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How much do you spend on music?

buying music

Spotify is, without doubt, one of the most successful, convenient innovations of modern times. Access to all the music is great – but is its £120-per-year subscription cost-effective?

I have a confession: it’s 2018 and I still buy CDs. It’s something that many of my friends, family and Which? colleagues cannot fathom. But for me, it still makes sense.

The way we listen to music has changed significantly in the past 20 or so years. Apple’s original iPod revolutionised music on-the-go, and MP3 players became a must-have accessory.

It’s a sign of how quickly things are progressing that even the MP3 format itself is now all but defunct, with other file formats, such as AAC, providing better compression with higher quality sound.

But the real music file killer is online streaming services, such as Spotify, which gives you access to its vast library for £9.99 per month. So why am I still buying CDs?

Annual savings

The answer is pretty simple – I don’t feel like I’ve ever spent as much as £120 per year on music (even as a teenager when the new wave indie-rock scene exploded and I had very long hair. But let’s not get into that).

At most, there are two or three albums released every year that I’m interested in. With the price of the CD often around £8.99, it makes sense to me to buy them directly, saving myself around £90 every 12 months.

In fact, I’ve often seen CDs available cheaper than their digital equivalents, and it’s always nice to get something physical for your money.

Speaking of cheaper, this method also works great for older albums – you can pick up second-hand CDs online for pennies, while digitally you’ll be paying full price every time.

Different strokes

The downside is that I lose out on the convenience of having access to everything at any time, but I find that’s often cancelled out by the library of music I’ve built up over the years.

I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got, and there are plenty of ways to discover something new, such as social media, the radio and good old-fashioned word of mouth.

Just like musical tastes, everyone’s circumstances will be different. I’m curious to find out yours: how do you buy and listen to music? Have you fully embraced streaming, or does the technology of yesteryear still have a place in your home (and heart)? Is £120 a year too much to pay for music or nowhere near enough?


We are with you on CDs George and have quite a large collection.

We tend to buy them for each other for birthdays and Xmas. They fit inside our Xmas ‘stockings’ and give something to unwrap for birthdays.

One of the CD changers in our cars stopped working recently and we discovered they are no longer made when we tried to replace it. I’m sure there would still be a market for them.

I use YouTube and make my own playlists. For obvious reasons not everything I would like to listen to is available, but more than enough is.

My mobile phone provider offered me a six month subscription to Spotify Premium as part of my SIM-only contract. I can’t say I used it much but it was interesting to see a company with a very different business model from buying CDs and downloads from iTunes etc. I would not make enough use of the service to justify paying £10 a month, but understand why services like Spotify are popular.

I don’t tend to buy much music nowadays and the only CDs I have bought this year were purchased during the interval at chamber music concerts. I have a modest collection of CDs and records, and these and the radio do me fine.

I have cds, vinyl and shellac. Trouble is, I now rarely make time to listen to them, using the radio (Classic fm and 3) instead. As my taste is classical I don’t know if spotify would even be of use – can’t see any sign of that genre. Bit like movie streaming – most out of my taste range.Quite like Talking Pictures on channel 81.

This has reminded me to get back into the habit of disappearing to the another room, switching on the wireless headphones and firIng up the cd player and turntable. And buying a cd of something that has caught my ear on the radio. I used to buy Naxos, and at around £8 a time i doubt I’d spend £100 in a year. But I do see they have their own streaming service (is it?) where you can listen to all their recordings in high quality for $315 a year.

I think you will be quite surprised to find out just how much is on Spotify these days, Malcolm. I was listening to an old record this morning, one I bought or was given in the 1980s. Prompted by your post I searched for the concerto/orchestra I found the music on the free version of Spotify – no doubt a digitally remastered version these days. Yes there is advertising, but for me it’s less intrusive than the presenters on Classic FM, PPI commercials and a curious top 40 featuring composers that died before I was born. Ian should be able to tell us how comprehensive the classical collection of Spotify is.

I’ll have a look wavechange, thanks.
Had a look. If I’d put Spotify Classical into Google I’d have found it. I’ll try the freebie.

I would never have used Spotify without the free trial. I might never have used iTunes if a friend had not asked me if I could help find some music to play his brother’s funeral, many years ago.

For better or for worse, I joined Amazon Prime a couple of years ago. The purpose was for “free next day postage” – which was worthwhile first year, and thereafter I think coloured my spending pattern – in a bad way . I really should have stopped it – and probably still should. I have never had appetite or bandwidth to stream videos..However, as an afterthought more recently I added Amazon Prime music to my Sonos – and can play much loved (and new to me) classical music, with no adverts to worry about. This actually makes it value for money I think.

There is a great deal of choice about how we listen to music these days and no doubt our preference is guided by our experience and what our friends and family do.

