I haven’t felt like a good music fan lately.
You see, like most music fans out there, I like to buy music in some capacity from my favorite artists and support them. I’ve always said that the best way to do that is to buy directly from the artist through their website or other online shop, but with delays in vinyl pressings causing frustrations and CDs going the way of the dinosaur, that’s become harder in 2021 than ever before.
And yet I try, because there’s just something about actually owning what I love that makes me feel more connected to the music and the act that made it. Hell, I admit country radio did fuel a lot of my early love for the genre, but sitting and listening to records while looking through the liner notes and artwork is what really pushed a passion into an obsession – one I still have over a decade later.
I don’t know; I just don’t get that same feeling when I’m listening online. Don’t get me wrong – without streaming, I wouldn’t be able to operate a music blog in a consistent capacity, and it’s a great tool for discovery and is likely the best tool to use when you’ve already bought the music in some other capacity, if only to show further support. But as an Android user, I admit to being jaded at actually buying releases online ever since Google Play Music shut down earlier this year. Now my music that I spent money on sits over at YouTube Music, and it’s as if I only ever paid for access to it, rather than the music itself to do with as I please.
Which … well, I did. That’s the tricky component of online consumption. The only way to ensure that what you’ve bought stays yours is to buy physical releases. And after reading an inspiring piece over at Diggin’ Up Records about a trip to the record store, I decided to do the same for myself last weekend. Right away I felt rejuvenated. You see, what with the pandemic and all, I got so used to just having music delivered to me in 2020 whenever I did buy it. I didn’t realize how much I desperately missed the thrill of the hunt until I walked in for the first time in what felt like a long time.
I had no list of what I wanted to buy; I just wanted to browse and let the wind take me where it would. The funny thing about physical releases these days is that, even with the bigger names in any genre, you’re not guaranteed to find their releases on vinyl or CD even in your big retailers like Walmart or Target. I found a lone copy of Carly Pearce’s 29: Written in Stone just by accidently flipping through releases in the record store, after realizing those aforementioned places didn’t even have it.
Now, the funny part about all of this is that, when it comes to browsing physical releases, country fans arguably have it best. I don’t know if it’s just because the genre has traditionally catered to an older demographic who might still buy physical products – especially CDs – as well as people like me looking for that blast of nostalgia, but there always seems to be a lot of it displayed wherever I roam. And as someone who, admittedly, isn’t a huge vinyl guy (I have various ways to listen to CDs still, and they’re easier to store and less expensive), I usually have the entire CD section to myself. I get a lot of weird looks, but I’m king of the road, baby.
Anyway, after flipping through every release – and I do mean every, from discounted releases to new ones and everything in between – my main haul consisted of the aforementioned Pearce album, James McMurtry’s excellent The Horses and the Hounds, Ruston Kelly’s Shape and Destroy from last year, Lee Ann Womack’s Greatest Hits (I have all but one of her albums, so why not?), Blackberry Smoke’s You Hear Georgia (a release I hesitated on, given how I don’t think it’s their best … but hell, I was in the moment!), and this random new Drive-By Truckers live album recorded in 2006. A lot, but at nearly $10-$15 each, I actually walked away well within my personal allotted budget. They weren’t what I was looking for; they were just what I found.
You’d think I’d already have all of those, too, but in truth, streaming has given me an odd sense of complacency. There’s still tons of great music being made all the time, but it’s harder to engage with it when you can’t really … live with it, if that makes sense. My trip to the record store reminded me of that unmatched joy of collecting and perusing music releases and going home to play them and browse over liner notes and album artwork (of which Blackberry Smoke easily won in that department, given how their accompanying booklet contained tons of pictures of the recording process. Kind of cool).
Now, I do see the irony of all of it. I bought those albums because I already knew I liked them from streaming them. I reviewed most of them. In times before, I would have bought them on the strength of liking the artists who made them, and if I didn’t like it or didn’t think it measured up to their best … well, tough. I don’t want to go back to that, but I do think it’s easy for all of us as music listeners to lose sight of what we have or not engage with what we’re hearing simply because it’s immediate. We want it now, and we want it to be the next best thing ever.
Overall, though, it’s a matter of “to each their own.” For me, there’s nothing like the simplest pleasures of capturing childhood magic thought lost. Music is one of the few entities that can do that for us, and it’s why it’s important to cherish it, no matter how you listen to it.