The other day I did something that has become a very rare occurrence for me; I went into a record shop and bought two albums. There is no independent shop near where I work, so I had to go to the only chain (barely) left standing to buy my albums. Why did I decide to visit that chain on that particular night? It’s very simple; because I felt like it. I felt like walking into a shop, thumbing through the rack, picking out a couple of albums and have them sitting in my bag in anticipation of being played at the end of the long and fairly arduous journey back home. Perhaps a glance at the cover art, a read of the lyrics, but the enjoyment of the music would be delayed. There are times when I sorely miss that experience.

On the whole, the advent of the MP3, online ordering, digital downloads and countless music streaming sites have been good for the avid consumer of music. We have so much access to so much music that we are rediscovering lost albums from yesteryear. Music in all its flavours is now wide open to us. We can share more easily. We can talk to each other. In many ways, it’s utopian; the world is our musical oyster, and we can gorge on music constantly.

I certainly download more albums than I buy CDs or records, now. Convenience has well and truly won out. More to the fact, I simply don’t have the space for many more physical albums in my flat at the moment. They are all stacked in boxes, occasionally played, rather than displayed on a shelf like they should be. I’ve even sold a few of them, though I find it pathetically painful to do. If I’m honest with myself, however, do I miss those albums on a daily basis? No. I have digital copies of them that are easier to access.

Without digital downloads, I doubt I would have kept up with pop music as much as I have. My more traditional friends are still stuck in the 90s (early 2000s at best), but I’ve managed to maintain my status as alpha nerd by constantly banging on about new music. I have a lot to thank the digital music market for (most of my current favourite albums). And yet...

And yet I can’t help but feel like we’ve lost something in the age of endless content; some of the care, some of the appreciation. My earliest memories of record collecting are distorted by the rose-tinted fug of nostalgia, so my views on this might be entirely objective. But back then, in the days before MP3s, every new album felt like an event – a surprise gift that was totally unknown to you until you got it home and unwrapped it. OK, some of them turned out to be stinkers, but that was all part of the fun.

I remember being as excited as five-year-old me on Christmas on the day a new album by one of my favourite bands was coming out. The anticipation and excitement would always build for weeks, and by the time the release day came around I could barely contain myself. I would head straight to the local record shop from school (I was in there so often that they knew me by name) to buy the record. When I finally got myself a CD walkman, I’d find a quiet spot to play it. Before that, I’d have to rush home to hear it. That wait was deliciously unbearable, and the payoff was almost always worth it. The good records would be in constant rotation for at least a week. In short, it felt like you really had to work to discover music, which made the whole process more satisfying in many ways.

That said, I was a teenager at the time, and there was a lot to discover. The hardened addict will tell you that no matter how hard you try, you can never quite recreate that first rush. My view is unquestioningly coloured by the fact that I’m older, tireder, and I’ve heard a lot of things before. These days, I’m harder to surprise. Perhaps I would still miss that rush even if the MP3 never existed, and that sense of anticipation would have withered away naturally.

So the world is digital, and I’ve embraced it. It has brought me a lot of joy, and I’m grateful for it. But every once in a while, when the mood takes me, I will walk into a bricks and mortar shop, browse the reassuringly solid racks, and reminisce.







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ie London, England

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