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Fair enough, Duncan, but online music services make it easy to explore and listen to music that you might like and then you can buy it on CD, gramophone record or whatever takes your fancy.

The same applies to Classic fm (and Radio 3). You will hear something (maybe just one movement) for the first time and go on to buy a copy if you like it. Or you might find a “live” performance on YouTube – a Prom for example.

I totally agree with you. Buying something physical like a cd is much more pleasant that a ‘download.’

Takes up more shelf space, though 🙂

I find the range of recordings/performances on Youtube is far higher than on Spotify. And Youtube is much easier to navigate. Shame about the ads though.

Maybe we need YouTube premium for a small monthly fee and freedom from all the ads.

I did not know that YouTube Music existed when I posted the comment above, but someone does not think it has much future: https://gizmodo.com/is-youtube-music-already-doomed-1826103455

As Oscar said, YouTube features “commercial breaks” before each item and, more annoyingly, also at arbitrary points in the middle of longer items. That makes it acceptable for singles but not necessarily so for albums.

That said, it can turn a (£100 – £1000) PC into a fair approximation of a £20 ghetto blaster and its autoplay feature may lead you to new works that you have not heard before.

I presume the idea is to offer YouTube without ads.

…but how would that best serve Google’s customer base of advertisers?

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Duncan, most kids love YouTube. I don’t think we’re every going to stop them from wanting to watch it on their iPhones.

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So has Google been prosecuted for those “illegal” acts? If not, are we sure they’re actually illegal?

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Duncan, that weblink seems to be about 5 years old…

I still buy cd’s because it’s a physical presence with a convenient box and info cover. I compress to a USB memory stick for use in the car or on other devices. Streaming is far too expensive for the amount of music I want or need.

Agreed, but I think LP sleeves or cases will always have more appeal than CD cases.

Despite some searching I haven’t found a reference, but I understand the original Jewel Case (so-called because the first one came out perfectly from the moulding and pressing process) was not only roundly condemned by users and other designers (and even the makers discovered that people had no idea how to use them) but won an award of some kind for being possibly the worst invention of the 20th C.

We keep our 2000+ CDs and 4500+ DVDs in special folders and boxes, but when we do succumb to temptation and buy a new DVD I’m still astonished by how badly the boxes are designed. One specific and utterly bewildering flaw is the DVD ‘rim’ in which the D sits, and which has 3 or 4 gaps around the side, presumably to allow for fingernails to be inserted so the DVD can be lifted out. Incredibly, however, on the cases I’ve seen, these gaps are filled in with the rim wall. The ‘gap’ is an illusion. Who on earth designs things like that?

The CD case was acknowledged as a rotten design soon after its launch and better designs have appeared from time to time, but it looks as if the dodgy cases will survive until they are phased out.

I was going to embark on digitising my favourite 78s and 33s. However, when “perfect” downloads of the originals are available thanks to someone else having done the hard work, I decided not to bother – just downloaded. I still have the purchased pressings and sleeves for the touchy feely side of the music experience.

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With the exception of classics (where I have typically bought CDs), most of my favourites are on 78s Duncan – Bing Crosby, Ink Spots… Whilst I love the idea of your system, even with that, anything you might manage to extract from my own 78s I doubt would sound as good as the downloads I have – most of which I am sure have been overprocessed with click and scratch filters. I am sure you could have done a better job with access to their raw material though.

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I was brought up on 40s and 50s music – mainly stacks of 78s – played on that home-built radiogram with the Fen Man II and the BSR Monarch!

Two of my favourite Ink Spots tracks are Bless You and When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano. However, the most played in that stack were Prisoner of Love, When you Come to the End of the Day, and a couple where Ella Fitzgerald sang – Cow Cow Boogie was one, I forget the other – will come to me later. If within edit time I’ll edit!!

As for big bands, my two all time favourites there are Ted Heath’s Faithful Hussar and Charlie Barnette’s Skyliner.

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I no longer seem to spend much on music. I once had a very large collection of classical CD’s but found I was only listening to around 10% of them so gave a large number away. I now probably have just around 100 [or fewer] but only listen to about ten or so in random rotation. I keep the rest, though, just in case I want a change or want a particular kind of musical experience. I have never downloaded any music. I hardly ever listen to music on the radio these days either, partly because I got fed up with ClassicFM’s unadventurous play list and constant repetition of the station ID [as if we didn’t know we were listening to ClassicFM – the radio even displays the name] and Radio 3 started talking too much for my liking. So I have all the music I want and can listen to whatever I like whenever I wish. I think that will keep me content to the end of my days.

Indeed. A few years ago I digitised our substantial LP collection but almost all the music I enjoy was written prior to 1910 and my wife is a world expert on popular music of the ’60s, so between her selections and mine the house as an entity has moved little beyond 1970.

