Why I Still Buy CDs

Physicality is just as integral to my appreciation and understanding of music as anything.
Compact Discs
 (George Hodan, CC0 1.0)

Earlier this week, Jeffrey Overstreet asked “How do YOU want your music?” Given how technology (iPods, digital subscription services, etc.) have changed how we can get our music, how do we actually prefer getting our music?

I’m as geeky and tech-lovey dovey as they come, but in this situation, I’m a virtual luddite (if that’s not self-contradictory). I resisted digital downloads (i.e., iTunes) for a long time. Not because I was concerned about getting lower quality music — honestly, I’ve never been able to tell the difference between a CD, a lossless file, and a decently encoded MP3 — but because I enjoy the “physical” products so much, and even need them.

Now, that has changed somewhat within the last year. But I find that when I download music — be it a free netlabel download or an iTunes purchase — I find it easier to forget, to lose track of, to simply toss off. Without having something physical — a CD case, a booklet — to “anchor” the music, it feels less real to me and more like yet another commodity.

I understand the primary arguments for digital music, such as convenience and portability, and make no mistake: my iPod is filled to the brim and accompanies me to the office every day. But at the end of the day, I like turning around and seeing the wall o’ CDs in my office. True, I haven’t listened to many of those CDs in a long time, but there are memories encoded into them as surely as any ones and zeros. Memories of taking them on roadtrips to Cornerstone, of trading them with friends, of the time I turned someone onto Really Awesome Band #1,235 with their debut CD (which, of course, is nearly impossible to find).

This is entirely subjective and perhaps even a little irrational, but for me, those memories — that physicality — are just as integral to my appreciation and understanding of the music on those CDs as anything, even the music itself — and I just don’t see myself forming that sort of bond with files on my hard drive, be they lossless or otherwise.