Brothers in Arms

Whilst thinking about my own second hand music challenge I did a bit of searching online and came across a couple of similar blog ideas, those that still burn a candle for the record or CD.

Every record tells a story

The blog was a new one to me, described as ‘a blog about music, music, and (sometimes) music’ I think I’d probably get along with the author. He discusses a bit of (music) news, some reviews and has a similar level of affection for the record as this blogger. However, the posts that most interested me were the Vinyl Challenge, inspired it seems by an extortionately priced Oasis album reissue, a whopping £116.99 for one album packaged with a few studio outtakes and in a nice box. What follows is a series of blogs seeking to create a record collection in lieu of the extravagant cost of the one Oasis album. By the time of the last blog he has amassed over 30 records including timeless classics by the Beatles, Bowie and Lou Reed all for under the cost of a box containing one album and a few postcards. Definitely worth a read.

The 1p Album Club

Whilst my own suggestions about discovering music cheaply encouraged you towards the boot sales, charity and second hand record shops these bloggers went for an online approach. They use Amazon and search for albums available for just 1p (excluding postage of just over £1), an initial search suggests over 14,000 different releases are currently available for 1p so there must be some classics hidden among the landfill of failed pop acts and cheap compilations. Reading through some of their 1p reviews I notice a few albums still gracing my shelves, all bought for considerably more than their current Amazon price. I really like this idea, I wanted to get people back into physical music by buying it cheaply and theirs is a clever hook to hang it over. They also run a 1p Christmas swap which sounds interesting, maybe I’ll sign up, it sounds like a cheap way to discover new music and maybe share something I like with someone else.

Note: Apologies to anyone clicking the title expecting a blog about Dire Straits. For those not in the know, ‘Brothers in Arms’ was one of the highest selling albums of all time, with over 30 million copies copies sold. Whilst not a personal favourite of the author there are likely a number of copies in second hand shops, check it out for yourself, and get your money for nothing.

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An introduction to ‘Second Hand Music’

Having written a paean to physical music I discussed the subject with some friends, all of them big music fans but none having a particular attachment to records or CDs, their music collections almost exclusively in digital formats. Without fail the prevalent response to why they chose digital over physical was about cost, the consensus being they owned more illegally downloaded music than paid downloads.

It seems they’re a fairly representative group, BPI research from 2013 estimates only 28% of the UK population legally download music, which means there’s an awful lot who acquire it through illegal means.

Having also got a number of friends who are musicians and realising the financial limitations of the current music industry it saddens me that people don’t see music as something of value. I don’t want to preach about supporting the talents of musicians and I appreciate that the internet has forever changed a lot of industries, particularly creative ones. Film and TV industries were just as hit by piracy, and journalists or authors funding models have changed irrevocably too.

I think I have a solution for my friends, readers or anyone with a love of music but neither the money or inclination to pay a lot for their music, ‘Second Hand Music’. The process isn’t complicated, go out and acquire yourself a cheap or used record player (a quick browse of eBay turns up a number with speakers for as little as £20), maybe ask your family, perhaps someone has one in the attic?

The second part is go out and buy yourself some cheap records, you needn’t pay £10+ for an album, your local charity shop or car boot sale will usually sell them for as little as 50p. Look online and find your local used record shops, as a Londoner my local favourites are the Music Exchanges which have entire bargain basements where records are all just £1. Maybe make a trip of it, if you’re visiting another city, look in advance and make a journey to the local used record shop to browse their bargains.

When you return home with your purchase, make listening to it an event in its own right, sit on your favourite chair, put the record on, maybe have a read of the sleeve notes or just sit with your eyes closed for a bit and drink it in. Note – attempt to keep your phone/tablet/laptop off, to appreciate music you need to give it your attention, not have it in the background whilst you’re on Facebook.

Then, once you’ve been out shopping a few times, invested a whopping ten or twenty quid on a stack of albums maybe invite your friends over for a drink and pop a few records on, I guarantee you’ll start more good conversations about music than your iTunes playlist ever did.

One final suggestion, maybe write about the music, leave the new music reviews to the professionals, find an album that you don’t know or maybe forgot about over time and review it with fresh ears today. That’s what I plan to do, I’ll post some blogs reviewing a few of my experiences on these pages. Just because the music is cheap, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a value, go out and find your own treasure, no matter how inexpensive…

Romanticising music?

Somewhere along the line music lost its romanticism. I’m not saying that music isn’t romantic, far from it, people fall in love to pithy love songs every day, indeed, the radio is awash with singers declaring their true love, lamenting an unrequited love or the one that got away. No, what I’m getting at is that music lost its mojo, and, if you’ll stick with me, I think I know where and when.

For me it was 1999 whilst I was sat at my desk, the first time I downloaded a song through (illegal download software) Napster. Before that point music was romantic – as a youngster I’d get my pocket money and go the record shop and buy a single or an album. I’d listen to the radio or read a music magazine in the week and come Saturday go to a record shop and return with an artefact, something physical, with artwork and sleeve notes to peruse.

Although that first download was a contributing factor I don’t hold illegal downloading entirely responsible for the loss of romanticism, more the wider idea of digital music. Where once there was a physical artefact the vast majority now have an ‘iTunes library’ or something similar. Apple may call it a ‘library’ to give it a resonance and relate it something physical but in reality it’s a largely text-based catalogue, a binary coded index of songs you may or may not have paid for.

Music becomes a commodity, something ubiquitous with little discernible value. A physical single or album could be a limited edition, signed by the artist, printed with alternative artwork or even on glittery pink vinyl. Whereas a digital representation of the same music could be shared and copied with everyone connected to the internet within seconds. In having to go out of your way to a record shop and buy something you not only invested your money, but your time, thought and effort into that decision, and it gave whatever you bought an emotional value. You spoke to a human being, interacted with them and possibly got a recommendation on something else you might like.

Compare that to today’s music acquisition, the decision to (legally or illegally) get an album requires nothing more that a few clicks of your mouse, you have access to what feels like an infinite amount of music, but in having so much available, so easily, so quickly it feels far more dispensable, the couple of clicks that added it your ‘library’ can just as easily remove it again. If you came across new music it’s because a computer algorithm calculated you’d like it.

A CD or a record can be romantic in a way in ways digital music never could, anyone that ever bought a CD for someone they fancied to try and impress them or left their favourite record at their ex’s house when they split up and never got it back could testify to that. People can still fall in love to music, but are they still in love with music?