It’s Not The Size Of Your Collection That Matters…

Or Does It? The Biggest Crisis In Music Fandom.

image from c0424362.cdn.cloudfiles.rackspacecloud.com Remember the days when you could judge a music fan by the size of their collection? When I started out, it was the matter of filling that 20 disc case. That’s like between $250-300 worth of music; a rather sizeable sum for a teenager to come up with. But, it didn’t take long before I started eyeing the 100 and then 250 disc cases.

By the time my final years of high-school arrived, I had filled those too. Upwards of 85-90% of those discs were ones that I bought myself.  I do, however, recall those glorious days when a friend or two forgot their collections at my house. Shortly thereafter, I took to copying every CD that I liked.  Mostly, because there was nothing better to do anyways. After all, I did live on a farm. That process of burning CDs took an innumerable amount of time, effort, and commitment; it was a barrier to music consumption and the act of collecting in general.

For me, collecting music became this constant, voracious pursuit of growing my collection—through any means necessary. I never had enough music. New and used CDs, free MP3s, entire hard drive dumps, a shared file or two, and whatever else it took. As well, I did end up getting an iPod later on and the expansiveness of my iTunes library mushroomed. 10? 20? 30,000 songs? Who knows, I don’t quite recollect the original amount; it goes without saying that it was big.

"I have to admit, a certain amount of pride blossomed when someone… had to page through all the… CDs and scroll through my iPod before they'd choose a song."

I have to admit, a certain amount of pride blossomed when someone got into my car and they had to page through all the wonderful CDs and scroll through my iPod before they could choose a song. “You have almost everything, this is amazing,” they would remark. Given the right match of taste, those words could make any collector swell with a bit of delight. Having a large collection separated the men from the boys, so to speak.

Since the iPod is such a social object and a mark of a true personal DJ was to not only have the music that you liked but have plenty of songs that everyone else liked too. My collection took on new characteristics and artists that I would’ve never considered adding before. The premise remained clear though, that to have a large, well-curated collection, meant obtaining a bit of prominence. Even if anyone could technically build a collection as large as yours, they likely didn’t have the gems, nor did they put as much time into it as you.

Things change. “Large collections of music used to align with status among fellow listeners: the collapse of this equation is the biggest crisis in music fandom for years,” Tom Ewing writes. “The artificial scarcity of retro music formats; the rush to discover new bands; reverent pieces about the magic drudgery) of old-school listening– all these things are rooted in the dread awareness that having lots of records just isn't enough anymore.”

"Now, my CD collection is a museum of cup coasters."

Now, my CD collection is a museum of cup coasters. Once and awhile, I’ll pull out a CD from back in the day, but the limitations of the format anger me too much. The iPod?  Well, let’s just say that the love of my life got eaten by a washing machine a few years back and I still don’t talk about the horror of seeing my soul, my entire collection of music being reduced to a flashing, blinking, and dying paperweight. I have an LG Chocolate and I have some songs on there, but not enough to matter; it comes in handy in emergencies. And that hard drive crashed a few years ago—I lost everything—and never felt the need to replace it.

Where’s all my music? In the cloud, spread across accounts and what not. I looked though a collection of a new friend of mine and I will admit—I was jealous. She had a large collection; it covered tons and tons of artists that I loved and still love. Plenty of other artists that I had never heard of too.  I used to have one bigger than hers and likely she would’ve found it to be impressive. But Ewing is right. Having more music than someone else doesn’t mean as much as it used to. If ever it meant anything at all. To this day, I miss having that much music.

Yet I would argue that the very reason I don’t have a big collection anymore is because on an unconscious level—I know—what’s the point? That and I probably know about more recommendation systems, social discovery tools, cloud-based streaming services, and whatever else, than anybody else; it’s my job. So not only is the idea of having a large collection lost to me, but these days there’s just more efficient and smarter ways to consume music. – Kyle Bylin

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  1. I Used to love having a huge cd collection but living in a small apartment in boston has made ms think about just keeping it digital, plus like you said with software like last.fm and pandora, the iPod is not all that necessary

