It’s almost hard for me to fathom now, but there was a time in my life when I owned over 5,000 albums. My record collection took up most of my living space for many years. My eventual transition to CD narrowed that number considerably, to just under 1,000 albums. Now that I’ve made the transition to digital music I have access to 17,000+ songs on a network attached storage unit, and there’s almost no evidence of my music collection anywhere in the house.
The paradox of digital music is that while listeners are now exposed to a larger quantity of music than ever before, there are very few physical artifacts associated music anymore. The iPod has become the primary tactile interface that music lovers use to select and listen to music. Visual design is less important than ever, and liner notes have practically vanished.
As Gray McCord of M3 design noted during the Smaller, Faster, Lighter session at day 2 of SXSW:
The experience of music has been reduced to a data management activity.
McCord is working on a concept for a new type of music packaging that could be used to represent digital music in a physical world. The concept looks like a cross between a traditional LP cover and a book. With plenty of room for art, liner notes, lyrics, and more, the packaging could restore a vital part of the popular music experience that has gone missing in the iTunes era.
McCord noted that several ways that the packaging might benefit the music industry:
- Improved packaging could revive the retail experience by giving shoppers a way to interact with digital music in a traditional record store.
- Could ultimately lead content providers to use less draconian DRM schemes since consumers would be more likely to buy the physical product.
- Would also encourage consumers to purchase entire albums instead of downloading individual songs.
Or the RIAA could just go about business as usual and pretend that nothing has changed since 1956.
Unfortunately, if I were a betting man I’d have to put my money on the later.