Ethical and sustainable music buying

I hope this might be a thread to help people make their own personal music buying decisions. I’m sure we all have our opinions, maybe some might change theirs as a result of it, I am certainly ready to change how I buy music as a result. All I ask is that we follow forum rules, and decency, through the discussion :peace_symbol:

I think there are two aspects I’m most concerned about, fairness to artists and concern for the environment.

My own poorly enforced rules for acquiring new music are:

  • Pay for streaming, use a service that pays towards the upper end (Qobuz for me)
  • If I like a track and listen more than a handful of times, then buy media
  • Buy second hand CD or LP if the artist is huge and doesn’t need the money, or long dead, and doesn’t need the money (though their estate might be fed up)
  • Buy a new LP or CD if the artist is alive and trying to make their way in the world
  • Consider only buying the download…

I don’t own a NAS, downloads and ripped CDs currently reside on a Mac mini powered 24x7 (though sleeps overnight). I’m not sure I want the expense of buying and running a NAS, currently considering just adding a couple of portable HDs off my Mac, main and backup.

I admit, I do like having the physical media around, and don’t mind it being on display in the home. Others in the house appreciate the Qobuz family sub, and also being able to pick a CD and play it.

Thoughts welcome!!

:coffee: :cookie: :cookie:


I buy CDs and rip them locally or buy downloads from Bandcamp. I am not a user of any streaming service.

As far as I recall, if you buy the CD and play it about 30 times, then that is more environmentally sustainable than sourcing your music from streaming services. Buying CDs or downloads outright also gives musicians a better chance of earning a living.

I suspect, but don’t know that best for the environment would be to buy from somewhere like bandcamp and store locally.

I believe recently made NAS drives shut down disks when not in use so use very little energy, that being said if I am not going to be accessing the NAS for a few days I will turn it off. Currently, I can access my rips from an SD card in my Star so don’t need the NAS for music, mainly using it as a backup and place to store music ripped as MP3 for the car.

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Quite some similarity to the OP here, apart from your first bullet, and modified by not having ability to play LP or CD:

  • Re online streaming services, I only use free ones (Spotify, Youtube etc) - but then I only use for sampling new music, or, but very rarely, playing something not in my collection that I suddenly get an urge to re-hear. (I like to own the music I like, to be sure it is permanently available. Also, I have a rooted dislike of subscription services and avoid as far as I possibly can.)
  • If I like an album (or very rarely an isolated track), and think I’d want to play it again then I buy it, in one form or another.
  • I, similarly, tend to buy second hand CD if the artist is huge and doesn’t need the money, or long dead, and in my view doesn’t need the money. I then rip the CD as I can only play from my store.
  • Buy download or CD, whichever cheapest, if a smaller artist, likely trying to make their way in the world.
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I still buy CD’s from time to time, and artists need to be supported.

I use Roon on my NAS, so having the music and Roon server on the same device is the most logical thing in my case, and only one device needs to be on for the job. Having a computer with disks attached was a less elegant solution for me, and the computers I have consume a lot more power than the NAS.

Regarding physical media, I still want to have it because is my music, and with streaming the music will never be mine and pays badly to artists, and if the internet fails the result is pure silence.

But I love streaming, I have discovered a lot of albums with streaming that I would be impossible to discover if Qobuz and Tidal were not available.

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Spending tens of thousands on Hi fi equipment that is left switched on full time has to be the height of consumerism and capitalistic success - claiming green credentials by considering sustainable media to use on the hi fi is surely ironic and/or blind virtue signalling?

I’m taking the question as to the ethics and sustainability of the commercials around the different mediums as opposed to any climate change emphasis.

I’ve always struggled with the commercial model of streaming and it’s my least used medium. If I find something on it I like them I buy it, either vinyl or cd.

Almost all of my on the move music via Spotify are downloads of my physical music.

Anyone in any doubt about how bad the balance of revenue distribution is on streaming just ask the views of a working musician who isn’t in the elite.

I’ve got two friends of the family who are both commercial recording artists, however you’ll never see them bristle as much when mentioning streaming services. It is even more severe than a London cabbie if you mention Uber.

The fact that many of the services have algorithms biased towards established artists means even the promise of ease of discovery on a platform is still a loaded dice.

Maybe (and showing my ignorance here if it’s already there) taking a leaf out of Uber’s book there could be an option of adding contributions above the monthly fee to artists that you like via streaming that go directly to the artist.

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Not everyone leaves the system switched on when not in use - however there are other threads about that and environmental considerations: this thread is about ethical music sourcing which is a completely different subject…

In fact in line with the above, I’ll be heading to the Brand New Zeros (Ronan McManus & Luke Dolan) who have a live Q&A event in Ruislip at the end of September.

It is hosted by Sean Hannam (often in HiFi Plus music section), discussing the vinyl release of their latest album, playing some tracks live and some from the vinyl, rumour has it via a Michell fronted rig. Should be a good night.

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In fact thread is about ethics AND environmental considerations. Whether a system is left on or not throughout its existence is of minimal environmental consequence compared to its build and distribution earth costs.

Well, that isn’t how I read the thread subject as introduced by the OP…

Regardless, to respond to the point you seem intent on making, the fact that someone may spend money, small medium or large amount, on hifi, in no way negates any attempt by them to reduce their ongoing impact. That is irrespective of whether they have now become more enlightened and would do things completely if they were starting afresh now, or because their way of life indeed is one vested in the society in which they grew up, but nevertheless wishing to minimise their environmental impact while seeking to maintain a lifestyle they like and enjoy. Surely that is infinitely better than ignoring their impact on the environment and not trying to reduce it? If only everyone were to do likewise it would make a difference though there are people who seem to feel it is nothing to do with them personally, and so do nothing or even criticise those who try to do something.

