Digital vs. Physical…

February 9th, 2012 | Posted by J. T. in Uncategorized

Being someone who has owned an independent record label since 2004, I’m very much aware of the massive shift that has taken place regarding the manner in which people consume music.  This year, digital music (mostly sold through iTunes) will finally take over CD sales for the first time in history, according to a new study released by Strategy Analytics.  I’m sure that this fact will further the music consumption argument between digital buyers (those that prefer the modern day convenience of iTunes) vs. physical buyers (those that still enjoying purchasing an actual product at the store, taking it home, looking at the artwork, etc.).  In this post, my intent is to look at this debate from the eyes of a businessman/artist versus those of a fan/consumer. And in talking about physical products, I will be referring to CDs only.  Although vinyl has made a strong comeback in recent years, it still only accounted for 1.3% of all music sales in 2010 (via Digital Music News).

For years, my record label (Jib Machine Records) released albums and e.p.’s in both formats, but over the past year or so, we significantly cut back on the number of discs we pressed per release.  Thanks to sites like and Mixonic, indie labels and/or unsigned artists can keep a low amount of stock on hand while affordably offering physical CDs to those fans that still prefer that format.  However, if you wish to stick around in what’s left of the music “business”, then you definitely need to jump on the digital train if you haven’t already.  For my label alone, digital units have accounted for 70% of our total online sales.  Granted, people still prefer to buy CDs at shows, but online, digital rules!  In fact, in order to position Jib for the future, we signed an exclusive digital distribution agreement last year with Fanatix Music out of NYC.  This deal puts us in over 400 outlets worldwide and gives us more control over sales tracking and royalty payments.  More importantly, it give us a chance to survive in the ever changing music “industry”.

So, after reading this post thus far, one would think that I am absolutely in favor of digital music.  As a businessman and artist, you would be correct, but as a consumer and fan, not so fast.  Earlier this week, I had an experience that made me think for the first time in a while about how I personally like to acquire music…

On February 7th, Van Halen released their long-awaited album, A Different Kind of Truth, the first w/ David Lee Roth since 1984.  The whole day at work, I could not contain myself and couldn’t wait to stop by Target on my way home to get the new CD.  Now, I could’ve easily bought the album on my iPhone at any point in time during the day, but for this particular album, I wanted a physical copy.  Chalk it up to being older, nostalgic (I grew up listening to VH and was heartbroken when DLR left in 1985), whatever.  Either way, I felt like a kid again when I got home that night, opened the disc, checked out the artwork and of course, jammed out the album at max volume (even though I had already previewed most of  it on YouTube the week prior).

About an hour after listening to ADKOT, I was on Twitter and notice a tweet from Tommy Lee giving iTunes props for honoring Motley Crue’s current Vegas residency by putting all of their albums on sale for $7.99.  Being a huge Crue fan, I immediately went over to iTunes and on a whim purchased Too Fast for Love and Motley Crue (their one and only album with John Corabi and IMO their best album musically, but this is a different argument for another day).  For the record, I already own these albums in different physical formats, but the fact that they were a) on sale/cheap and b) so easily consumable is why I bought them without giving the purchase much thought.

Now, this experience is in stark contrast to the VH one, but I think it shows on a small level why the existence of physical units in the future is in jeopardy.  Although people still value the “ownership” of their music, they are more interested in being “connected” and having music “accessible” to them at any given time.  Overall, I guess that I too prefer to buy my music digitally these days, and it appears that the VH buying experience was an anomaly.  However, it was sure nice to have one more trip down memory lane and feel the same excitement I felt when I bought 1984 on vinyl as a 10-year old kid.  Unfortunately, in today’s “gotta have it yesterday” world, the opportunity to feel this way will soon cease to exist along with the once indestructible compact disc.

Note:  This blog is only applicable to people that actually BUY music.  If an artist chooses to give his/her music away for free, then I’m totally cool with that.  Case in point, you can download a number of tracks on this site for free!  However, if you’re someone who gets all of your music from pirated sites, then you’re a thief and should be treated as such if caught.  

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