  2. I have to say I am perplexed by this story. First, you built an impressive collection of music and then didn’t bother to back it up? Digital Music Collecting 101 starts with coming up with a back up system (usually, an external hard drive). Similarly, why didn’t you just buy a new iPod (or other mp3 player) if one was ruined?
    Secondly, I am unconvinced that all these streaming “in the cloud” music sites are some kind of replacement. That would mean one would have to have access to the internet at all times. Even if you have a smartphone, sometimes these systems go down. Then what?
    Thirdly, I guess it goes without saying that sound quality is of no importance to you? I won’t even go all full scale audiophile on you, but wow — streamed music on the internet is of very poor quality. It’s fine for radio and sampling new music, but you really are going to put a great classic rock album on via streaming?? (I was going to say the Beatles or Zeppelin but at least the on demand streaming services I am aware of do not have their albums).
    Finally, I actually DO agree with the sentiment that accumulating a big music collection for its own sake is rather pointless. But I think a lot of people who have a lot of music on their hard drive do so because they love it, or at least at some point loved that music. That’s what it’s really about. Plus having access to it at ALL TIMES and having it sound halfway decent.
    Just my two cents.

  3. I have 13 record crates in my room, 1 more in my closet and just threw away 2 of those big ass blue bins from Target in the full of cds.
    Granted I was a DJ for age 15-23 but I still bought my fair share of $17.99 cds from Sam Goody…I would starve myself and skip lunch just so I can cut last period and go music shopping lol.

  4. To me the new “collection” is the playlist. It’s the playlists that my friends done that catches my attention and analysing eyes. Spotify for example makes it quite neat to acess your FB friends playlists.
    In a way a playlist tells me more about a person (how you curate and contextualize music) and is an even better way of judging your friends taste in music and is a much better starting point for discussion than a collection of plastic discs on shelf could ever be.

  5. Definitely agree w/ lms10045. In terms of reliability and sound quality, this “cloud” business is for the birds. I’m sure it’ll eventually be stable enough for use virtually everywhere, but today’s not that day. Even when that day comes, I doubt I’ll stop buying individual albums or songs. The revenues coming in from places like Pandora or even “pay-for” services seem like they’re a small pittance to artists. I’m sure someone will point out that (mainstream) artists don’t get much revenue from CD sales, which may be true in some instances…but I’d rather support artists with tiny percentage of my 9-12 bucks (on amazonmp3) than the small pieces of pieces of pennies streaming services provide.

  6. Well, Kyle, I guess the two of us think pretty much differently about our music collections then.
    I started buying CDs at the fairly young age of 11 to be able to listen to the few great songs that I loved from the radio more often without having to wait through all the crap that the radio streamed in between.
    I only buy an album if I like more than 1/2 of the songs from it. Rarely did I copy a CD when that was the trend because then, I mostly did not like the CDs that my peers had. So size doesn’t matter, I’d say.
    I grew my collection by reading booklets and searching stores and the internet for albums on which my favourite guest musicians also appeared. In the days before the internet, that lead to some rather unconventional perceptions I had of some famous musicians. For example, for a long time, Robbie Robertson to me was the producer of an obscure Roy Orbison song and a mightily great guitarist – little did I know of his fame for his membership in The Band.
    I like a quality product, so if an album is too weak, I do not buy it even if it’s by a favourite artist.
    Had I visited you in the days of your music collection, I have to admit I would have considered it pretty strange that you had some music that you did not even like. On the other hand, it never bothered me that when I have a visitors and let them choose a song from my collection, they did not know what to pick because they didn’t know most of it.
    I used to be a mixtaper when there still were cassette players everywhere. That’s when I learnt the craft of creating playlists that have an emotional arc of suspense – which is the opposite of the now omnipresent shuffle mode.
    Hence, I believe an important part of any collection is how to use it properly, how to recombine the pieces to build something new, in this case, how to dj well.
    I do not like mp3s for their crappy compressed sound. That’s why by now I have picked up most of the songs I downloaded back in the old Napster days on CD since then.
    I do not believe in “music in the cloud” because my experience shows that only the most popular stuff is readily available everywhere – a problem that I solved with starting my music collection as a kid.
    It’s not the size of the music collections that matters, but instead the fun that you get out of playing the music.
    I don’t get the same amount of fun out of making playlists online, which I’ve sometimes done on message boards, because it is pretty certain that at one point, I will want to include a song and cannot find it anywhere. Going for a substitute instead does not feel good.
    I’ve bought some indie music on CD-R, sometimes when it was not available in full CD quality, by talking the artist into it. Luckily, all of my backups have lasted so far.
    For me, mp3 was just a phase, a short term successor for the cassette. Today, lossless formats are the way to go.
    It bothers me, though, that the success story of iTunes has brought with it a disappearance of album credits, that important source of information which is useful for new music discovery. As allmusic.com does not get promo pressings anymore, but merely digital albums without liner notes, they cannot keep their database up to date – a database which has been very helpful over the years to build my collection.
    Kyle, may I ask you how you prefer to listen to music: an album at a time, a few songs at a time, creating a playlist as you go along listening to it? For me, it’s the latter.
    Do you prefer headphones, earbuds or speakers? For me, it’s speakers. And when I still used a portable player, it were headphones. It’s been almost 15 years since I’ve felt that portable players drown out the world and stopped using one.

