December 26, 2009

The death of music packaging?

Last night I downloaded the new Ella Fitzgerald box set Twelve Nights In Hollywood from Amazon. I was hesitant at first. It seemed strange to purchase something so substantial in such an insubstantial form. In college I saved up to buy box sets and then I would pour over the packaging, carefully extracting each piece; I read the liner notes studiously.

These days I'm not sure I want the clutter in my apartment (and the cover art on this particular set isn't particularly inspiring). I'm ambivalent about CDs in general; if the music is digital, there's seems no need for CDs except as a form of conveyance. They're the floppy disc of music.

That said, I have decided that in 2010 I am going to buy at least one vinyl record a month. After dusting off my turntable the other day, I put on Bettye Lavette's The Scene of the Crime. I felt as if I was rediscovering the album. It sounded amazing. There's something about vinyl that renders music beautifully, and the size of an LP really shows off artwork in a way CDs just can't.

Recently, a friend of mine told me he worries about his job as a book jacket designer. He wonders in the age of Kindles and rumored iSlates what his role will be. I can't imagine that cover art would go away; the Audible ads in the subway still sell books by their cover art, and there's something about a book cover (or album cover) that helps set the tone for what one is about to read. I can't imagine books disappearing either, though perhaps that's my own prejudice. In the future, physical books may become rarefied objects, like vinyl is today, but they won't disappear entirely. In fact, there seems to be a resurgence in photobooks lately.

And speaking of the Ella Fitzgerald set, I wonder where the rest of the music is. Twelve nights don't really fit on four CDs, do they? I wonder if Mosaic Records will one day publish a full set. Sadly, a quick look at their site seems to indicate that they've stopped releasing their box sets on vinyl.

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Know what you mean about pouring over the box set packaging. You certainly had some nice box sets back in college. I also love pouring over music packaging, but it's an ephermeral pleasure. You usually do it once and then it just sits on the shelf, collecting dust. Still, it'll be missed when it's gone. (Don't get me wrong.... I still buy far too many CDs, personally, so I'm hardly a champion of going all digital.) Some iTunes albums come with a digital booklet (usually in PDF format) and then there's the iTunes LP format which is supposed to be interactive interface to an album. I've only seen one example of the latter, and I wasn't particularly impressed. It's possible those things might take the place of traditional music packaging, but only if they catch on and designs put as much effort into them as the better examples of music packaging.

I don't really see (or hear) the attraction to vinyl, honestly.

Ed S. | December 27, 2009 2:24 AM | Reply

Oh, I haven't seen the iTunes LP format, which doesn't sound that useful to me. I'm not sure why people try to replicate something that works in one medium to another. Like why not develop great ways to interact with that thing in the new medium?

It's interesting what you say about pouring over music packaging being an ephemeral pleasure. You're absolutely right in that regard as well. I rarely look over the packaging of CDs that I have, especialy once I've ripped them. I guess that's why I don't buy them anymore, and rely instead on Amazon and emusic.

eugene | December 27, 2009 10:55 AM | Reply

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