The Great Debate of Digital vs Physical Release | Article by Indie Accent


The Great Debate of Digital vs Physical Release

by: Nabil Argya Joesoef

Cover Image from Buzzfeed

How frequently do you visit a record store? If you are the average modern music consumer the most likely answer for you would probably be , well, not very often. In the last decade the face of music industry has had a major revamp thanks to vast development of technology and its impact on all facets of popular culture.


Ever since Radiohead released their 2007 LP, In Rainbows , online and with a “pay as you wish” method, along with the rise of websites such as Soundcloud and Bandcamp, make way for any kid with a will and a guitar to gain recognition without any sort of professional contract , leading questions as to the relevancy of a big label. The distributive aspects also changed people how people view music itself as a commodity. Thanks to streaming sites like Spotify, music is more accessible and readily available than ever before, but before we mourn the death of the physical release, multiple sources suggest that the medium is indeed still alive and well with relatively strong sales, the recent popularity of vinyl and cassette collecting community is also nothing to be scoffed at, and we have to remember that for every progressive minded acts like Radiohead, there are also people like Metallica drummer/Danish tennis prodigy Lars Ulrich, who waged a personal battle against peer to peer sharing site, Napster back in 2000. All this shows that the arrival of the digital release is not an automatic changing of the guard, but a very interesting debate. Here we discuss the most both the biggest perks and the most common criticisms of digitally released music.


1. Cost Effective & Single Profit

Simply put, it takes much less hassle to upload your music online. You have no need to pay significant amount for extra things like distribution or pressing. It’s much less complicated when there are less people that you need to pay.

2. Accessibility And Exposure

Streaming sites have overall done a wonderful job in introducing obscure acts, both new and old. Upcoming artists like as Boy Pablo gained fame almost entirely through youtube, and you can access previously forgotten acts’ like Nick Drake’s entire discography with ease. Also, you can’t ever lose your music (granted that you don’t lose your phone/computer)

3. Freedom of Sound

Obviously, modern technology has allowed artists more flexibility for artists to tweak and develop their sound. Digital music generally have more frequency range, more dynamic range, easier to sequence, and will not deteriorate in quality—only a small example of the many advantages digital music has from a recording aspect.


1. Other Fishes in the Sea

From the perspective of the artists, the accessibility of sites such as Soundcloud can be a double-edged sword. If anyone can join the club, that would be much harder for you to stand out honestly. It’s difficult enough to achieve success with the backing of a label, while you’re on your own, with no management or professional promotional tools, it could be a new level of struggle.

2. Sound Quality

While this can be a whole new discussion, but many believe that digital music, despite allowing flexibility to further develop sound, cannot produce the exact quality that the artist intended, unlike the vinyl. It’s true that there are limits the sound of vinyl, those limitations have pushed producers to work around it—for instance the sound of the bass in analog records are very different compared to digital, which is why the vinyl is still very popular in the dance genre.

3. Sentimentaility

This is of course very subjective, but a physical release, being actually able to “hold” your music can make you feel more connected to it. Aesthetically CDs and Vinyl can be amazing, and you can also get fun perks like catalog art or even weird things like Velvet Underground’s famous peelable cover.

4. Royalty Problems

Again from the artist’s perspective, streaming sites such as Spotify has had a history of problematic royalty system. Artists such as Taylor Swift, Neil Young and The Black Keys have openly criticized Spotify in the past, and note that these are successful, major label artists, you could imagine how this could affect smaller artists who are much more reliant with the little opportunities that they have.

Overall, it all comes down to what each individual consumer look for in their music, and how they view music itself. Some may feel satisfied with the sheer awesomeness of having a millions song at the palm of their fans, others may feel that listening is only a part of appreciating music, and that collecting is just as important to the experience. Old school fans may claim that streaming sites offer no romantic value, while the modern listener could argue that sentimentalism is subjective and continuously evolving, as some might feel some sense of nostalgia looking at the Limewire icon. It’s all perspective which makes it beautiful.