DRMing of less exciting times

The promised appearance of DRM-free, higher bit-rate AAC files on iTunes occurred during the last 24 hours, and as you’ve no doubt noticed when peering out of the window – the world is a better place. Or not. I’ve just paid my £3.27 to upgrade my EMI tracks to DRM-free and it’s astounding to see how poorly the download manager is handling this process. Some files are stalling, some are refusing to download at all. Where they not expecting people to want this? Did they think that people enjoyed the ‘rights-protected’ (whose?) files of old?
It still annoys me that I’ve had to shop with iTunes in the past. Yes, I know, I didn’t have to, I chose to click ‘purchase’. But anyone who collects all of the material by their favourite acts will know that you will track down every last song, and so when said artist goes ‘iTunes exclusive‘ with two tracks you know you’ll find yourself clicking along with everybody else. The files I’m updating are The Divine Comedy and The Good, The Bad & Queen as a result of recent singles / EPs that were only released as downloads. They’re mainly inessential items shoved on the internet in the hope of bolstering the chart position. TGTB&TQ‘s ‘Live From SoHo‘ is a cracking little set, using strings to great effect, but the majority of the Divine Comedy stuff is live and demo material that barely warrants one listen, let alone multiple plays.
That said, my major problem with downloading remains the lack of anything to show for it. Yes, I have a digital file on my computer, but where’s the CD to go in the rack? Where’s the gatefold 7″ vinyl to put amongst the other indie singles? Quality’s not often an issue, although when I’ve paid attention it is possible to spot the difference, but the sense that any CD I make is just a CD-R I’ve burned in my crumby PC is a constant aesthetic problem for me. Some of my favourite items of recent times have real attention to detail. The recent reissue of the first proper soul compilation, ‘This Is Soul‘ came in a mini-LP style gatefold sleeve, while Tom Waits’Orphans’ was presented in a delightful hardback book. Yesterday’s time-consuming arrival, the ‘Girl Group Sounds’ boxset, is a thing of wonder and this all adds to the experience. I want to spend my time digging around for records that look outstanding in their original sleeves or trawling shops for the limited edition digipack version of an indie record from ten years back. I’m not sure there’s quite so much emotional investment in the music when you boot up iTunes and click away.
I bought a wonderful compilation yesterday on the Soul Jazz label. Collecting material by The Sisters Love, Give Me Your Love’ featured some raw, passionate and visceral soul that I’d never even heard of before, let alone listened to. I was drawn to it by a snazzy cover and then the fact that it’s on such a reliable label. I can’t see myself trudging through iTunes in the same way. Where’s the interaction, the sense of community?
I’m aware I sound quite hippy-ish about this, and don’t expect much in the way of agreement, but I adore my physical record collection and still can’t quite bring myself to make any proper headway with the art of downloading, despite a keen interest in all things technology. I’ll continue to grudgingly purchase things I can’t get anywhere else but that’s all. Oddly enough, this has led me to actually realise I love CDs, despite their limitations. Vinyl sounds great, looks great and feels great, but I’m a product of the CD generation and I’ll never forget those hours after school spent digging around in the second hand racks of my local independent store. “Roll up, roll up, get your dusty AAC files here, one careful owner,” isn’t really an option, is it?

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