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Holiday Gift Guide: Pop Music

by Ali Hibbs on December 12, 2013 · 2 comments


I don’t mean to be the Grinch around here but, WTF, why are any of you considering buying music as a Christmas present anymore? Sure, there’s plenty of music-related stuff that is fun and useful to give and receive for the music junky and casual listener alike but let’s talk about recorded music as a gift item for just a second. When was the last time you bought music for yourself? Was it a CD, vinyl record, cassette,  iTunes download, wax cylinder, sheet music? Do you cherish that jewel case sitting there on your shelf? How about that intangible file of mp3s, tucked away somewhere in your iTunes library? Was it music you’d heard before or something you took a chance on? Now let’s turn the scenario around. When was the last time someone bought you music? Was it a surprise? Was it something you liked? Did you have to tell them what to buy you (be honest)?

Music has always been a problematic gift for these reasons but the era of digital consumption has made the prospect of music giving fairly absurd. For one, there’s nothing to put a bow on anymore and, let’s face it, an iTunes gift card is a copout in the whole it’s-the-thought-that-counts category. Which brings us to the matter of taste. There’s nothing worse than getting that new Arcade Fire CD from your aunt because she heard you were in to this thing called indie rock and having to feign appreciation. Even if you know what the giftee is into, chances are they already copped that shit. For free.

See, the best gift giving advice I have this year is to install the latest version of Vuze and learn how to use it. Pass this info to your loved one. Give a man a Phish . . . but teach him how to bit torrent with Pirate Bay . . .

But surely I’m not condoning the illegal exchange of copyrighted material here. Only stressing the fact that recorded music as an artifact has fundamentally changed and so too should your gift-giving strategies. Music is, in its essence, temporal experience. That will never change, so take that and run with it—whatever form it may take.

If you’re dead-set on purchasing recorded music, go metadata. Spotify is free but if you’re considering giving music, your giftee probably doesn’t have the premium service, which, for $9.99, allows them to stream and download any and all music they want to any and all devices of their choice without those insufferable ad interruptions. You wouldn’t be giving so much as removing the obstacles to obtain—which is just as good and will be appreciated. Also, turn them on to Songza, a free service that boasts some pretty deft algorithms to custom curate a playlist according to your mood and preferences. This won’t satisfy the $15 price minimum for your office Secret Santa but it will save everyone from having to listen to your boss’ copy of Susan Boyle Home For Christmas.

Back to the music-as-temporal-experience trip . . . that experience is usually best-enjoyed in a collective setting, at high volumes, in a dramatically lit environ. That’s right: live in concert. Give concert tickets, bruh bruh. The experience is more immersive, the memory longer lasting—and you get to re-gift the idea right back to yourself too! I’m loathe to direct your attention to evil empire Ticketmaster, but they’ve got a ton of special holiday deals and ticket-bundle options. But check fair-trade ticketing company Brown Paper Tickets first for the good of yours and your loved one’s soul. As a nice little tie-in and keepsake, consider getting the Ticket Stub Diary from Chronicle Books (or probably any number of other publishers). It’s a cool way to commemorate those shows by scrapbooking the stubs. Like Pinterest but with paper cuts.

Now, assuming the person you’re shopping for has all the music they need—or some semi-legitimate way of procuring said—what material item may still be of value to their audio connoisseurship? Amplification. Here are two ideas, courtesy of Beats by Dre, Dr. Dre’s latest merchandizing venture. The era of the earbud is over, thank god, and Beats boasts a pretty good lineup of studio-quality headphones at retail prices. An even cooler idea is the Beats Pill, a portable, pill-shaped speaker with strong output and Bluetooth connectivity so you can play music from your phone without the cable. Furthermore, you can link multiple Pills together to create stereophonic sound in the middle of the dang woods if you want.

Wait, what’s wrong? Why so glum? Do you miss unwrapping a brand new LP, taking the platter from the sleeve and dropping the needle for the first time? Great. Go old school. Vinyl isn’t going away and it’s becoming common practice to shell out for vinyl copies of a record you might have first downloaded but now want the higher fidelity and collectible artwork. Figuring out the right album to go analog on, though, is going to take some artful investigating on your part, and likely a trip to Fuzz Records on Lark Street in Albany. They’ve got an incredible catalog of new releases on vinyl and plenty of know how. All this is, of course, futile if the giftee is without turntable. Crosley makes a pretty good array of affordable turntables in a range of colors that will appeal to the iTunes generation.

But, hell, if you still think you need advice finding a CD to buy someone for Christmas just buy Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz. She and it are all things to all people.