This isn’t one of those tired rants about the perils of illegal downloading and how it’s bankrupting the artists and killing the record stores and decimating the music industry. Truth be told, the artists are making up lost revenue in increased concert ticket prices, the record stores are reverting back to the more-popular-than-ever vinyl format, and after years of bloated excess, most everybody concurs that the music industry deserved to be decimated.
Nor is this an old-man rant about the ease of illegal downloading and the valueless clicking that kids these days do and how in my time we had to walk two miles in the snow to Record Mart only to find that, sorry, the new Depeche Mode album was out of stock, and those crazy ADD-addled youths don’t even know what albums are anymore because they’re wired up on the YouTubeEMusicFacebookPandora TwitterGorillaVsBearStereogum sites.
No, this is none of those things, because illegal downloading is here to stay. It was born of the music industry’s decision to kill the LP and increase its profit margin 1,000 percent by foisting the digital technology of CDs on music fans, the same technology that eventually made possible the mp3 and the RapidShare files and the torrents that the recording industry hates so much. It’s a little like the United States providing chemical weapons to Iraq in the 1980s and then fighting against them in the aughts.
But I digress. Today’s discussion for those addicted to the little, blue frog icon in their dock next to Audio Hijack and EasyWMA is on the rise of huge complete-discography torrents, and the simple fact that there can possibly be too much of a good thing. Like a bathtub full of IPA poured into a beer bong. Like a hundred browser windows filled with beautiful naked women. Like a heaping pile of spaghetti shoveled onto the table by a man in a red suit and bowtie.
No one really wants these excesses. So why, I wonder, do we continue to fall for the idea that downloading a gigantic torrent of a band’s complete discography is going to be in any way rewarding?
Say you’ve been loving Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro,” and your acute powers of perception deliver an impulsive yearning for the song it’s loosely based on, “Fernando” by ABBA. You cue it up on your torrent browser. You scan search results for “Fernando” itself (5.2 MB), for ABBA Gold (70.5 MB), for Greatest Hits (60.4 MB). And then you see the motherlode. “ABBA Full Discography 320kbps 65CD,” it reads. 8.7 GB! Jesus, this rules! Or so you think.
Just as our stomach can’t process too many shovelfuls of spaghetti, just as our libidos can’t process all those naked women, just as our livers can’t process all that beer, the musical receptors in our brain just simply cannot process 8.7 GB of ABBA.
A friend of mine fell victim to such temptation recently. He wanted to hear a song from Depeche Mode, and was instead lured by the band’s complete discography. It only required a couple hours of time and no real effort on his part, and—voilà! Every note Depeche Mode had ever recorded was at his fingertips.
“But you know what?” he said afterward. “Depeche Mode has a lot of horrible songs.” All he’d wanted was to relive the moment he first heard “Somebody” and feel a warm, loving adolescent feeling that the world could be caring and kind. Now he’s got crap like “Better Days (Basteroid Dance Is Gone Vocal Mix)” and all the throwaway B-sides from Ultra, not to mention Ultra itself and all the other lousy late-era records Depeche Mode ever made.
In a way, this is no burden. It takes up invisible space. But it is invisible music on an invisible aural plane, a cold, dead piece of silicon storage, the exact opposite of what he wanted to feel. Invisible or not, it’s there. And most of it sucks.
My friend has two choices here. One is to spend the next year listening to Depeche Mode and nothing but Depeche Mode, evaluating and ranking and reorganizing and playlisting the virtually insurmountable glob of music with which he’s saddled himself. His other option is to drag the folder to the trash and start clean with Some Great Reward (50.2 MB).
Or, God forbid, he could walk to a record store and actually fork over the cost of a burrito for a used copy of Catching Up with Depeche Mode, and go through life piece by piece instead of hoarding it all.
Isn’t that the best way to live, anyway?