say: But what if Amazon goes out of business/stops keeping things in the cloud for you/is hit by a meteor that vaporizes the whole of western Washington state? In the former cases, I’ll have time to download; in the latter case, we’ve got bigger problems, now, don’t we. Today, the cloud works. I’ll keep this album there for now. The money, on the other hand, goes to the artist. Hope he enjoys the cup of coffee I paid for.