Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Joy of Browsing

I miss the CD store.

Which is not to say that they're all gone, though to the best of my knowledge a lot of the major chains have either folded or closed up a lot of shops since the 1990's. There are still places where you can go to buy CD's, should you be so inclined. I am not including the big box stores here, or even the more specialized retailers like Borders or Barnes and Nobles. I mean the CD store that, aside from a small smattering of posters and other music paraphernalia, only sold music. I know that there are fewer of them, where once they were almost as prolific as Starbuck's.

Perhaps not quite so numerous, but close.

I don't even listen to most of my CD's anymore, honestly. Most of the time I'm on my laptop, and so that's where most of my music is. Not all of it, by any means, as storage limitations mean that the large items like operas or the complete Beethoven's symphonies have been left on CD. The vast majority of what I listen to on a frequent basis is, however, stored digitally, and I confess most of those are the music of known quantities. Musicians where I was already familiar with they're work, and wasn't taking a chance.

Not that some of it doesn't work like that. There are any number of places where I can find new music, and for a not unreasonable sum even purchase it and take it home. (Or download it, if the artist is giving it away for free. Which some of the more esoteric ones I listen to do.) Yet browsing through a blog or an online music store doesn't have quite the same feel to it. Maybe it's not having the CD in hand, or being able to - sometimes - turn to the store clerk and ask about the music in question. Maybe it's the lack of those sections where they say "if you like this, you might also like this."

A lot of it is simply not being able to find those rare gems you might otherwise overlook. One of my favorite blues CD's, for example, came from this little store in downtown Chicago, found while I was getting lunch and killing time until my train arrived. It was a small store, less than the size of the 7 Eleven across the street from it, but it had a steady stream of college students browsing the aisles. It aimed at mostly jazz and blues music, and while I know there are plenty of blogs out there devoted to that stuff, there is an inherent problem with those.

Mainly, they rely on someone's opinions. If a person is posting about music on their blog, it's a reflection of their tastes. And while, for a professional reviewer, that might mean a broader sampling, it still imposes certain limitations. Limitations you were less likely to find in a music store. Even simple things like crossing genre lines, and browsing jazz and blues over here, then new age over there, are made a bit more cumbersome online. Maybe not more difficult, as there is built-in convenience from shopping from home and all that, but you have to hunt in more locations rather than just going to the one spot.

Mostly, I miss being able to walk in and hear something over the speakers which you might never have listened to. Sometimes it was crap, sometimes not, and just sometimes it was something which, after asking the clerk what it was, you'd walk out of the store with. You don't get that online.

No comments: