July 17th marked the second “Record Store Day” of the summer, a set date to support local independent record stores with rare, limited-edition releases internationally. As such, this allows people the opportunity to both appreciate and support the culture of buying physical copies of music. As students in an age of ever-developing steaming technology, the concept of analog listening through CDs, vinyl, or cassettes may seem unnecessary or excessive without considering the repercussions on the artists who make the music we love. St. John’s holds one of the oldest independent record stores in North America and, in turn, provides an environment to share high-fidelity recordings of both mainstream and local artists. In light of the upcoming opportunity to support independent record stores, I interviewed one of MUN’s own independent artists as an opportunity to understand exactly how different forms of listening (Analog vs. Digital) impacts musicians.
Ben Diamond is a Classical guitarist and graduate of Memorial’s performance major through the Faculty of Music, with further aspirations to pursue his Master’s in Classical Performance at McGill in Montreal. Ben’s passion for playing guitar has evolved into his career path while developing an impressive background in music during his time at Memorial. Ben has performed within the province and around Canada at both conferences and festivals. Additionally, during his undergrad, Ben played with MUN’S jazz ensemble for four years, taught beginner/intermediate guitar students, and released his own album. His album, released in 2020, is called “Prime” and is available on streaming apps such as Apple Music and Spotify, on his website (link provided below), and in CD format at Fred’s Records.
The achievement of dropping his first album has given him great insight into the world of sharing and profiting from his musical talents. Ben described his experience within the changing culture surrounding music listening by stating, “I think that there is really immense value to selling a copy of the music on a CD because the total gros income is so much greater, what’s happening with subscription services like Spotify and Apple Music is that the monetary value has dropped monstrously below poverty levels with the corporation method.” The considerable gap between CD sales and streaming compensation concerns the total number of song streams, as Ben described, “streaming apps essentially work on a one hundred streams per one cent ratio so that even 1000-2000 streams on an album is not actually a lot and could even total to a revenue equivalent to only about 1-2 CD sales. So essentially this means the by purchasing a physical copy of music, you’re supporting local artist like [Ben] by 100-1000 times more financially”. Ben’s choice to sell his album at Fred’s records also reflects the supportive nature of purchasing physical music forms, as he recognized, “I like the idea of putting my CD down at Fred’s because they’re a local store and a real pioneer in music and artists in our community.” The overall theme of support surrounding the relationship between independent stores and local artists promotes a symbiotic relationship of sorts; the small commission taken by the retailer is still appreciably less than the corporation method demonstrated by digital streaming.
While the financial support for an artist associated with buying physical music forms is substantial, listening to streaming services may inhibit the quality of music and hinder the listener from hearing a piece of music as intended by the artist. Ben explained the contrast between the different formats of the autophiles from streamed music vs. analog listening: “When we listen on our phones it is the MP3 file itself but when we hear the same song on a CD it is called a Wave File which has much less compression of the audiophile itself”. Essentially, you’re getting more detail from a CD and further upscale as you listen to even less compressed forms of audiophile such as a vinyl track. In addition, a CD provides the listener with no choice but to appreciate an album in the set sequence intended by the artist. In contrast, streaming sources introduce options like “shuffle,” which could completely disrupt the intended flow of an album.
When I asked Ben how the shuffle function could influence his listeners, his response was, “I never actually thought of pressing shuffle on my album… with my album that would be rambunctious because there are 5 or 6 tracks in a row that belong to a collection of pieces that are related to one another. So, for example, if you were to go from the Scary Clown piece, which is very “in your face” and exciting, to my friend Steve Murray’s piece, which is more intimate and calm, it would completely change the experience.” Much like Ben, most artists put copious amounts of time and energy into perfecting the flow of their album to property portray the story, character, and mood that the music attempts to evoke. Therefore, omitting the option to shuffle songs in an album can enhance the experience of listening to music.
Finally, Ben recognized that there are also benefits to online streaming, including how it enhances the ability to share his music with a broader demographic and provides people with the convenience of instantaneous listening. As students, the best approach we can therefore take to support the artists we love, along with the long-time tradition of record store shopping, is to still try to purchase physical forms of music—even if that means just for listening in the car. Ben described the processing of analog listening as a “hands-on experience” where you go to a record store and search through hundreds of different albums until you choose one to bring home; you may listen while studying the album artwork, read about the artist, and ultimately learn about what you are hearing. On this note, maybe the key isn’t to eliminate one format, but instead to use both listening platforms in combination to reap the benefits of both and make for the ultimate listening experience.
So try to get out soon to support a local business and see the difference for yourself, maybe even support one of MUN’s own musicians!