Over the weekend, NPR intern Emily White raised a stink -- and a very forceful retort from musician David Lowery -- by saying she'd purchased almost no music in her life, even though she considered herself a huge music fan. She meant to illustrate her doubt that young people will ever be convinced to pay for music when virtually all of it can be downloaded for free. Lowery answered her with various facts about the music industry and about how artists (don't) make money, basically giving moral reasons for the purchase of music. Well, we'd like to offer other kinds of reasons -- selfish, image-concerned, semi-factual ones -- why even young, lazy, convenience-obsessed broke people (like us) should spend their money on music, instead of, say, overpriced coffee, iGadgets, and bath salts. Here are eight of them.
8. Because physical album packaging is a cardboard-and-paper universe of wonder.
The packaging and artwork for a piece of music can be almost as iconic as the music itself: When you see a ray of light going into a prism and a rainbow coming out, what do you think of? Even if the art isn't magnificent, the photos, liner notes, credits, and lyrics complete the work. You find all sorts of fascinating things in CD booklets and vinyl lyric sheets. Just yesterday we were going through McCartney II, and found the freaky photos Macca took of himself, in which he was apparently imitating the other members of the Beatles. You don't get new discoveries like that with an illegal download.
7. Because it sounds better.
At the low qualities you usually find on illegal download sites, music sounds like metal shreds thrown into a garbage disposal. It's barely worth listening to. Granted, there are some high-quality files out there for illegal download, though they're harder to get. But more often than not, you'll get music at a much higher quality when you pay for it.
6. You'll have something to listen to when your laptop breaks, your iPhone goes dead, and your dog eats your old iPod.
Because that will happen, probably. And even before that, you may discover that it's nice to not have to interact with a computer screen in order to listen to a song.
5. You can always trade music away for cash or other music.
Music in physical format is never a real waste of money. New items will lose value when you unwrap them, but you can always sell CDs or vinyl to pay for food, rent, gas, or other music. Most things you spend money on are not like this.
4. Owning music is cool.
It just is. Music objects give people an instant impression of who you are. Invite someone over to your place, and they will look at your stacks of CDs and vinyl. They won't ask to go browse your iTunes library. Actual music is, has been, and always will be cool. By owning physical manifestations of it, you make yourself cool. Even (especially) if you're otherwise a dork.
3. More supply equals less perceived value.
It's basic economics: Give someone a lot of something, and they won't value it as much as if you gave them a little of it. So when you treat the downloadable world of music as your personal library, you actually cheat yourself out of the pleasure of loving the relatively few recordings that are all yours. Knowing that you spent real money on them adds to this.
2. Where you spend money demonstrates your actual values.
Again, basic capitalism: Where you put your resources speaks to what you actually care about. Saying you love music to death, but not spending money on it, is like saying you want a certain candidate to win without voting for them. Clearly, you didn't want them to win that badly. How can the world take your music fandom seriously if you use all your resources for other things?
1. To make up for all the music you've downloaded.
Let's all come clean: It's 2012, and we'll bet most of the people reading this have illegally downloaded music at one time or another. We have. And when we find something we like, we try to pay for it eventually. That doesn't always happen. But every time we do spend actual money on music, we're paying back our download debt in some very small way. It's not perfect, but it's a hell of a lot better than not paying for any music at all.