But do you know what would have been harder? Buying “Nevermind” on iTunes without Mom and Dad finding out.
Young Americans have lost the urge to spend money on music. It’s quicker and easier to listen on the Internet for free. Pretty much any song that has ever existed can be heard on streaming audio and video sites such as Spotify, Pandora and YouTube. And that’s not counting content that musicians give away for free.
It’s a great time to be a thrifty, music-loving teenager, even if you risk incurring the wrath of the world’s biggest metal band whose lawsuit crippled Napster. But if teenagers want to buy a record these days — out of altruism, pity or a desire to support artists such as Metallica, whose once-massive profits from the sale of physical albums dwarf the negligible royalties they’re paid by Web-based music services — options are more limited than they were a generation ago. The Internet has given kids boundless opportunities to hear music gratis, but few ways to pay for it.
To shop for mp3s on iTunes or Amazon, you need a credit card or debit card. If you’re a minor with an allowance, you probably don’t have either. Meanwhile, more than 3,000 independent record shops closed in the past decade. Major retail chains — think Tower, Virgin and Sam Goody — have been shuttered or dramatically cut back. And big box chains such as Target, Wal-Mart, and Best Buy have ditched old music and obscure releases to focus on a small selection of proven hits.
“They’re not carrying the depth of catalog,” says Russ Crupnick, vice president of industry analysis at the NPD Group, a market research firm. “You can still find the Carly Rae [Jepsen] CD in there, but if you’ve got a kid who is fascinated with Black Sabbath, you’re not going to find them.” If your tastes don’t align with Best Buy’s music buyer, you’ll have to turn to iTunes. And your folks, who control the purse strings.
“Right now, most kids are using parents’ iTunes accounts or otherwise relying on parental permission to make their purchases,” says Mary Madden, a researcher at the Pew Internet and American Life Project. The only hiccup: The songs that teenagers want to hear and the songs their parents let them hear are often very different. Leveraging chores in exchange for Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (uncensored version, of course), the Tool discography or anything Odd Future-related is for brazen teens with particularly liberal or oblivious parents. For the rest, an awkward conversation about the record’s content is inevitable — unless they get their hands on a gift card.