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Davis, California

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Column: Justin T. Ho

On a daily basis, college students face the conundrum of balancing frugality with exorbitant and often lavish excess. We’d all love to be wise money savers to keep up with the poor student image, but in the end, a four-dollar beer really does go well with a nine-dollar meal at Burgers and Brew.

Though finances sincerely limit many students, others play it cheap only when they find it most convenient. Sure, consistency is generally an admirable trait, but being selectively cheap has its perks.

An easy example is the purchasing of music – an act where being cheap is increasingly valid. Why pay $10 for a CD at Dimple (or $16-20 at Borders) when you could pay nothing for the same thing? After all, it’s hard to afford the burdens of a physical album collection when you just bought a parking permit and you drive to class everyday. Life’s tough sometimes.

Sure, downloading music can be risky business. Most people know (or at least should know) downloading tracks off Limewire is about as incredibly unsafe as it is unforgivably stupid. But it’s not hard to beat the system – nobody’s stopping you from putting four gigabytes of high-quality album rips onto a flash drive and passing it around like a blunt, or unloading a hard drive’s worth of music onto someone else’s computer. In minutes.

Buying music sucks. I don’t want to spend any more than eight or nine dollars on an album because I know the songs are just going to end up in iTunes and the jewel case shelved alongside my Mac OS X install discs.

It’s true that bands need money – a point that anti-Communist moral leaders love to harp on and on about. But if they really want compensation for their work, they should deserve it, because downloaders aren’t going to respond to anything else. Put in the effort to make a product worth buying.

Ask anyone with a musical taste born before the ’70s – vinyl purchases used to be awesome. Records were a trip and album artwork rivaled the music in quality. But let’s be honest – the term “artist” is a stretch for many, many bands. Metallica’s 1996 Load cover art was nothing more than a semen-blood amalgamation between two pieces of glass. I saw what was essentially Animal Collective’s optical illusion artwork for Merriweather Post Pavilion on ebaumsworld.com six years ago.

Subjective? Sure. Complete shit? Definitely.

Artists don’t put nearly as much effort into their physical releases anymore, and that’s probably never going to change. Vinyl still exists, but hell, even Alicia Keys sells records now. And besides the fact that album packages themselves are bland and mundane, you just can’t fit anything substantially interesting in a tiny jewel case.

So where can you fit it? In a compressed file that users can download. Bands, the RIAA and Lars Ulrich will never be able to stop the pirating monster, so they should accept it and utilize it. Keep fighting for expensive purchases and you’ll end up like the jewel case – shelved and disregarded.

The trend some musicians are going towards – releasing their own music digitally and putting out a nice frilly deluxe edition – might work. True fans, they argue, would pay the money (often upwards of $150) for the extra photos and 5.1 stereo mixes. But I wouldn’t, no matter how much I liked the band. Does that mean I’m not a true fan?

Buy an album when a band is worth spending money on. Otherwise, our friendly internet-based alternatives are by far the better choice.

JUSTIN T. HO knows physical formats trump digital files, and buys used albums whenever he can. Agree with him at arts@theaggie.org.


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