Let me start off by saying, as I can taste the vitriol from here, that I think this is a bad thing. The (not-quite-so-sudden) demise of HMV spells not only a strange fate for the British music industry, but also a huge sadness for those 4500 who are set to lose their jobs; this is a curse I wish upon no man. Having only just been given full-time work after a stint of several months of unemployment, the battle for jobs is a harsh one. And quite frankly, we don't want to be giving the government more excuse to be moaning about more people on income benefit. So my heart goes out to those that may be struggling soon.
What I have found quite baffling, though, is that after the news broke on Monday evening, just quite how many big name artists and DJs I found taking to Twitter to praise this new found bankruptcy. Once again, apart from their entirely selfish viewpoint of not realising the harrowing quantity of soon-to-be-unemployed, their ideologies seemed to be mostly misplaced.
These are people that mostly make their living through music; to see one of the major retailers get pulled into administration is surely a worrying sign of long term effects of piracy and the digital era. I'm not trying to say that these musicians make a solid income through selling music: this is a fallacy of the 21st century, instead, using it to fund live performance and other musical outlets (I.e. music for advertising etc). Instead, it was the sole high street institution that had a position for exhibiting and marketing music to a mainstream audience.
I’m not against digital media; far from it. I have embraced it, and find new forms of online marketing and distribution fascinating. It has allowed generations to be reached and geographical boundaries broken. Yet this not the time for a discussion of new mediums, rather the changing face of a current one. Could this move into administration effectively halt the production of CD’s as a viable source of music? What would happen in the wake of this? For example, from the perspective of a DJ, many use CD decks. Would these become obsolete? (I predict not, as the rise of digital DJing through Traktor or Serato can still utilise these facilities, but I digress).
Two of the major quotes, in one form or another, that I saw bandied about, were these:
‘The idea of buying a CD is purely nostalgic’. A popular argument, and one not entirely devoid of truth. Physical formats ARE a form of nostalgia; people can riff endlessly on the joys of holding the thing in their hand, rifling through the liner notes, having their collections proudly displayed like peacocks. But what’s wrong with that? No one gives a shit about how many terabytes of poor quality mp3s you have in your iTunes, but a whole room, filled wall to wall with CD’s, looks pretty badass. A friend of mine said that in the future we’ll all just live in one room with one box with all our books on, one box with all our movies on, and one with all our music on. Depressing, yes. Improbable, very much so. But strikes a certain worrying, and extremely soulless, note.
‘I haven’t earned anything from HMV’. Maybe not directly, no. But surely, through people buying music you are related to, they have sought you out, listened to your radio show/been to your gig/watched your music video and increased your brand and social awareness. That may not have directly put money in your pocket, but indirectly it’s pushed you out further into a wider conscious, and then, if personal financial gain is your sole drive, probably thrown you the bills. Happy now?
From an audiophilic perspective as well, it sends shivers down the spine. Poorly compressed, low bit-rate mp3s and youtube audio rips being played at 100 decibels through tiny white ear buds is a heartbreaking result for studios that have spent tens of thousands of pounds on studio equipment and days of time. At least in a CD you’re getting the full impact that the studio wanted you to hear.
On a very personal note too, HMV holds a warm place in my heart, somewhere where I learnt and understood more music, got to spend my hard earned pocket money and crafted my music snobbery. Don’t get me wrong, I hated the place at times, it’s poor cataloguing of music, often clueless staff and its gradual dwindling of music stocks to sell phones instead (?!), yet what it stands for as a mainstream music retailer and the future of physical formats is a concerning one. It’s also entirely ruined my extended family's present buying for me. What the hell are they going to get for me now come Christmas?
It has given me some life long maths education and financial awareness that strikes me as not dissimilar from a primary school SATs question: little Freddie has £15 worth of HMV vouchers to spend in the January sales. What is the best course of action so he can get the most out of this?
All this negativity aside, it does beckon a new era. As this now signifies a massive shift from the physical ever further into the digital, it’s going to create, once again, new means of distribution and attention seeking. It may also force new methods to be taken in the the demand against online piracy.
I am cautiously optimistic, too, for the smaller indie shops. They now have a corner of the market no longer controlled by a monster conglomerate, and with the physical sales of vinyl increasing yet again over 2013, they're clearly doing something right. In attracting these physical format fans, and with a clear love for the music they sell, wandering the streets of Soho to places like Sounds of the Universe, Sister Ray and Phonica is a joy.
If you will then, let’s raise a toast to our fallen comrade-in-arms, remember the good times, and hope that his legacy is a lasting one.