One thing that does impress, however, is the quality of some TV and film music, which is where the truly gifted composers now end up working, since the days of symphonies and working for the Elector of Hanover are well gone.

Do you know how comprehensive the classical music collections on Spotify and similar services are, Ian?

I don’t, but I have used iTunes for the odd item I’ve wanted and that seems very well stocked. Otherwise, IMSLP offers recordings for musicians that can be very good. Others not so.

Thanks. I’ve not used iTunes much but have found what I’m looking for.

When I was younger I went to concerts, mainly orchestral music, with a colleague at work. Before each concert we both tried to listen to each piece of music on the programme, swapping and borrowing records, cassettes and these new fangled CDs that were starting to appear. It would have been so much easier if music streaming services had been available in these days. I still get more out of a concert if I have listened to music in advance.

Many of the larger cities used to present ‘Industrial Concerts’ which were heavily subsidised serious music concerts (subsidised by the major industries of the city) and these were immensely popular. The concerts were advertised 12 months in advance, so you could book your favourite seats for the season and get a discount, too. Additionally, the BBC used to hold concerts using regional orchestras and these were free to attend; all you had to do was book your seats.

I think they went a long way to disseminating good music to a wide audience. It’s often thought that the earlier music is, the more preparation is needed to enjoy it. I suspect chamber music falls into that category, as do most sonatas (which are a form of chamber music, anyway), but the Romantic era changed the game, really, and great music became accessible to everyone, with composers writing for much wider audiences.

But I dislike the inherent perception of music as being in two camps: Classical (which is a misnomer, anyway as that was only music written during Mozart’s lifetime, really) and Pop – which itself is so broad as to be unclassifiable by a single and somewhat trite term. Some of the Beach Boys’ repertoire, for instance, compares very favourably with Scarlatti or Morley while Lennon and McCartney returned to Renaissance Modal writing, as did Simon of Simon and Garfunkel. ABBA reinvented the Tin Pan Alley harmonies of the 1920s and clung to the progressions of JS Bach and the output of John Williams, the film composer, is heavily influenced by Tchaikovsky and Mahler.

In the early 80s, the only way of being sure of getting a seat at the international orchestral concerts in our local city was to buy a season ticket, which I did until about three years ago. I stopped because the box office kept making mistakes and concerts were increasingly on Friday or Saturday evening, when the city was not very inviting because of the wildlife.

I take your point about ‘classical’ music as a description but when in a general discussion it’s probably easier for most people to relate to, like using ‘live’ instead of ‘line’ in discussions about wiring plugs.

I have not paid much attention to popular music (or sport) because I intensely dislike the associated fanaticism and hero worship.

I think hero worship and fanaticism was also rife in olden days. But maybe they used to listen to the music then rather than scream?

The use of music to “support” film and particularly tv programmes has been debated before, as both a distraction and masking dialogue and commentary, but I can’t imaging 007 films without the music.

What is a shame seems the lack of music in schools. We had a school orchestra, loaned instruments although we had to pay for our own lessons, school concerts which were lots of fun to play in, and a music lesson once a week. Are kids currently missing out on being introduced to more than just “popular” music.

My wife thought the Scissor sisters were interesting and heard a song, yesterday, by one of them. It was interesting and could have won the Eurovision fracas, despite not being very original. But in an odd way it was strangely compelling.

These days I become disheartened when I hear any BBC orchestra because the standard of conducting has become so ropey. And they make errors.

Malcolm said I think hero worship and fanaticism was also rife in olden days. But maybe they used to listen to the music then rather than scream?

Perhaps. But even in the early part of the second Millennium music was divided into music for the rich – the aristocracy and the church – and music for the people, usually on market days by gangs of Troubadours. Reception of that was often raucous and strident, so there’s always been the division that persists to this day. Most of the Music preserved from the 12thC onwards was, however, of the first variety; written for the church or commissioned by nobles.

Things really only started to change when Beethoven arrived, and thought his music should be heard by all, rather than the elite.

The Romantics garnered fans and hero worship and fanaticism sprang into life for the later romantics, especially Wagner, whose turbulent existence and often going overdrawn in addition to extravagances of all kinds I suppose laid the groundwork for today’s pop idols.

But the Castrati also had a semi-hysterical fan base, so I suppose it’s nothing new.

Of course, for those without scruples, peer-to-peer is still rife.

I’m 19 and love to buy CDs, I do download music from the internet to (mainly Amazon) but haven’t streamed any music in years. Better to own it

I do have spotify, I’ve only recently got it. As an avid music collector, CD/Digital Download and Vinyl. I do enjoy having the newest music to listen to on my phone, still doesn’t stop me going out and buying an album on CD /Vinyl if it’s something I like. I guess I will forever be a slave to the rhythm 🙂