How Is The Growing Economic Malaise Affecting Your Musical Spending Habits?

Nov 7th, 2008 // 32 Comments

Some stores that actually still stock albums are going under, while others are slashing space devoted to music. Retail numbers in general are imploding, with the music business serving as something of a leading indicator for how far they could fall. Unemployment numbers are getting higher every week. I could go on, but you get my point: Things aren’t necessarily looking awesome from every angle right now.



While I was reading the comments on one of the many doom-and-gloom articles to surface over the past few days, I saw one guy who actually said that he used to spend his money on “culture (theater, concerts, books, CDs)”–but that now he’s cut back entirely. “This,” I thought to myself, “could be its own thread on Idolator, since people who read the site do spend money on music-related things from time to time. (An anomaly!)” Anyway, feel free to use this thread to talk about how the economy–and even your perception of it, even if you’re still employed and stuff–has affected your music-consumption habits. If it has at all! I mean, we all need something to amuse ourselves these days, right?

  1. Christopher R. Weingarten

    I buy less music.

  2. Christopher R. Weingarten

    I used to buy whatever new rap CDs came out that week and now I download them and then buy the finished copies of the ones I like used for $3.99 on Amazon a year later

  3. dyfl

    I buy a lot of Amazon’s promo MP3 albums (the $1.99 ones) and a lot of a la carte tracks. I bought a physical CD online today (Sloan’s NEVER HEAR THE END OF IT) only because it was $5. I haven’t walked into a record store and bought a record in months, but part of that is because I am in a weird transitional period between still being a collector of objects and an all-digital, no-physical listener. Until that resolves itself, my spending is constrained. Also until my salary supports the cost of staying alive in NYC, but you know.

  4. Chris Molanphy

    Even if you’re a lifelong music addict like I am, obviously a job loss will affect your music budget. My household is actually (gulp…touch wood) at full employment right now, so I still pretty much buy a disc every week or two.

    But back in ’06, when my wife was in school and we were living on one income, I cut back by at least two-thirds to three-fourths. I continued to buy singles on iTunes and CDs for the acts I cared most about, but marginal stuff–usually super-mainstream acts (e.g., Pearl Jam, Chili Peppers) who didn’t need my sale–I’d acquire by other means.

    (Yeah, I torrented, but any industry folk reading this can blow me, because all of this was stuff I obviously wouldn’t have bought under those circumstances, and it wasn’t like I stopped buying CDs altogether.)

    Bottom line, even for someone like me, music-buying is elastic. If I had to, I’d pare it down to near-zero, though not without sadness. Mind you, when the Virgin Megastore two blocks from my office closes (presumably) in a few months, near-zero might become the new normal, anyway.

  5. futurehorse

    Still being one of the many fools around to work part-time at a brick and mortar record store, I find that my spending habits have relatively stayed the same. Hell, this last week I spent about $200 on new LPs alone. Granted, that was a spendy week for me, but we got those Dead C and Townes Van Zandt reissues, as well as the reissues of Underachievers Please Try Harder and Get Lost.

  6. Poubelle

    I’ve reduced my spending, but that’s as much the economy as being back in school full-time (yeah, my timing on that may not have been the best). I spend way less on shows and CDs, but that’s as much from my own choice to spend more money on college, as well as I’m also further from most venues (being in a small college town with no car instead of major city with decent public transit) and I came back to find the local record store was going out of business.

    I dunno. I make less random impulse purchases, but then again, there aren’t many places here to find stuff that isn’t well-known or recent (I suppose if Target’s cutting down on their floorspace for music, that will only get worse).

  7. AL

    I download way more than I’d (ideally) like. When I buy music, I never pay over $10, which usually means buying from the Amazon MP3 store or from the bands themselves at shows. When I lived in New England, Newbury Comics was nice because they’d often have new releases priced around 9.99. The last physical CD I bought was Jaguar Love, which I got at Newbury.

  8. Chris Molanphy

    @Poubelle: I dunno, avoiding the job market? Your timing sounds pretty smart to me!

  9. AL

    @Chris Molanphy:@Poubelle: For real. I made the timing error of dropping out of grad school at the beginning of the year. Midsummer I moved away from the college town and have had a ridiculous time finding a job ever since. As long as you’re studying something you like (I wasn’t), I consider you pretty lucky.

  10. Captain Wrong

    A lot of eMusic and Amazon deal of the day mp3s.

  11. T'Challa

    As a DJ that recently made the switch from vinyl to Serato, my music-buying habits have changed DRASTICALLY.

    I was always good for at least a handful of used 12-inch singles a week, not to mention new import singles of the latest and greatest.

