Music is an exceptionally powerful art form.
It has the ability to make people dance, influence their behaviour and even make them feel happier on a bad day.
Before the development of computers, smartphones and the internet, music was largely consumed in recorded format pressed onto a physical product such the compact disk (CD). Generally speaking, the more music you wanted to listen to, the more CDs you had to own.
While some people may still be happy with this, the idea might make you uncomfortable if you have a desire to own less and live more freely.
Thanks to digitisation, we live in a time where its possible to legitimately enjoy as much music as you like without having to own a single CD. I’d like to talk about how you can do that but first, let’s discuss an important topic…
The myth of music ownership
Despite its benefits, one of the biggest reasons why many people are hesitant to adopt digital music comes from a very common argument;
I want to own my music.
To a certain extent, this is a valid feeling especially if you’re used to receiving something physical when you spend money.
Ownership of music has been a controversial topic among the music industry ever since the rise of digital piracy and illegal file sharing which peaked at around the year 2000.
But while very few people in the music industry will ever say this, the reality is that you can never truly own somebody else’s music.
Many people who own CDs believe they own music. However, what they really own is the CD and by this I’m referring to the plastic casing and the compact disk inside.
The music itself on the other hand (as well as the artwork), belongs to nobody other than the artist who created it.
In fact (despite its ubiquity), most laws actually prohibit consumers from burning copies of CDs to keep in the car or share with their friends. This is because artists are supposed to receive royalties every time their work is pressed onto a physical product.
So unless you are the creator of the music, it’s generally impossible to own it.
CDs are just a medium
I’m fascinated that many people see CDs and music as one. Sometimes people even refer to their CD collection as their music collection.
The truth is, a CD is just a means to listen. The music itself is a separate entity that is simply stored on the CD.
Some people may be happy owning large collections of CDs and there’s nothing wrong with that just as long as it makes you happy.
But if you feel like having so many CDs (among all of your other possessions) would make you feel more burdened and weighed down rather than happy, the good news is that you don’t have to sacrifice your love of music in order to live a simpler life.
Why digitisation has not devalued music
Personally, I love music and couldn’t imagine living without it. I listen to new artists and styles as often as I can yet I don’t own a single CD.
Many people have argued that the digitisation of music has ultimately devalued it.
But this is not true. The only thing that can ever devalue music is if people stopped appreciating it. As long as you listen mindfully and intentionally, music will always hold value.
Another thing that might be on your mind is if buying music digitally instead of physically will somehow make you appear as though you are less of a fan than you once were.
The music you listen to expresses who you are as an individual so that other people can understand you better. This is an important emotional need making this a genuine issue.
However, I believe that if you’re enthusiastic about a certain band or singer to the point where you talk about them every chance you get, know the lyrics to every song and have even forced somebody to sit down and listen to them, then you really don’t need to own CDs to prove that you’re a true fan.
Your enthusiasm alone is more than enough proof to say otherwise.
Regardless of what anybody else tells you, there is nothing wrong with choosing to simplify how you listen to music even if certain people don’t agree with you.
That said, lets’s look at some ways you can simplify your music collection.
1. Digitise and then downsize
When was the last time you remember taking a CD off the shelf and playing it through a stereo system? Has it been quite a while?
If so, I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of music you listen to is already digital. The ability to rip songs from CDs and listen to them on a single device like an MP3 player is not only minimalistic but also convenient too.
If the majority of the music that you listen to is already digital, is it really worth keeping a CD collection if the majority of its time is spent sitting on the shelf serving little purpose other than to gather dust?
If you’ve already got a copy of every album that you have stored on your computer or iPod as your primary way to listen, chances are you’d live on just fine without holding onto the physical copies.
Now, I understand that letting go of CDs and switching to digital can be very uncomfortable if it’s not something you’re used to.
While I encourage you to focus on the benefits of digital music, the discomforts that you may feel should be addressed too.
Here are some things to keep in mind that should help make the switch easier;
1. It’s okay to keep a small number of CDs that truly bring you value after you’ve let go of the less important ones.
2. Keeping your music backed up (whether online or offline) can reduce fear of losing your digital collection.
3. With the internet, it’s actually very difficult to find yourself in a situation where you’re unable to listen to a certain song or album ever again.
Having sold and donated one hundred percent of my CDs and can say from experience, that there’s very little to be truly be afraid of.
And it only gets simpler from there.
2. From physical to digital
I’ve written in detail about the benefits of buying products digitally in a previous post so I won’t go overboard with that here.
Instead, here’s a brief summery of how purchasing music digitally can benefit you;
• You no longer have to go through the process of ripping files from CDs onto your computer
• You get virtually instant access to what you pay for
• You save physical space in your home
• You can easily listen to music on the move with superior portability
• If arranged smartly, you can access your music from anywhere with your computer or smartphone
Depending on your listening tastes, buying music digitally can also save you money too.
When the iTunes Store first launched, Apple notoriously made tracks available to purchase at ninety nine cents per track. This gave you the option to buy songs individually unlike before then when you generally had little choice but to buy the whole album.
Interestingly, this changed the listening habits of most people because they could purchase only the songs they actually liked. In other words, filler material was rejected.
Logically speaking, this makes sense. Why pay the full amount for an album that you know only contains about three songs that you actually like?
Of course, this does not mean that albums are not as valuable.
Personally, I prefer to listen to music in albums rather than singles. However, I’m also aware that everybody’s listening habits are different.
There are many online stores to choose from besides the iTunes Store like Amazon MP3, Rhapsody and many more.
If you tend to listen to music in singles rather than albums, then purchasing individual songs digitally might just help you simplify the way you listen to music while saving you some money.
3. From ownership to access
Besides purchasing individual songs and albums digitally, we also have a subscription model too where instead of paying for individual songs or albums, you pay a flat monthly fee and get access to the entire library.
This is especially good if you like to constantly explore new music as it’s much more cost effective than buying a new album every week or so.
After letting go of my CD collection, I made Apple Music my primary way to listen. Interestingly, I’ve explored far more new music via the subscription model than I ever did back when I bought CDs and mp3 downloads.
One particular reason why this model greatly benefits minimalism, is that it completely removes the emphasise on ownership.
When you subscribe, you pay for the means to access music and the privilege to listen to it leaving the responsibility of ownership in more capable hands.
Less ownership usually means less responsibility and ultimately more freedom.
4. From product to experience
Few people cherish the memory of buying a CD.
But almost everybody cherishes the memory of seeing their favourite artists perform live.
Live music is definitely an experience to be savoured.
Unlike digital downloads that can be copied and shared by the average listener, live music is much less abundant and far more scarce.
You have to be there to fully appreciate the experience.
This makes live music much more exclusive than recorded music. Only the people who were there to witness the event can truly tell the story. Personally, I believe this to be the best way to express that you are a true fan.
In the short term, live music allows you to enjoy music without accumulating stuff you don’t need.
In the long term, live music improves you as a person by giving you stories to tell others.
Do you really need ownership to enjoy music?
Arguably not. People have enjoyed music throughout history without ever owning it.
In the end it’s a simple choice; what’s more important to you, owning CDs? Or enjoying music?
Craig Link is a minimalist and technology enthusiast with a passion for finding and sharing practical ways to live a simpler life with more time, money and energy for what’s most important to you.