With the age of digital media, a lot of us tend to walk towards the ways of streaming our music, onto platforms such as Apple Music, Spotify, and Melon. Of course, there is little to fault as a music consumer, as music streaming services offer the most convenient outlet to get our favourite songs provided for us, usually at a monthly fee.
My concerns is that while they are highly convenient, these are services owned by highly profitable corporations and could easily retract their services to you at any moment. A famous example was earlier this year, when Kakao M and Spotify had a disagreement on a contract renewal, which forced Kakao M’s hand to retract all of their licensed music from Spotify’s platform. This included music from Gfriend and Apink whose libraries were almost exclusively published by Kakao M. I was unfortunately also affected by this as I listened to Gfriend and Apink, and the playlists that included the two groups were absent of their songs, which is obviously not ideal when I pay monthly to use Spotify’s platform. While the dispute had been resolved, it did paint a lot in the big picture for a lot of us K-pop fans who rely on not just Spotify for our musical needs, as a lot of us were stranded, after having relied on music streaming services for a good portion of our daily lives.
This is when physical media comes in. I have amassed a wide collection of physical CDs as my fondness towards K-pop and attaining a collection grew exponentially over the past three years. Every CD has been hand picked either new or used, and each is an album that I have dubbed perfect in its own way, or out of adoration for the group that the album belongs to.
I started collecting physical CDs when I wanted something tangible that I could hold and feel with my own hands. This was Twice’s ‘twicecoaster’ album which I collected as I adored the album, and would make a great decoration for my room, whether it’s there for show to convey that it’s an album that I enjoy, a conversation starter, or to retain a physical copy.
I collect physical CDs to firstly keep a physical copy for myself. We who use streaming services are at the mercy of the companies who we choose to subscribe to. They have the power to control what is accessible on their platforms, which physical CDs solve. Additionally, CDs are usually high-quality discs with high bitrates, far exceeding the audio quality of typical streaming platforms. Obviously, you will need the gear to fully enjoy the bitrates that physical CDs will offer, but I personally have no issue, sporting Sennheiser HD 580 headphones to service my audio.
Of course, playback on CDs requires far more setup than streaming, which in contrast is trivial to play. I had to personally buy a CD player in order to get my CDs to play, as I did not own one previously. My parents do own a fairly old CD player, but it was never convenient to go into their room simply to play my physical media. Contrast this with opening up Spotify on my phone and tapping on Oh My Girl’s ‘Dun Dun Dance,’ it’s almost fool proof how simple it is to get from silent to music when subjected to streaming platforms.
One might argue that the process of selecting your own physical media, and inserting it into your media player for yourself is an integral part of the music-listening process. There is a hollow feeling to using your screen to play music. Involving the listener to manually work to get to their music is a highly rewarding process and makes the euphoria of eventually listening to their music worth the process.
Secondly, buying physical media helps support the artists far more than streaming will ever do. Streaming platforms tend to highly undercut revenue rewarded to their artists. By purchasing physical media, I can directly support my favourite artists with my own money, and receive a physical copy in the process. I find this is a heartfelt transaction between consumer and artist. I famously have a Gfriend, Apink, and AOA collection, as those are three of my all-time favourite K-pop groups that I wanted to financially support, as well as keep a collection for. As well as these three, I also collect other minor groups as I find even the smallest groups can benefit from a dozen consumers buying their albums.
This tangibility in physical media and the social connection towards the artist is ultimately the reason I have amassed a hefty collection of physical media, and presumably also the reason a majority of the general public who collect physical media do so as well. Physical media is not only an ancient hobby of the 20th century, it is an art and lifestyle, to symbolise and immortalise the albums and bands we hold dear to our hearts and ears. Owning physical media conveys the affection and connection towards the music that was produced for the public to hear, and the infatuation towards the production and quality of each and every piece of physical media.
The Candy Behind K-Pop Albums
On the rather playful and more niche side of the physical disc, K-pop albums contain not just the CD, but oftentimes collectables and extras, such as photocards, stickers, photo books, and posters. A quintessential example of a high-quality K-pop album unboxing experience is Blackpink’s ‘The Album.’ It contains the physical disc, as well as photocards, a photobook, and a whole assembly of other small souvenirs. These small additional collectibles incentivise the collector to buy one or even multiple of these K-pop albums, as K-pop albums typically would have multiple versions to accommodate different themes and styles, and inherently different types of extras to collect.
Arguably this is a highly exploitable practise to profit off of music, which to put it bluntly, a lot of K-pop is. However, the added extras make purchasing one of these K-pop albums much more enjoyable and enticing, as every unboxing experience given that they have included extras to begin with will be unique from the last with all the additions included, as opposed to only receiving a CD. Granted, I am not one for intentionally collecting all the variations of albums and their albums, as I am usually only interested in the CD itself, the cover art, and the photo book if the album were to include one. If there is an album that is no longer in production and only available from second-hand sellers for example, I will settle for the sellers having kept the extras for themselves as long as I get the CD, usually this means I obtain the albums for a heavily discounted price tag as opposed to buying them from official outlets. Granted, I will always choose official outlets if it benefits the group in question, and is obviously available for purchase.
Appreciating The Art
While digital media is unanimously the most convenient method of listening to music through streaming, the personality and social connection in collecting physical media is a fun and soulful hobby that connects listener and artist more than a screen can ever convey.
Physical, tangible, and sentimental discs, their art, and of course their sound, mean a lot to me, as someone who is highly emotional and sentimental towards possessions and experiences, and always up for collecting tangible items that I can carry on with me throughout life without worry that I will no longer hold them again. I hold my album collection dearly in my heart as each one was selected either to support the artists involved, to serve as a symbol that the album is one of my favourites, or to simply for archival purposes should the digital media ever disappear.
My parents will often poke fun at me for collecting albums, suggesting that they’re a waste of money, or that I’m too obsessed with my K-pop groups, and while they are not entirely wrong, I’m sure they understand that this is a hobby for me, as audio is an integral part of collecting not just K-pop albums, but albums as a whole. I am financially stable enough to obtain a solid collection of my K-pop albums for my own leisure, and every penny that I have spent to collect each piece of K-pop has been money well spent, knowing that I now have a hearty collection of my favourite albums from my favourite groups.
Album collecting can be expensive, time-consuming, and cumbersome to practically use, but the artist-listener connection, fun in the manual labour to get from physical media to audio, and the heart-warming feeling from the tangibility in physical media is what makes album collecting an art in my heart.