Music Albums: Physical or Digital?

September 22, 2022, 10:11 PM · It's felt like it's been a while since I last wrote on this site - the last big thing I've done on the violin (besides teaching it, of which I've gotten plenty more students since I first started teaching earlier this year!) was record for two secret projects that should both be coming out next month! I'll make sure to share them both then. With those projects sent off and completed, I'm moving onto focusing on recording a 5-track Super Mario Galaxy album that I will release by the end of the year! I arranged the tracks early in the year, and for a number of reasons I'm only now getting to record them - I should be able to get them done in the next couple of months, mix, and release it in December. I've got so many ideas for albums I could do in 2023: tributes to Maurice Ravel, a full album of some of my selected piano music and orchestrations of it (similar to what Ravel did with his works), and other ambitious ideas I had earlier this year. We'll see what comes to fruition, and I'll certainly be sharing about my process either on this site or my own personal one, if you're curious!

Speaking of recording and albums, I'd like to write about a topic I've been thinking about tonight (and throughout the day). It's something that's probably been done as a violinist.com Weekend Vote, so I apologize for the repetition if you're reading this - but it's one I wouldn't mind giving my two cents on here.

Basically, I was watching a few videos on YouTube about the best performances of the most difficult piano pieces of Ravel, and that good ol' rabbit hole led me to a video of someone showing off several CDs from his collection of recordings, from the '50s to modern to hidden gems, of various conductors and orchestras playing Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" (the best version, by the way). The video was super interesting, hearing him discuss the French style of brass without vibrato, wiry strings, and that nasally woodwind playing you might hear from older recordings from French orchestras. As the title of this post suggests, it was seeing those CDs that brought up a desire in me that I know has been in the back of my mind for several years: the desire to push back against this shift to digital media and return back to the world of physical media.

I know, without the digital online world I wouldn't be able to write this for you - I'm not saying I want to go back to pre-Internet! Of course not; I've made so many connections with musicians and YouTubers and people that have become integral parts of my life. But seeing people's collections of CDs they can listen to, or (crossing over into my love of video games and books) retro SNES cartridges and bookshelves of encyclopedias and dictionaries... There's just something so neat and tidy about popping in a CD, game disc, or DVD, and just having all that you need right there. No need to navigate your way through hyperlinks trying to find something, as quick and convenient as that can be. It's just pure and simple, and letting your eyes glance at a booklet of information about each track rather than at a computer screen all the time just adds to that special connection I can feel towards owning a physical copy of a piece of media.

I should probably also say that I never really grew up with buying CDs, as the iPod had come out and I still remember the MP3 Player I got that I loved and would take with me everywhere. I was fascinated by CDs and would record my own songs and talk shows on them (and movies on DVDS, and games as well on CD-ROM). I always loved making a case for a movie or a game and physically encasing whatever I worked on to a disc I could keep. I was too young to buy CDs from the market, but I have a tiny collection now of Doctor Who soundtracks, some Mozart albums, and an Andre Rieu album. CDs just sound really great compared to digital files online. On the flipside, now when I want to listen to music, YouTube and Spotify and Apple Music are all right there, making it so easy to click and listen to anything I want. I would love to have physical CDs of some of my absolute favorite music, just like I have dozens of physical scores of pieces by Ravel rather than getting PDFs from IMSLP online.

In 2018, I went to a retro game store, which was full of neat gaming things. One of these was a soundtrack CD for Super Mario Galaxy, which I had to pick up as a fan of the game and the orchestra - it features a full orchestra playing all of this music you hear in-game, one of the first Nintendo games to do so and started the trend of almost all Nintendo games featuring live instruments in some way. While I was arranging my Super Mario Galaxy tracks, I did dig out my old MacBook I got in 2012 (which might be as old as 2008!) just to pop the CD in to arrange from that. It made absolutely no difference and would've been much easier to Google the tracks; but just because I owned this physical CD, and I loved the idea of it all being packed onto the disc, I put up with my poor ancient Mac stuttering to read it (even while trying to listen so I could transcribe and arrange!). It's a bit of a weird thing, I know - but that's me.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to I'd want to own physical copies of music, games, books, etc. - things I'd play (or read) again and again; then for things I might open up every so often, a digital version would suffice as I don't have as much attachment to it. I know vinyl is all the rage, and a few years ago I saw a Star Wars record my dad had, which was really neat! New movie soundtracks release things on vinyl now. While I'm more nostalgic for the CDs from the early 2000's, either way, both are great, and I'd love to have my favorite soundtracks as prized possessions I can pop into a CD or record player to listen to. I love the convenience of the Internet for most music, but for the things I really treasure, having physical versions to remind me of them would make them that much more special to experience once again.

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