Farewell CD? Leo Abrahams & Patrick O’Hearn Join the On-Line Only Movement

The change is slowly, but surely happening. Music is moving off of physical mediums like the CD and into exclusive, on-line distribution. Yes, we all know about iTunes, Rhapsody etc. But artists are beginning to move into an exclusive on-line mode. Often this is simply a marketing and promotion move with big acts like those on iTunes Original Sessions. But smaller artists are resorting to digital distribution as a model for either all their releases or certain, limited appeal releases. We’ve recently gotten in an EP from Leo Abrahams called EP1 (mysteriously categorized as folk) and a soundtrack from Patrick O’Hearn for a film called Wheelhouse that are exclusively available on-line. And every day on listserves like Space Music and Ambient Collective, artists are posting downloads of their music, sometimes for free, sometimes not. I’m only scratching the surface because I’m so ambivalent about the transition that I’m trying not to pay attention. But technology moves, whether you’re onboard or not.

I never lamented the passing of the vinyl LP, though I still have a wall of them and listen to one or two every week. And there was never any romance about the CD. It was just an efficient and clean method of hearing music. But the complete loss of a physical music medium with its attendant visual cues is something to which I’ll need to adjust. A show like Echoes is often planned out by visually scanning CD spines in the library till something strikes our fancy. In a digital only medium, where music is just a file on your hard drive, that visual cue will be gone. From our perspective, it’s hard enough keeping track of 3000 new physical CDs a year. Keeping track 3000 folders, with 10 or so files within them, even electronically, is daunting. But we will change.

Right now, we’re in the phase that Private Music was in when they launched the first “CD Only” label in 1985. They were a few years ahead of the curve and by their second set of releases, they figured that out and were issuing vinyl versions as well. But as we all know, that ultimately changed. And I’m sure, so will we.

Comment posted by
at 8/13/2006 9:13:56 PM

Gordon makes a point that I find oddly absent in the media hype and anxiety over music downloads and music online. MP3s sacrifice audio quality for listener convenience. And despite the conceit that digital reproduction makes piracy easy, most of the music downloaded legally or illegally is compromised by compression. The stolen goods are also bogus goods.

I’m no audiophile and, in fact, do most of my listening on my laptop – and not always with headphones. I’m basically listening to a 21st equivalent of the old pocket transitor radios – it transmit noise and not much more. And that lack of quality always reminds me of the bad bargain I’m making. Then again streaming Echoes 24/7 makes 40 years ago seem like 400. It is a bargain nonetheless.

Comment posted by
at 8/11/2006 7:06:13 AM

John- I’m listening right now to the “So Flows” Sessions. The music is good enough to have been included as part of a double CD package, but the sound is far below the usual Spotted Peccary standard, and certainly not as good as the music on the original “So Flows The Current.”

OK, so I have audiophile level equipment and can easily hear the difference, but the whole “iPod” movement is based upon a healthy dose of lowering musical standards. It’s part of making music more product than music, which is something to be resisted. As far as the “on-line” only phenomonon, until the bit rate is AT LEAST 256 kb (double what it normally is now) it presents a real dilmena-should I buy worthwhile music that the artist has deliberately sold at less than optimum sonic worth? I’m not sure of the answer, but to my ears the difference between the O’Hearn CD and the iPod download is hugem and very disappointing.

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