To Collect or Not to Collect

Hosted by
To Collect or Not to Collect

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Years ago, the President of Capitol Records was Hale Milgrim. Like most of the folks who worked with him, Hale was a true music collector, and his large CD collection required special detail. Hale had his own librarian to categorize the thousands of CDs he collected from bands he loved. He'd collect rare live recordings, special packages and unusual discs from around the world. Occasionally, when he'd hold a party at his home, his librarian would entertain dozens of excited music professionals by discussing the special contents of this unusual goldmine.

The art of the music collector is a well worn path, a birthright to some, signifying a particular appreciation for the recording and the sonic vision. The CD packaging often plays an important role, holding a physical part of the puzzle, often conceptualized and created by the artist themselves.

For some, the concept of giving up their whole CD collection for a single palm device, is a pretty daunting thought. But today's music lover has made a radical shift in experience.

Throughout Manhattan, there are giant posters touting the latest ad campaign from Napster. The ads say B-Y-E B-U-Y music or Bye Buy Music. Have Everything - Own Nothing. Napster.

It's a brilliant ad campaign underscoring Napster's new subscription service. Pay a monthly fee, and get all the music you want. Own nothing. Just rent the music like you might rent a sofa.

What a huge difference from the days of the obsessive collector running home with the latest vinyl or CD. Today's kid is more likely to run home, grab their laptop, and trade their entire record collection with their buddies in just a few minutes. A collection is still key, but today, it's all about accessing a collection, not necessarily owning it.

And how does a music business compete with a culture that perceives little value in ownership? How does the music business combat the legal right to gift your record collection to a friend by swapping hard drives?

There simply are no easy answers, which is code for 'there are no good answers.'

When I was growing up, I was taught the importance of racial equality, financial responsibility and creative freedom. I had no idea what copyright meant, nor did I understand the importance of intellectual copyright.

The number #2 export in America is actually intellectual copyright. This means the United States creates an enourmous amount of unique, financially viable creative works. Now, with technology developing far faster than copyright laws can protect, the business of owning products built on creative ideas is in serious jeopardy.

It's becoming increasingly apparent that in many ways, the record business as we know it is toast. With a world less interested in ownership and more interested in access, music collecting looks to be going the way of baseball cards, stamps and coins.

This is Celia Hirschman for On the Beat on KCRW.