There is little doubt in my mind that Solange’s Cranes in the Sky was the best track of last year. Every time it comes on the radio, I feel a gloriously warm sensation. People will, I’m confident, be playing the song for years to come.
But it also felt slightly strange to select it as my favourite track of 2016. Having not, at that stage, bought A Seat at the Table (the album from where it’s lifted), I didn’t own Cranes in the Sky on CD or in any other format.
It is all very well to stream music and, let’s face it, we’d hear a lot less music if we didn’t. But isn’t it still important to go that step further and purchase the music we like, even if that means downloading?
Ryan Adams thinks so. Speaking on Mary Ann Hobbs’s 6Music programme earlier this month, the American singer pointed out that, if we don’t actually own music in a physical format, we are placing ourselves at the mercy of the internet, not to mention our favourite streaming service.
What happens if the internet goes down, or everything we’ve stored on the cloud drifts away somewhere and can’t be tracked down? In a sense we would be in much the same situation as people who listened to live music centuries ago and had no way of hearing it again until they went to another live performance, maybe years later.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. If some of our favourite music disappears, we have plenty of ways of finding more. But do we really want our music library to be only virtual? Isn’t there something special about holding a CD or piece of vinyl in our hands and feeling we have made an investment in the artists we like?
Having mostly bought vinyl until the advent of CDs in the mid 1980s, I cannot understand why anyone still sees the attraction of seven or 12 inch records. They are harder to store, more likely to be damaged and make it more difficult to select individual tracks.
But some people I know well have stopped buying CDs and now stream or download most music, buying it on vinyl if it’s something they really treasure.
Certainly, CD collectors are less likely to worry about returning home from their holidays to find their shelves have been emptied by thieves. Where on earth would the buggers sell the stuff?
Apparently, sales of vinyl are rising (along with streaming), while download and CD sales are falling. There have been suggestions that the charts are rigged in favour of the likes of Ed Sheeran because people are prone to stream his music without consciously realising they’re doing it. So what?
And yes, a few bands have even tried to revive tape cassettes, but I wouldn’t put too much money on tapes being the next big thing.
For now, I’m happy to sell old vinyl (at a higher price than I would have got ten years ago), stream as much as I can, and buy on CD the albums that I reckon I’ll be listening to in five or ten years’ time. And that includes A Seat at the Table, which I picked up in a sale a few weeks ago.