Records are real; the rest is fake


Theo Gary

The records and sound system I’ve managed to cobble together from my family’s collective basement.

The information age has brought with it wonders of technology that unlock and enhance the world of art for those who never before had access to it. The days of gatekeepers squashing popular artistic expression are gone. Now anyone, like many of my friends, can publish their own art: music, paintings, movies, poems, and anything in between. This is a boon. The barriers of entry are now so low that there is more media out there than one can consume. Contrasted with the not long ago days of four TV channels, it would seem we live in a media golden age. Much of this media, or all, if you know where to look, is free. This ease of access and low barrier of entry creates another, wholly unanticipated problem, however: nobody owns anything. 

The artist certainly doesn’t, they never have. The producer doesn’t either, as it can’t control who has access to its product. You, the consumer, dont. The media company can simply whisk away the media you “own.” Read the fine print.

Besides the fact that services like Spotify screw the artist, physical media simply sounds different, and to my mind better. I play the same record through the same speakers on the same sound system and the same songs sound different when my phone is the medium. What I have come to notice over time, when the speakers decide not to work, is that even without them the music plays from the record. The grooves and indents do not represent music. They are music. Not a copy of the same concert or performance, a piece of it. Every play of a song on spotify is entirely the same, every play of a record brings something new to the experience.

There are of course drawbacks. The record player requires care, as do the records. Speakers break and records scratch. Besides, records are prohibitively expensive, as are the machines that play them. Yet, I feel this adds to the experience somehow, like tending a lovely garden — expensive and time consuming but ultimately worth it, ultimately real. Full of the same foibles and failures that characterize the real world. What’s the point if it’s perfect?  Is the struggle not part of the joy?

The online space, and technology as a whole, may one day allow us perfection. It currently has perfected the distribution of media. To my mind, a service like Spotify that provides all the music one could ask for, at a low price, is peak efficiency. Yet, in this efficiency you lose the soul of the music. The pixels on the screen are a mere representation of realness, not realness itself. Simply put, physical media feels real and digital media feels fake. This phenomenon is impossible to accurately describe, but it is there nonetheless. In a world where more and more feels fake, my quest for realness has led me to embrace my records. They are inferior in almost every way, yet, I’m drawn to them anyway. What does that say about me? What does that say about human beings? I don’t know. I may never know. What I do know is I’m just sitting here enjoying my records, and I welcome you to join me.