    But not that I’m spinning MP3s, when I do go into my store of choice (Amoeba Hollywood), I’m kind of at a loss. A quick cruise through my favorite blogs keeps me up to date on the latest club tracks, many of which will never see vinyl/CD release anyway.

    It kind of sucks, since digging through crates of records is akin to therapy for me. But now all I’m thinking is “I can totally get all of these remixes in 320 kbps on Palms Out Sounds” while I’m looking at stuff.

    But given the state of the economy (and my bank account), it simply doesn’t make sense to spend $$ on music that’s so readily available for free.

    I’m not proud, btw. Just honest.

  12. Anonymous

    The used racks at Amoeba here in L.A. are a great way to save a few bucks and support a store that’s not an evil mega-chain. And eMusic is still cheap and convenient.

  13. fabulousrobots

    Since I am stuck in a low-paying state job (HR) where I have no chance of a raise EVER, I have had to cut back slightly, but not much since I am addicted. With my significant other getting a part-time job at our local record store I am now entitled to awesome discounts and will probably spend the same amount as I have been lately($40-60 a month at the store, which is down from $75+) but just get more stuff.

    I am an eMusic subscriber, and I get most of my new music there, and hit the record store for used LPs and CDs. My friends at the record store also pull promos for me, which is really really nice of them and saves me $$.

    We are finally getting some good shows here, but I have skipped a couple lately due to lack of funds. I love the experience, but the anxiety and being out til one am on a weeknight isn’t always worth it. I also try to get in gratis as often as possible; I volunteer to write things for the local arts mag sometimes for free tickets.

  14. chartreuse

    I am a bit torrent junkie.
    Haven’t purchased a physical CD in years. I do buy indie downloads on band sites though.
    And I go to more live shows now than ever, too.

  15. RaptorAvatar

    @T’Challa: It seems like more people are booking through brownpaper tickets as well, which is nice because what they charge is actually commesurate with their expenses.

    I can do the flask at stuff that’s DIY or Echo Park area. At Hollywood shit it seems like they always do a patdown, which pretty much reveals a flask instantly.

    There’s also showing up for just the headliner and downing an entire bottle of Cisco in the car right before going in. We did this for Marnie Stern last summer and it was one of the best shows of my life. In fact, chugging cisco before any occaision is generally a good move. It’s $4 and the CIA puts crack in it.

  16. unperson

    I hardly buy anything these days – the two Target stores near me seem to have almost entirely eliminated their Latin music sections, and that was where I was getting a bunch of norteño, reggaeton and Latin pop discs in recent months. Metal and jazz I get for free in the mail, and yes, I download, but pretty much everything I download is out of print anyway.

  17. Lax Danja House

    I’m making more money than I was this time last year so I don’t really see what all the fuss is about.

  18. michaelpop

    For the past 8 years I probably spent on average $150 a month on music. But since my girlfriend moved in with me earlier this summer and we’ve been living on one income (longer than we hoped — stupid job market!) I haven’t had extra money (or time, if we’re being honest) to shop for music. And it makes me sad because it’s the time of year I usually start gearing up for year-end lists and I haven’t heard SO MUCH.

    So really, it’s the poor economy which is making it hard for my girlfriend to find work that’s affected my music-buying. Once she gets a job my music-buying will probably go back to where it used to be. (Although maybe slightly less, since girlfriends are expensive.)

  19. Anonymous

    I’m finally learning about Bit Torrent sites.

  20. RaptorAvatar

    I still consider it a moral obligation to buy any record I end up liking. That’s the price of what, two fast food meals or a movie ticket for something that’s gonna keep enriching my life for at least a few weeks? The major contraction has been concerts I’m on the fence about (Okkervil River at The Fonda being the most notable casualty.) If tickets were actually $20, then I’d probably make it out to more stuff. However, when the whole experience (tix+ticketmaster rape fees+parking+bar tab) ends up being closer to $50-60, that had better be a fucking transcendant experience. Plus, I get most of my (meaningful) work done at night, meaning that the whole bill has to rate losing 4-6 hours of writing time in addition to everything else.

  21. T'Challa

    @RaptorAvatar: You said it. I too try to financially support my favorite bands, which usually ends up in a concert ticket. But with all of the reasons you laid out, it becomes such a discriminatory purchase now.

    For the AWESOME TVOTR show at the Wiltern, I bought my ticket via their website, which allowed me to do so without most of the crappy extra fees TM hits us with. Thankfully, TVOTR made it more than worth my while!

    Happily, more and more acts are selling tix directly to their fans, and at least eliminating those extraneous fees. Plus I’ve gotten really good at finding free parking (even here in LA), and I generally roll with a flask to save the outrageous drink prices at shows.

