NEWS: Sucking the air out of the fall music season

Streaming or downloading albums lacks emotional payoff that comes from being forced to make an effort to acquire music.

Recently, some friends have been gleefully passing a New Yorker cartoon around online. You might’ve seen it. It shows two guys standing in front of a posh turntable and the expansive aural ecosystem it has spawned. One is confiding to the other: “The two things that really drew me to vinyl were the expense and the inconvenience.”

It’s funny because it’s true. It also sums up what used to constitute the annual rite of anticipation known as the fall music season.

Yes, hard as it is to believe, people used to line up outside an actual store to buy an album on release day. And while it might seem ludicrous to long for what was nothing more than a collective inconvenience, it also points to something that’s sorely lacking this year: the emotional payoff that comes from having been forced to make any sort of effort to acquire music.

At the risk of sounding like one of your grandparents’ stories about having to walk 10 miles (yes, miles) to school every day through teetering snowdrifts (and if there wasn’t any snow, someone would truck some in, damn it), what kind of rush are you going to get from clicking a button and streaming a new album by Keith Richards or Mercury Rev or the Weeknd, all in the kind of poxy audio quality guaranteed to send Neil Young over the deep end, to boot?

And that’s not the only factor that has conspired to deflate the sense of expectation around the post-Labour Day period.

Exhibit 1: Remember that time when the music biz all over the world unilaterally moved the release date of albums from Tuesdays (in North America, anyway) to Fridays? The global yawn that greeted the bold move, which took place three weeks ago, says all you need to know about the escalating irrelevance of an album in anything other than digital form.

Exhibit 2: Music used to have Tuesdays all to itself. Friday, on the other hand, is and always will be movie day. Stacked up against the latest 3D cartoon about a dinosaur or aHunger Games sequel or the return of Star Wars, a new album by anyone not named Taylor Swift seems destined to be a wallflower stuck in the corner behind a potted ficus, frantically waving its arms to get your attention for a couple of minutes.

Exhibit 3: While it would be churlish to complain about a band giving away its new album, the act of generosity that is Wilco’s Star Wars inadvertently reinforces the notion that music isn’t something we need to pay for.

It’s an unintended consequence that the band itself understands.

“We consider ourselves lucky to be in the position to give you this music free of charge, but we do so knowing not every band, label or studio can do the same,” they wrote on Facebook a week after the giveaway began.

“With that in mind, Wilco has put together a list of some of their favorite (sic) recent releases. We encourage you to explore it (and beyond) and yep, even march down to your neighborhood (sic) record shop and BUY.”

The thing is, a weird side effect kicked in. After eagerly downloading Star Wars, it sat in the queue for a couple of days because, really, what was the hurry? It didn’t require going out and it didn’t cost a dime; there were other things to do so there was no particular urgency to carve out time to listen to it, and even when I did it was probably while answering email or sharing a link on Facebook or surfing for more information about Wilco.

Expense and inconvenience. I miss them.