Is it better to buy digital, or to buy local?

Is it better to buy digital, or to buy local?

Since buying a new iPod a few months ago, I’ve spent less time buying music and more time digging through records I already own—uploading old Magnetic Fields and Beck albums while I page through lyrics and liner notes, then digging around online for the best album cover image I can find to fit my iPod’s screen.

Then I hit my stack of local records, and the process becomes a bit more difficult.


The Nice Jenkins

Although it’s easy enough to find a wealth of local musicians on iTunes (Eli Cook and Sons of Bill are there, along with Jan Smith, John D’earth, Parachute and Shannon Worrell), I haven’t purchased a single album by a local band online. Which means that, for every physical album I have purchased from a local band and loaded onto my handheld rock box, I need to hunt around for album art to fill the void onscreen. Not a terribly difficult search, but one worth thinking about.

While stores like iTunes bundle digital music and art files together, finding both for a band like Beetnix or Horsefang or The Nice Jenkins—groups you won’t find in Apple’s music store—requires a bit more work. And should you—Bowie forbid!—want a CD with those tantalizing “Thank You” and production notes, well, you might need to work with more than a search engine.

This may be a fantastic thing for local music. By avoiding retailers like iTunes, some local bands have made listening an inherently local act.

A true audiophile needs to know where to dig up local tunes, be it at stores with local sections (the incredible shrinking Plan 9 Records at Albemarle Square, Sidetracks, the racks at Gravity Lounge or Rapunzel’s Coffee) or smaller online retailers that often have direct relationships with local acts. (Check out Record, or, if you must, He needs to know where the gig is, and how to find the merch table.

And while these local music retailers might not give you the easiest iPod upload for your buck, knowing them expands your listening options. By way of an example, here’s a list of locals you won’t find on iTunes, but might find elsewhere: Terri Allard, The Nice Jenkins, Jim Waive and the Young Divorcees, Truman Sparks, Horsefang, Rick Olivarez, Adam Smith and The Invisible Hand, The Beetnix, The Unholy Four, Casa de Chihuahua, Red Wizard.

As for the bigger bands…

Shopping local helps the little guy, sure, but let’s not anger the music gods: Feedback isn’t about to pass up a Metallica gig at John Paul Jones Arena or a David Byrne show at the Charlottesville Pavilion. And, as luck would have it, both shows—along with Pavilion concerts by Jackson Browne and George Jones—were announced last week in the Feedback blog. Read Feedback at for more.

Listen local: The Nice Jenkins (pictured) and a handful of other bands skip iTunes and sell their music at other sites and stores.