The vinyl musical experience is fading in a digital world

Mario Tarradell
The Dallas Morning News (MCT)

Michael Hogue / The Dallas Morning News

I have a basement room full of CDs. I've never counted them, but I'd say there are at least 10,000. I have five fat crates stuffed with vinyl LPs and about 50 cassettes. I even have an 8-track tape. That one's just for kitsch value. I don't own a deck to play it on.

Music collecting has been my passion since the mid-1970s. For diehards like me, the thrill of listening to a new album remains paramount - especially poring over the liner notes, admiring the artwork and simply basking in the joy of holding something that's part of what's spinning. Back in the day, the LP package provided a visual to the sonic. CDs do the same thing, if on a smaller scale. Heck, even cassettes gave you something tangible. Eight-track tapes? OK, those were a mistake.

But in the age of iPods, digital downloads, iTunes and MP3s, I'm a relic. Extinction is around the corner, some say. In 2008, music is fleeting. It's not part of a collection. It's a disposable line on your handy, small device that can be deleted at whim. It's just another click and drag.

Sales of physical CDs, the ones you purchase at Wal-Mart, Target or even Best Buy, continue on a fast trip south. R&B singer Usher, one of the hottest, highest-profile acts of the 2000s, just released his long-awaited follow-up to 2004's "Confessions." "Here I Stand" sold 433,000 copies its first week in stores, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That's the second biggest opening-week sales of the year, barely behind Mariah Carey's 463,000 for "E=MC2." Before you do any rejoicing, consider this: Usher's "Confessions" sold 1,096,000 copies its first week at retail. "Here I Stand" couldn't even muster half of Confessions tally.

With a 19 percent command, iTunes is handily the top music seller in the country. It recently surpassed Wal-Mart, which is in second place with 15 percent. That means that most people buying music in the U.S. don't want physical CDs. They want the quick, cold technology deposit into their iPods.

I own an iPod. It's a cool, little red Nano that holds 1,000 songs. I use it for workouts at the gym and weekend walks around the neighborhood. I've got exclusively full albums in there, from Miranda Lambert's "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" and Maroon 5's "It Won't Be Soon Before Long" to Depeche Mode's "Violator" and Daughtry's self-titled debut. It transports music really well, not unlike a portable CD player or a Walkman. I consider it part of my music collection, not a substitute for it.

Words, melodies and rhythms are now akin to bytes. But people make good music. This puts the human touch in there, whether it's strumming the guitar, banging the drums or even programming the synthesizer. A powerful vocalist, one that lives the lyrics and creates the connection to the listener, has a face, a story. I want to see them. I want to read about who they collaborated with. I want to know where they recorded that batch of 12 songs, which are an audible snapshot of an artistic state of mind. Liner notes and packaging artwork give you that.

Progress and technology are great things. Improvement is a healthy part of everyday life. But it should add; it shouldn't subtract. I'm afraid that digital downloads are eradicating the enriching ritual of music listening. That would be a step back instead of a leap forward.

And now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to put a needle on vinyl.

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