Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Music Library, Past and Present

itunes7 For a site so preoccupied with the here and now and, indeed, the distant and murky future, it seems we do a lot of griping about how we’ve lost something in this digital transition - that our Modern Lifestyles lack an intangible quality that no one can quite describe but everyone wants to complain about.

Most of those complaints center around the decline of the physical product, of the tape or disc that we can hold and look at and show off. It wasn’t so long ago that music buffs wanted to be John Cusack in High Fidelity (yes I know it was also a book but raise your hand if you read the book, yes that’s what I thought), with a gigantic meticulously-organized music library taking up an entire room of your house.

I knew a guy like that in high school. I wanted to be that guy. When I sat down late this past Sunday to clean up my iTunes library, I realized that I had become that guy without even knowing it. It didn’t feel as good as I thought it would.

The Big Bang: My Music Library’s Chaotic Ascendancy

breeders1 Personal anecdote time: I was a late bloomer when it came to music. I didn’t own my first CDs until the turn of the millennium or so, and I had only been mining my parents’ music library for a short while before that. Back in those heady days, the ancient computer I had in my room was barely suitable for playing MP3s, and the only place to get those was Napster, where a 5 kb/s file transfer rate was cause for celebration.

As such, CDs still reigned supreme, and once I had a job I was in every two-bit used CD store I could find snapping up obscure albums by the Meat Puppets and Live, trying valiantly to flesh out my underdeveloped taste in music. This was the way of it for several years.

Then, in late 2003, I scraped together every cent I had and bought my first laptop, a Compaq Presario 2175us that is actually still running to this day – this was a time when having a laptop itself was a novelty, regardless of the shittiness of said laptop’s innards. That laptop came with Windows XP, and Windows XP shipped with Windows Media Player.

This opened my eyes to a whole new world of music organization – instead of my increasingly cumbersome CD shelf, I could import the songs to my hard drive. For the first time, all of my music could fit under my arm. That was the beginning of the end for my physical music library, and I only brought my CD collection to college for one semester before giving it up as a pointless, backbreaking endeavor.

Goodbye, Discs: The Digital Revolution


Now, up to this point, the acquisition of new music was always a memorable and personal experience – at its peak, I could tell you where and under what circumstances I picked up every CD in my collection, and I knew most of them front-to-back. This is because acquiring new music was more of an investment – by the time a CD was nestled in my shelf (organized in alphabetical order by artist), I had to go out, find it, risk the potential scorn of anyone with me or of the hipster douchebag at the checkout counter, and finally pay for the thing. Of course I’m going to listen to it.

Not so now. I sat down this weekend to do the first ever full-scale purge of my music library since it started on that first laptop in 2003 – some of the files are that old, and have survived an iTunes migration, several computer replacements, and a near-catastrophic 2006 incident that deleted about half of everything. Those songs were in the minority – most was music acquired haphazardly through college, where my music library quadrupled in size in a year and I borrowed everything I could get my hands on.

This means that there are songs in my music library I have never listened to. There are artists I know nothing about. There are entire albums that I don’t remember acquiring. In just a couple of hours, I had deleted four hundred songs, and there’s a lot more to go through.

None of this is bad, necessarily. I’ve been exposed to more music than seems possible in a very short time, and I’ve found it all more easily than anyone could have just one decade gone. But still, as with so many things, there’s a Something that isn’t there anymore. I’m not as deeply and personally connected to my music library anymore, and I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way.

One’s music library can be a reflection of one’s personality – you can learn a lot about someone by thumbing through their songs. My music library still is a reflection of me in most cases, but even with the undergrowth cut back a little it’s not as concise or as telling as it was five years ago. Mixed in with my favorite songs and the artists with whom I identify are albums and songs I’ve never gotten around to, stuff I had been recommended or that I thought would be interesting to listen to that I set aside for a rainy day and never picked up.

Likewise, some of the music that I do remember adding to my music library is less dear to me because it was much easier to come by, and because other music was easier to come by – with most songs just a couple of clicks away, it doesn’t take much time to find something new and keep what’s in your ears right now from making as deep an impression as it would if it was the the only album you could find in the store.

Now, Let Me Boss You Around

remove-itunes Today, take a minute to examine the stockpile of digital music you’ve acquired and take some time to really get a good look. Delete some things you know you’re never going to listen to (so long, The Dead Milkmen’s Beezlebubba), or some music you thought you’d try that you just didn’t like (check you later, Interpol’s Antics).

After that, reacquaint yourself with an old, forgotten favorite (Slim’s Interstate Medicine), or go out of your way to listen to something for which you never made time (Gomez’s Split the Difference). Not only will you like yourself for it, but it’ll also give you something to tell us about in the comments!