Seems I've been stumbling on a lot of articles on the analog v. digital debate (I think, a couple of them through this website). See here, here, or here for more info (that last one is a video from Wired Science, featuring Steve Albini & Ken Andrews that's well worth watching). A great commentary on the self-fulfilling prophecy of the death of the old-style music industry can be read here, from Matador records.
I don't fall solidly in either camp, as this idea of a "war" between formats, with people proclaiming the "death" or the "lack of soul" of the other (has anyone announced the death of the digital file yet? you know some idiot probably has, somewhere, like this cat proclaimed the death of podcasting, much to the chagrin of Dan Savage, of whose podcast I am a big fan), is sort of silly to me. The market for music is huge, so can't we all just get along?
I know some of you are cringing after that last sentence. "'The market for music is huge'?? Where's this guy been??" While I'm too lazy at this moment in time to find you statistics, I remain convinced that the music market is not shrinking, only changing - and, as many of us have been saying for years, the major labels have not been able to adapt. That's why it appears to be shrinking - the big companies and their big artists aren't making the money they used to.
That doesn't mean a lot of music isn't being made, or consumed. More artists are selling/distributing in more and different ways - and the consumers aren't simply buying the new Beyonce or Nickelback jams because that's what's on the major label, and what's getting airplay. The internet changed not only how we hear music, but the music we're able to hear about.
Any kid can record to a 4-track (or, nowadays, Garageband) and post it on MySpace the same day. Tell your friends, if they dig they pass it on, and it grows. Case in point: Lily Allen. A special case, as she blew up and was absorbed into the establishment, but there's plenty of folks out there doing their thing on Virb or MySpace or their own websites or whatever, and they're being listened to. Even my simple little folk-rock music MySpace gets some listens (yes, that means "click that link and go listen").
Even while all this free sharing of music is going on, you've got folks proclaiming the resurgence of vinyl, what others will derisively call a clunky, antique format, a relic of our parents' past. But those adherents to the 'old' technology have good reason (as Steve Albini notes in the Wired video), and hey, let's face it - vinyl never stopped being cool. The records are beautiful; even the weird stuff you dig through in the $1 or $2 crate has a certain beauty to it, with the artwork and the smell and the feel of cardboard covered in dust.
Those crates are also a great way to inexpensively expand your music knowledge; I just picked up Graham Parker's "Squeezing Out Sparks", Donald Fagen's "The Nightfly", and a live Neil Diamond record for $2 each at a place over by Union Square, as well as Rupert Holmes's "Partners in Crime" for $3 at Generation in the Village. All very solid records that I'm glad to have heard - and I spent $9, or a little over half what I paid for my new CD copy of "The Odd Couple" by Gnarls Barkley.
My point in this rambling and name-dropping is that, there's a place for everything in the music market. This past week, I bought a few CDs, and a few vinyl records - the format depended, for me, on the price, and the style of music I was picking up. I rarely listen to CDs anymore - while I'll sometimes throw them into my stereo, I usually end up importing them into iTunes and listening to them on the iPod. And, as I mentioned earlier, some really great artists don't have the funds or ability to get their work pressed to vinyl - but I can still get their tracks via mp3s or streaming audio. A different distribution method = freer (or more free) distribution, not under the control of labels.
The ease by which I can listen to so much different music via that magic little box I carry everywhere is just too damn amazing to get all worked up over sub-prime audio quality. But the beauty of getting my groove on from plastic grooves is something that can't ever be fully replaced.
I'm not going to stop buying CDs & digitizing them for my iPod. I'm also not going to stop buying vinyl. The only thing I'm NOT going to do is buy digital copies of albums that I can have in a physical format (but that's a different argument).
The perfect compromise? In my opinion, the download code for vinyl records. Record companies like Saddle Creek and Radar Recordings are doing it, I know, and I'm sure they're not the only ones. For instance: I pre-ordered the Caspian/Constants split 7" from Radar Recordings 3 weeks ago (I think the physical copy will be mailed this week, or maybe next) - but I've been jamming out to the tunes on it for the past 3 weeks regardless, because they sent me a link to download the tracks from their website. I can't wait to hear how the vinyl sounds - but I couldn't wait to hear the music, period. And thanks to this setup, I didn't have to.
In summation: keep making music. And get it out, somehow. Lots of us are listening, in many different ways.