  7. Maybe I’m missing something here, but who cares about quantity? Its supposed to be about quality. Its about whats interesting.

  8. I agree with your thinking, Kyle, and found this article most interesting.
    As a DJ, I need to have (hard disk) copies of my music, but it’s all about the new, the networking to find the genuinely popular RIGHT NOW, the music OTHER people like…
    And again, as a DJ, that mainly means the music girls like, not the music geeks like (most good DJs agree that to fill a dancefloor, you get the girls dancing).
    If I can play a credible DJ set and keep the girls happy, I’ve done my job. That’s my “music collection” and 25 years of musical “joining the dots” at work in my eyes.
    I think my thinking aligns with yours in the fact that it’s the “current set” folder that I use most on my PC, and if I want to look back for nostalgia’s sake, it’s to actual playlists from past gigs where I can remember other people’s reactions to my music – nothing else really. Can’t remember the last time I listened to an old album start to finish.
    My wife does though. Madonna’s greatest hits, or Erasure or something singalong, while doing stuff around the house. That’s fine by me. Keeps some real perspective on all of this. Most girls I don’t know don’t have large record collections.

  9. Good read — reminded me how much “fandom” is defined by US consumer culture. AKA, 101% defined by US consumer culture.
    Now the status symbol is the object that contains the collection.

  10. I don’t think there was ever a time when having an obscenely large music collection meant anything other than that you were a terrible show off.
    Having music in your collection you don’t even like just takes the cake.

  11. Thanks for discussing your own music collecting habits with us, Kyle. I always say that music is cheap now – not just in the monetary sense, but also in the idea that it is so easy to get vast numbers of songs in one swoop through a friend’s iTunes collection.
    To reiterate, there is something to be noted about the the process of creating a mixtape, burning a CD, selecting songs for a playlist, etc. Now that music is “cheap”, we CAN get hundreds or thousands of songs at once and bypass the methodical process of making careful and well-thought-out choices on what songs we will add to our collections. I touched on this idea in my article The Order of the Mixtape.
    And to those who do not agree with the ways in which Kyle consumes/consumed music: it’s a great thing that we do not all consume in the same manner. That’s what allows so many forms of music (streaming, downloading, physical copies, etc.) to continue to exist. We can only hope our consumption habits will be diversified for a long time.

  12. Man… Kyle… your collection habits followed mine to a T. Up until recently I would want to have a digital copy of everything, no matter what genre. Spending hours cataloging and sorting, making sure all artwork was embedded correctly. I recently got a cloud account (MOG) and have access to anything I can imagine, including offline storage. My perception has completely changed on consumption.
    Cloud consumption is here and here to stay… as long as people properly test it out. (lms10045)
    I went from a phone that couldn’t take a picture or play music, to an iPhone 4 with MOG. Having access on Tuesday to every single new release album is absolutely mind blowing. Not having to track down which albums are good enough to legally or illegally download… spending time cataloging, sorting, cleaning, etc… accessibility & convenience is what makes this so amazing. With the 320kbs offline storage option, I think the audio quality isn’t an issue as stated by some. Of course lossless is best… but my digital catalog was generally 192-320kbs anyway.
    It’ll be interesting to see if and when the heavy hitters in the industry provide a cloud based catalog option and how the general public reacts. But even though the currently cloud options are a niche… I’m already sold.

  13. Rob,
    I have a Napster subscription, which has a better catalogue than MOG (or last time I used MOG), but also gives you 5 downloads a month to keep. I have tested all of the subscriptions, and found them all lacking. I was attracted to MOG having better sound quality but there were basic albums I liked that were not on their site. Perhaps it has improved since the last time I checked.
    Also, I do not have a smartphone due to the exorbitant monthly fees. If you don’t have that, the music cloud is less enticing.
    But thanks for the reminder about MOG’s better sound quality. If I ever get an iPod Touch (there is off line caching, right?), it might eventually be worth foregoing the 5 downloads I get at Napster.
    Good point about Tuesday release day being a lot of fun.

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