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The Kansas City Star’s Back To Rockville blog

By Joel Francis

The major labels may be lumbering in the past, but Sub Pop is starting to show hints of recognizing the digital revolution.

Starting this week with “Wincing the Night Away,” The Shins’ highly anticipated third release, fans who order any LP from the Sub Pop catalog will receive a coupon for a digital copy of the album. Simply go online, enter the coupon information and start legitimately downloading the files.

Or, as the statement on the Sub Pop Web site puts it: “The idea here is that people who buy records on vinyl should be afforded the same access to the digital files as those who buy records on CD, without having to consult some audiophile/computer expert/person working at Radio Shack.”

This is a great idea that also highlights the CD gradual slide into obsolescence. The first thing I do when I get a CD is rip it to my computer so I can put it on my iPod. There’s no point in gathering armfuls of plastic discs for road trips or worrying about if they might get scratched: the music is all safe on iPod, which can hold more than I could dream (or dare) to take anyway.

But for all their handiness, digital files don’t quite scratch the musical itch. There’s nothing to have or hold in a file that suddenly appears on a hard drive. Vinyl, the Shins and Sub Pop have realized, is the perfect remedy. Fans get big artwork, lyric sheets with type large enough to be read, and extreme gratification from the scratchiness that pops from the speakers when the needle is dropped.

If listeners don’t yet have record players, they’ve at least got a cool oversized souvenir of their direct support of a band. Hey, it doesn’t cost much more than iTunes and you get more, both physically and emotionally. Hopefully more bands will follow suit in the future, but for now, it will be fun to watch where this experiment goes.

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