Cds vs IpodGilded Serpent presents...

Quality vs. Quantity

Buying CDs vs. Downloading Music

by Mher Panossian and Sherri Wheatley

Most people seem to have varying preferences with regard to whether they buy CD’s or download music either legally or illegally. When you inquire as to the reasoning behind why people have certain preferences, you get a myriad of different answers. This is indicative of just how much flux there has been in the music industry over the past few years. Never before have consumers had so many options when it comes to acquiring new music.

Some people opt to buy music in CD form, preferring the tangibility of being able to grasp something professionally packaged with interesting liner notes, photos, track listings, etc…while others prefer to download their music from various sources. 

While legally downloading music may be fast and convenient in some senses, there are significant benefits of buying your music in as they say, “the old fashioned way”, especially for those that are performers and need the sound file to be the highest quality format when it comes to amplification.

Consider that tracks on CD’s are usually in .wav files (usually around 50 megs) or .aiff files—also very high quality. Downloaded music is typically in .mp3 format (around 5 or 6 megs), so there is quite a large disparity in file size and consequently sound quality. Little detracts from a performance more than substandard sound and by the same token, high quality sound can only enhance a show. Dancers and performers also often times need the ability to edit music—an option that is not possible with a lot of downloaded music. Varying restrictions on downloaded music is something that a lot of people still don’t fully realize about iTunes and many other download sites, often finding themselves feeling as though they have wasted money downloading a song or album that they cannot use in the way that they intended to be able to use it. If they had purchased the CD, there simply wouldn’t be those kinds of limitations. 

The biggest drawback to downloading music is, of course: DRM or digital rights management. Because of the way that most companies run their digital rights management systems, they have to update them every few years. Once a new type of DRM is being used, most companies stop supporting the old one — making songs sold with that particular DRM effectively useless. There is also a compatibility issue. 

Some venues will not have sound systems compatible with certain types of downloaded music files. This is not the kind of information one wants to find out 5 minutes before a show.

Here are some examples of restrictions on iTunes Music Store (all music with the exception of EMI releases as of April, 2007) extracted from an article on

  • Restricts back-up copies: Song can only be copied to 5 computers,
  • restricts converting to other formats: Songs only sold in AAC with Apple DRM
  • Limits portable player compatibility: iPod and other Apple devices only
  • No remixing: Cannot edit, excerpt, or otherwise sample songs

Apart from the technical benefits of buying your music on CD, there is the arguable ethical perspective that if you download music, and the distinction should be made here that I am now referring only to illegally downloaded tracks, you are not supporting the artist(s) that created it. If we are not supporting artists and in a larger sense, the music industry, this creates circumstances where quality control is compromised, artists are not supported financially enough to continue creating new music, record labels find that they don’t have the production budgets that they once did resulting in sub-standard quality, etc… 

It is important to consider the bigger picture in terms of the ripple effect when it comes to downloading music.

By the same token, ripping copies of your friends CD’s and DVD’s is just as detrimental as illegally downloading music. Again, the same reasons I stated previously apply: artists are not receiving the revenue they deserve and the music industry as a whole is negatively affected. Consider all of the record stores that have gone out of business in the last couple of years—Virgin Megastores & Sam Goody have closed approximately half of their locations and Tower Records and The Warehouse have gone out of business entirely. The industry has clearly been taking a huge hit. 

We take for granted that we have easy access to all of the latest dance music titles at our local festivals, but the day may not be so far away that it won’t be cost effective for companies to come out and offer their wares any longer. 

The bottom line is that we all play a part in maintaining the standards that are set with regard to the future of music available to us and it is important to bear that in mind when we make our informed choices. For performers in particular, the restrictions of downloaded music can be too prohibitive. For various reasons, it is impossible to truly own downloaded music. For this reason, buying CDs, especially for performers, seems like arguably the safest and most restriction-free option. 

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