alan little’s weblog

mo’ shopping blues

1st October 2005 permanent link

I buy quite a lot of CDs – probably about a hundred a year, although I haven’t been doing it for very long so I “only” have a total collection of about six or seven hundred CDs. That’s not a big collection by some people’s standards. Music critic and blogger Alex Ross thinks he has about ten thousand CDs. My friend Charlie told me he has about two thousand CDs and considerably more vinyl LPs. Eric Grunin has nearly four hundred recordings just of the Eroica. Brian Micklethwait doesn’t give an exact number for his “pathologically gigantic CD collection”, but I recall he once posted a picture of some of it. I can’t find the picture just now but it, too, definitely looked much bigger than mine. Nevertheless I suspect I’m probably still in the top few percent of spenders of money on recorded music. The lady on the cash desk at Ludwig Beck knows me.

Here we finally get to the point of my ramblings about R.L. Burnside and the Smetana Quartet: the number of people in the world who are shopping for music by R.L. Burnside and the Smetana Quartet at any given time probably fluctuates between zero and one. But there are lots and lots of people looking for other things of that sort, and these are precisely the people who buy a lot of recorded music. Or would if they could actually find it, except that actually finding any given piece of even-slightly-outside-the-mainstream music, especially classical, is hopeless and getting worse.

It must be hard-verging-on-impossible for a specialist record shop to be a viable business these days. My guess is that the Ludwig Beck record department is Herr Beck’s personal hobby and subsidised by the clothing store. Zweitausendeins seems to have found a viable bottom-feeder niche. I have no idea what could possibly be going on bei Müller. The cost of carrying huge amounts of slow moving and rapidly depreciating stock must be immense. Even if you do bear that cost, you still can’t possibly have every obscure item that everybody looking for R.L. Burnside and the Smetana Quartet wants; but if you don’t have it right there they’re not going to order it from you any more, they’re going to go to Amazon. Where there’s a pretty good chance of it being available, but good luck finding it with Amazon’s crap search facilities.

Is what I want so very far-fetched? I want to be able to get anything that is currently or has ever been released. I don’t care whether I get things from individual record labels or some kind of distributor, as long as I have a search engine that can easily and reliably find them. I don’t mind compressed digital files as long as they have at least CD-quality sound, minimal DRM, and are substantially cheaper than CDs to fairly reflect their far lower distribution costs (I know bandwidth isn’t free). I don’t mind CDs either, as long as I don’t have to wait weeks to get them shipped from some other country. They take up too much space but in some ways they’re still more convenient: it’s a lot easier to carry a CD into the kitchen than it is to open up my laptop and fire up iTunes. We’re not far off: Amazon has a huge selection of music but weak search; Apple’s online music store has decent search but a pitiful selection.

Meanwhile (says the CD junkie) can anybody point me to where I can find a copy of Yevgeny Mravinsky’s recording of Sibelius’ seventh symphony?

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