    Again, I’m not proud, just honest…

  22. Elijah-M

    A year ago, I typically bought six to eight CDs a month, and I’ve just about cut that in half. I’ve been acquiring the remainder in the form of used vinyl, downloads from eMusic/Amie Street/Amazon, and my local library’s surprisingly deep collection.

  23. Anonymous

    Wow, this thread is making me depressed. I know times are rough, but I really feel obligated to purchase the music I listen to. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer myself and nothing, NOTHING, makes me feel worse than someone coming up to me and saying, “Yeah, I saw your book in the bookstore…I read the first chapter there. I’m broke, y’know.”

    Yeah.

    Anyway, I buy less now for sure, and hunt for used more seriously than I used to, but I still buy.

  24. Halfwit

    After paying $13 for the (non-deluxe) “Dear Science”, ripping it, then leaving the disc to collect dust on my shelves, I’ve kinda gotten over the whole “physical product, MAN!” ideology. It’s all shifted to Amazon (I’m thinking of picking up Emusic again next year).

    I’m kind of an RIAA wet dream, though, since I’m opposed to piracy and (for some stupid reason) worry that buying used doesn’t benefit the artists.

    Note for the editors… is idolator still on the Gawker network? I thought the site got rolled with stereogum this year?

  25. Halfwit

    @Elijah-M: Yeah, they mastering(?) on that album is a little… intense.

    I guess it’s not even that the albums themselves are not worthwhile. But if I’m only ever going to listen to them in a lossy form, why am I spending $5 extra for a fold-out picture of the band (“Dear Science” has a slightly better booklet, but generally…)?

    Having said all of that, I’ve actually bought (on average) an album every two weeks since September. One-click shopping is kinda dangerous.

  26. SomeSound-MostlyFury

    I still buy an album per week or so, not all that different from my previous spending habits. I do tend to torrent albums and buy them afterwards if I like them. I’ve been burned by crappy recommends/reviews too often.

    And ditto about the Amazon deal of the days. That site really knows how to sell.

    However I have almost entirely given up going to shows. I used to go to 6-10 per year, but in the last year I’ve gone to a Radiohead show and a Ryan Adams show and that’s it.

  27. breedavies

    I haven’t bought music in years…unless it’s at a show, directly from the band themselves. I feel terrible about ripping everything by the artists I love directly off of the internet for free, but when you’re a late-twenty-something who’s college degree gave you a job at the mall and a room in your mom’s basement, what do you do?

    Oh yeah. You write about music all day long for free for several online publications in exchange for tickets to shows. And so is the life of a hipster.

  28. Poubelle

    @Chris Molanphy: @AL: You’re both probably right. I guess part of it is that I did have a job (which was crappy, but usually paid all right), and my fear that my major will be useless and the economy won’t be much better when I graduate.

  29. Anonymous

    I buy all my music off Amazon MP3, mostly albums from my favorite artists and a few singles from obscure/up-and-comers. I love Amazon. They have a great collection and are often cheaper than iTunes (plus it’s all MP3s! Duh!). I’d say I’ve spent a good $100-120 on music for 2008.

    I still torrent/P2P shit at times. Most of it guilty pleasure/Top-40 stuff.

  30. Wasp vs Stryper

    I’ve been buying less music and have been all about eMusic and LastFM.

    True story: Theres a guy who is slightly nuts that sings in the park near my apartment. Sometimes plays on his guitar, which has seen better days.

    Most of last fall and earlier in the year, he would call out, “if you enjoyed my music, a little change would be nice” or his general “change, please – change for my tunes!”

    By summer, he was saying “all I need is a quarter” or “if you like my music, just a quarter or dime”

    Last week, he was standing near a bench, which he had stashed his guitar under and was screaming in a fury “give me money! give me money! give me money” at everyone who walked past him.

    Granted, I know his mind isnt all there – but seeing him go from politely asking for change, to begging for a quarter, to downright screaming for money – was kind of the creepiest microcosm for what we and the industry are going through

  31. Wasp vs Stryper

    Also, Hypem.com and Elbo.ws are two sites that scan through all of the blogs and link to the MP3s that are up for free download – and post them as well.

  32. Elijah-M

    @Halfwit: I still hang on to the idea that the physical product is important. I think the real problem is that a lot of artists don’t necessarily agree with me. If the CD isn’t mastered well (i.e. not brick walled like the TV On The Radio CD you mentioned), and the packaging isn’t compelling enough to warrant a permanent place on my shelf, it gets ripped and sold pretty quickly.

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