Mourning What We Thought Was Already Dead

My friend received this email the other day:

"Dear Music Lover,
We'd like to tell you about some upcoming changes to your membership. BMG Music Service is being discontinued as of June 30, 2009. That doesn't mean your music savings are coming to an end. Your savings can continue with our other service, yourmusic.com, where shipping is always free and there are no automatic shipments. Here's some important information regarding your current account:

You will receive one more Featured Selection Announcement email from us.

You will still be able to shop at bmgmusic.com through May 31, 2009.

We have discontinued our Music Points program, effective January 31, 2009. You will be able to redeem your outstanding music points through April 30, 2009.
You'll have through May 31, 2009 to redeem certificates or free CDs you've earned.
Remember, you can still shop online at bmgmusic.com and take advantage of our great selection and prices until May 31, 2009. Please make sure you have signed up to receive emails from us so you don't miss out on special offers and important updates. Click here to sign up. If you have any questions, you can call us at our Customer Service #: 1-888-443-8264 or email us at cs1@bmgmusicservice.com.

Sincerely, The Membership"

I know what you're thinking: 1) I am lucky to know someone who subscribes to BMG Music Service; and 2) you can't believe that the BMG Music Service still exists.

For those of you in the dark, here's the gist: Back in the day, in the middle of something like Parade Magazine in your local Sunday paper, there would be an ad for 12 CDs for the price of one. You would pick out your free CDs and then promise, at some point within the next year, to make an actual purchase. But, let's be honest, the whole paying-for-the-music part of it never quite happened for a lot of people.

Therefore, BMG's music service was — for many of us — our first foray into mail fraud, scams and thievery. There were a few options for obtaining the free portion of the deal without ever fulfilling your end of the bargain. First, and easiest, involved a fake name. Second, you could have the shipment sent to friends' houses. Third, once the collection notices began, you could claim that it was not you who actually ordered the CDs and would promptly, and indignantly, cancel your membership (only to start up another membership under a different name the very next week). If I have blamed the Internet for our devaluing of music in the past, please forgive me; it was the craptastic CD that first steered us down the path of ambivalence and not wanting to pay for anything. My freshman year of college, I spent more money on Top Ramen (10 for a dollar at Safeway) than I did on CDs. Thank goodness for vinyl, a medium whose value I still weigh every time I have to move.

I'm not being totally honest here. The first time I tried to get free music, I ordered a Time Life Doo-Wop record after watching an ad on TV. I paid for it C.O.D. When it showed up at my house, my mom doled out the money in order to save face with our postman. I was grounded for a week and had to clean the bathroom in order to pay her back, but the record was mine! "A Little Bit of Soap" and "Teenager in Love" never sounded so sweet. I still own this album today.

Ironically, even though BMG Music Service might be on its way out, the concept of sweetening the deal in terms of music has never been more prevalent. From free MP3s if you purchase the vinyl version to special-edition DVD add-ons to bonus tracks on iTunes, music consumers are being courted left and right by desperate labels and artists. The underlying message, however, is not that the music we're buying is worth it, but that it's only worth it if it comes to us for next to nothing, or with all the bells and whistles to which we've grown accustomed. But just like the 12 free CDs that arrived at my house a few times a year — from Taylor Dayne in seventh grade to Buffalo Tom my senior year — their presence was instantly gratifying, and yet I still felt like I was cheating.

As a side note, and possibly related to this post, I recalled the word "spodie" earlier today.

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