Meanwhile, as OP, perhaps @gthack will confirm the thread intent.

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I have something in draft :smiley: Just at work right now. Thanks for everyone’s comments, really appreciate them.

Briefly, I don’t mind how people answer, the original intent was all aspects of music buying (but not equipment powering, as that’s been the subject of other threads recently), paying artists fairly, or buying music without destroying the planet, or both. The lines blur a bit though, if all you can do is stream then you don’t have to worry about the impact of buying new vinyl or CDs, unless you buy CDs to locally stream, in which case the NAS comes into it… lots of these issues are not obviously easy to decide between

Thank you for expressing the sentiment that just because you buy music and play it on expensive gear, doesn’t mean all other considerations should be disregarded. Everyone’s situation is different, I might run a high end Naim setup and live otherwise extremely frugally. We all make our personal decisions.

Sorry if the original intent was poorly expressed too, seems it was unclear.

Ahem, tea break over!!


I’m with you and I think your ethics are sound. One thing we probably all agree with (or most of us anyway), don’t steal music.

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Long ago I got rid of about 2000 albums which were downloaded for free. Some albums which were bought on CD I gave to my colleague. The rest were thrown into the trash can.
Since then me and my wife only pay for the streaming.
However, to tell the truth, very seldom, say, once or two a year I listen to Youtube videos which contain the content that is out of print and not possible to be officially downloaded or streamed. Say, Black Sabbath ‘Headless cross’.

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It looks like we’re following a similar approach. I now avoid physical media wherever possible, use streaming to explore and download anything I am likely to listen to regularly.

100% streaming for the last 6+ years, downloads prior to that. Can’t remember the last time I bought a physical bit of music, but would guess it was around 15 years ago. The need to physically own “sound” seems very antiquated and quaint - just doesn’t make any sense to me, though I appreciate others have a different view, which is understandable and fine.

To add some context, I don’t know anyone who buys physical media (except those on this forum) and I’m not sure I even have any friends who download, all of them stream. More frustratingly, the majority use the free version of Spotify, so pay nothing for their music.

It’s difficult to measure the ethics and sustainability of the different ways to consume music. I’ve reached three conclusions: i) majority of artists get screwed over by record companies/labels/industry in every model; ii) a tiny proportion of artists make obscene financial returns from their music, the vast majority make hardly anything; and iii) streaming has saved the music industry. This last point will be controversial, but again my experience is that more music, and in particular music from new artists, is being consumed by people than in the past. Streaming has also massively reduced illegal pirating.

Best way to support an artist is to see them in concert - that’s where the money is.


I stream all my digital music - currently via apple - my main Hifi is analogue only so I only really use steaming on the kitchen Sonos or headphones…

I buy most of the music I properly listen to as vinyl via either the local record stores here or direct from the artists where they offer it. Maybe 50 records a year I guess. I generally buy a couple of records every time I get paid before the kids steal it all :joy:

COVID notwithstanding I go to maybe a couple of proper gigs a month and will go and watch local bands/artists in pubs and such about the same.

There are many sound reasons for owning music (irrespective of whether physical media or “electronic”):

  • Living in locations where internet access is very slow and/or intermittent/unreliable (and there are plenty of such places even in the UK!).
  • Online streaming services don’t carry all music everyone may like and want to play, even if they were to subscribe to multiple services.
  • Some people want their favourite music to be available whenever they want to play it, in perpetuity. Online streaming services are known to change their catalogues from time to time, sometimes completely removing albums or artists. Streaming providers, and indeed internet connections, have also been known to have periods of downtime.
  • Some people have a rooted dislike of rental, whether music, hifi, car, home or anything else.
  • If someone has already purchased a large amount of music, that they can retain and listen to completely free of charge, it is nonsensical to discard it in favour of paying a subscription in order to play.

Leaving aside the ethical considerations raised by this topic, online streaming of course makes more sense for people without pre-existing music collections, allowing ready access to a huge library at very low cost compared to buying. (However if they have favourites that they want available indefinitely then purchase surely is better.)

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Those who judge which artists should get paid or not. Perhaps you could start trying those theories in a smaller scale at you own workplace. Allow customers/employer you deliver your work to the decision wether you are worthy enough to get paid or not (not the quality of your work). Especially if you tell them the price tags of your Naim amps first :slight_smile:

Streaming services subscriptions. Most users do not play anywhere near the number of streams they are paying for. And most (I have seen the number 69%) users either only play the popular playlists or they are teenagers repeating the same chart-stuff all days. So guess where a large part of your subscription money goes to? Thats right, to artists you never listen to. This business model is called the “pro rata” model and both the streaming services and the big record companies love it - it is not going away anytime soon even if some small service experiment with user-centric models.

Use the Google and lookup “streaming pro rata”.

That’s an interesting one. I don’t have a great answer, other than I would like to support second hand record dealers, and sought some sort of rationale for doing so. By implication, if you buy a second hand record you aren’t supporting the artist directly. Where do you stand on buying music second hand?

If I worked for Google, I would certainly expect some customers to not wish to pay for the service. If I worked for the local baker I would be offended if some customers did not wish to pay for the bread they took.

I did just buy Muse’s latest, new, though. So I do break my own rules.

Yes, I have a friend who runs a Coil based streaming service, that pays artists much more directly than most streaming services. I would love a bit of diversity in the streaming models on offer. There are always downloads, but I haven’t really embraced that fully so far, other than trying to buy off Bandcamp which usually sells the download alongside the physical media. I am half wondering if that’s the best answer for buying new music and not incurring the production and distribution costs of physical media.

Out of interest, any idea how to work out the streams you pay for?

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