From hand to sleeve: What does it mean to value an intangible object?

From hand to sleeve, vinyl, sweden, records
Photo by Wells Baum

The tangible items feel like they have more cash value than the invisible digital bits. The sheer abundance of internet items not only shrink their value, they curb our attention. Whether it's a feed of Instagram images, tweets, or new music playlists, there is simply too many things to pay attention to and not enough time to consume them.

Even though vinyl today is mass produced to meet the growing demands of nostalgic record collectors and millenial hipsters, the magic of vinyl is in its transactional and physical experience. You paid for it and now you have to store it somewhere.

The great thing about record sleeves is that they can also serve as wall art. They're like real-life square Instagram hanging in your hallway or in your bedroom that also demonstrates your taste.

From hand to sleeve: What does it mean to value an intangible object?

But the awe of tangibility is not restricted just to records. It's all formats. CDs still create the same return on a relationship with its consumer, at least in Japan. The reason Japan's CD industry is still thriving is that Japanese fans love to show direct support of their artists; they want to ensure their money talks.

Yet even something as ubiquitous as a coke can create a visceral experience. Access is egalitarian. Said Andy Warhol in his 1975 book, [easyazon_link identifier=”0156717204″ locale=”US” tag=”wells01-20″]The Philosophy of Andy Warhol[/easyazon_link].

What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.

It is still possible to tame abundancy and simulate ownership in a virtual environment. Shopping on the music store Bandcamp recreates a record-store experience. Writes music editor Ben Ratliff for the New York Times:

the online music site known for its equitable treatment of artists, and one of the greatest underground-culture bazaars of our time. From it, you can stream music to the extent each artist allows, or buy songs at a price set by the artist — which is sometimes “pay what you wish” — or order physical products from the site. The artist gets 85 percent. Always, the artist gets to know who’s buying, without a third party in the way.

Bandcamp is a mashup of both virtual and physical worlds. Buying and selling Bitcoin feels the same way. What gives a bitcoin value is an assumed relationship between buyer and seller, not to mention the scarcity layered on top of it. There are only 21 million Bitcoins that can be mined. Bitcoin and the emerging interest in blockchain exemplify the shift toward the value on bits and bytes and not just hard goods.

Record sleeves persist because we give physical objects extra value. But the virtual sleeves on an all-access catalog to Spotify library can feel similar. It's amazing how real things feel when you pay for them 😉

If you’re interested in more reads about vinyl, check out the below:


Collecting music in 2017

iTunes worked because it was essentially a spreadsheet where you could dump all your music and have it categorized by the basics of searchability: artist name, song name, album name, year, and so forth.

However, while iTunes excelled in organizing metadata, it wasn't the place you searched for new music. Niche MP3 stores like Bandcamp and Boomkat, music blogs like Stereogum, and SoundCloud And YouTube we're the go-to online record shops.

The music ecosystem is still fractured to this day. You're never going to hear a track and play it back all in the same place. You platform-shift, finding a tune on YouTube but end up playing it back on Spotify where you keep your entire collection organized, or aspects of it.

The irony of paying for an all you can eat streaming subscription service is that you're renting the music while you at least owned your MP3s. The same can be said for Kindle books. Unless you own physical or the digital source file, you own nothing.

While music discovery is site agnostic — it doesn't matter where or how you dig up new tracks — music collecting is anything but perfect. There is still no one-way to store and organize your collection. All of these MP3s of bootleg recordings and live shows you gathered back in the day won’t have a home until you spend hours or days uploading them into a cloud service.

The process of music discovery, collecting, and listening happens on an array of applications and a mix of file types. If you're passionate about crate-digging, that's just the way it is.


It all started with music. My father used to bring home mixtapes from Europe that you couldn’t get in the US. It made me curious: if such diversity of music existed what else was out there that I needed to discover? Music was and still is my compass for navigating a world of cool stuff.

Check out what I'm listening to at Here are my favorite tracks from 2016 if you're interested in beats, rhymes, and pieces.

Daily Prompt: Sound

Becoming Our Parent’s Collections

We become byproducts of our parent's collections growing up.

My Dad's art and European mix tapes shaped my interest in design and new music.

My Mom's dedication to Macs shaped my interest in thinking differently about computer tools.

First we mimic, then we aspire. Finally, we create versions of these interests that we can call our own.

Our parent's collections shape our identity and give us creative energy.

The CD Case «

As for the CD format, I can’t imagine listening to, say, Green Day’s Dookie any other way. Dookie is to CDs what Creedence is to vinyl. It is a record resting eternally in the collective memories of aging music fans, a lost piece of data tucked inside scarcely used multidisc changers and laundry baskets full of shit leftover from collegiate apartments. The Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head is like that, too. So are Odelay, Siamese Dream, and Exile in Guyville. You can’t hear those records without anticipating the parts where the disc is scratched to hell and won’t stop skipping.

Vinyl I get but CDs are the industry’s attempt to monopolize users into an overpriced bundle when all there may be is a couple good tracks. Plus, that shrink wrap always infuriated me.

My CD rack is old and dusty and while I'll never use any of the CDs in it again the collection is nostalgic; it represents the days I collected music religiously. Music was so much harder to find pre-Internet but it also made discovery more fun. Nothing beats the pleasure of finding a great album that no one's ever heard of.

Beats: How Dr. Dre’s Headphones Company Became a Billion-Dollar Business

“When you succeed, don’t think you’ve done this incredible thing. Stay focused on the product. I never collected the gold records of the albums I engineered.” (Iovine has worked for U2 and Tom Petty.) “My father asked me why I never put them up. I said, ‘Dad, they haunt me. I can’t think about anything yesterday.’”

The greatest achievers are the least satisfied.

Print Starts to Settle Into Its Niches

As practitioners of consumption, Americans lead poorly edited lives. We end up with basements and attics full of items that looked amazing in the store or online, but that lost their sparkle once they left the Bubble Wrap. “Cool Tools” fits into a growing wave of the so-called maker culture, a movement toward building real, actual things with our own two hands.

There's scarcity and nostalgia in hard goods and therefore demand.  It's the reason Vinyl sales are up and it'll be the same reason books live on.    

Put the bad songs at the end and all the good ones in the beginning?

The album format still misguides some artists. They make more songs just to meet the expected album format of 8-12 tracks, or at least 40 minutes.

But excess content actually degrades the album. Record labels think they can convince you to buy a whole album on the premise of the first 3-5 good songs. In reality, listeners are merely consuming singles, or not even buying at all.

Listeners today stream songs a la carte on YouTube, Spotify, or SoundCloud and merely add those songs to their playlist all without spending a dime. Listeners pay with attention, not money.

If the music is the marketing today to drive live shows and merchandise, then why would a band risk publishing one bad song?

Radiohead is the first band that comes to mind in producing holistic albums. Radiohead treats their albums like novels, with each song or chapter shaping the album from beginning to end. You can't skip a track if you want to understand the ebb and flow of the entire story. 

For music albums, less is generally more. Enchancing the album with more songs doesn’t actually make the music better but worse.

Bands should consider the EP instead of the LP; create and publish their best 4-5 songs instead of 8-12. Unless you’re trying to tell a story through your music, it shouldn’t matter if your best tracks play in the beginning or at the end. All songs on the album should be fungible as they already will be on the listener's playlist.