Unpacking my digital library — fourth thoughts

While everything else has been going on, I’ve still been optimizing, organizing and sorting out random files of things, long forgotten albums I once owned, podcasts, randomness.

Geez, that’s a lot of stuff.

Which might sound flippant. The thing that excites me still, in a weird, ridiculous fashion, is that the volume of things around doesn’t change at all. The hard drive just…sits there.

As part of the activity around my writing work, I’ve noticed that increasingly promotional releases are streamed via the web or sent as links or zipped files or the like. For instance, you might have noticed (if you’re on my last.fm feed at all) that I was listening recently to the Helio Sequence — for good reason, since I ended up getting an assignment to cover them for an upcoming feature in the OC Weekly, which will run in a couple of days. The assignment was fairly late in the game, so I got a hold of the appropriate folks at their label Sub Pop and they were able to arrange for me to have an ear to the album without having to send a thing physically.

This is prosaic, of course, but it’s still remarkable just how prosaic something so strange and new has rapidly become. Had something like this cropped up ten years ago, the arrangement would almost certainly have been some next-day delivery via FedEx or whatever. I still remember when I was rush-sent a copy for a little something called The Downward Spiral shortly before its formal release in 1994 (an appropriate memory, I think, given the TVT story I described earlier today, though by this point of course Trent R. had been settled at Interscope for a while). And you’ll search in vain for even an e-mail in the original liner notes for that thing.

Once all the basic work has finally been done, the next step will be the thorough reviewing of all the discs I still have around and the beginning of the hard but necessary choices to reduce the collection drastically. The value of the CD of course has crashed radically and I don’t expect to get as much for what I have as I once might have — regrets, I’ve had a few, etc. But at the same time the ability for something so affordable like the drive I have was really only achievable recently — a needed balance in the end.

Will I miss all those discs I’ll be letting go? I suppose there’ll be some accumulated memories, but really, I am not interested in needless sentimentality — I plan on keeping nearly all those items that were evidence of a certain modern ‘craft,’ those limited CDRs with handdrawn covers and the like, not to mention all those discs I still regularly pull out and listen to without having to think about it beforehand. The other day I listened to Lull’s Cold Summer, adding once again to the amount of times I’ve dug that out — that’s an example of something not going away.

There’s always more to hear and more to rediscover. I embrace the flow and enjoy it. It’s the best way.

Unpacking my digital library — third thoughts

The process of doing all this is…boring. By default.

The reason why I’ve been doing all this to begin with — burning things to individual discs over the years as I rip and sell back the archives (as I like to call my unwieldy collection of compact discs — another term’s been the Raggettstacks, which I’m always amused by) — is because I didn’t have an external hard drive to put it on. I always had a hard drive, I should note, but as part of whatever computer I had at the time. Also, it was only until recently that iPods were large enough to comfortably hold a functioning, overall collection.

So in a way I’ve been working backwards this whole time — instead of storing things on a hard drive and putting them on discs as backups, I’ve created the backups first and now have a hard drive to put them. I knew for some time that there would be a point where hard drives would be big enough and cheap enough for me to afford even on my fairly low-key budget, it was just a matter of waiting it out.

Playing the long game with technology, I should note, is something that’s often underrated — too often it’s all about getting something now when a year or two later something better and cheaper has arrived. Anyone who has dealt with Apple for years knows the score on this front (and hey, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Apple user for over twenty years now), but this applies to all sorts of products by all kinds of companies. The thing also was that there’s just so much to do and enjoy in life that there was very little need at all for me to dig out the CDRs I’d created from things I’d sold back — I didn’t feel any impulse to do so, no crushing sense of ‘damn, if I only had that around again and knew how to easily find it.’

Now, of course, I can, and it’s been amusing to see and play around with the kind of instant recall something like iTunes provides. It’s a marvellously efficient database program that spits back results in a second, if you know what terms to use and what to search for — one reason to always improve your tags if you need to (and more often than not I do!). Mine is a fresh reaction where for most people it’s been commonplace all this time, so I’m still marvelling a bit — but doing so knowing that years upon years of work and use has gone into this combination of expectation and programming.

But it still takes time to copy over each disc’s contents. A lot of time. This might take all winter, because even after only a few discs of this I get restless and bored. But I wanted to create this so onward I go.

Unpacking my digital library — second thoughts

And by this I don’t mean I’m changing my mind, merely that it’s the next entry.

There was a story over on Idolator today which put me in mind of the comments I dug up from 1999 on my end in yesterday’s post regarding how albums as such would no longer be a dominant form. To quote the story:

The end result, then, seems to be same as pundits have been predicting for the last few years: as the audience that grew up on the album as it’s understood dies out, the format itself will become an ever-shrinking, vestigial art practiced by throwbacks and holdouts ignoring that MP3s have long-since-obliterated any sense of obligation on listeners’ parts to keep the songs they think suck, the art form doomed to a (very slow) death once playlists made it possible to self-edit an album without having to wear our your skip button or nudge the stylus ahead every few songs.

The comments section exploded into a bit of a war over that but the conclusion strikes me as sound, if of an overdetermined sort. If there’s been a constant complaint about the record industry over this decade, it started with the idea, often voiced in the days of Napster, that companies were charging too much for discs that people only ever wanted one or two songs off of in the first place. It’s a comment that tends to reinforce its own logic, but it is always has a curiously built-in assumption — namely, that albums were uniformly created in a cookie-cutter way where there was a key item of purported economic value surrounded by a bunch of unnecessary packaging.

You can flippantly agree with that if you like, but step back a bit — we’re not talking about endless bags of potato chips where half the content is always guaranteed to be air. If every person thought every album was always going to be the same way in the sense described — if in fact that could be proven to be the case, objectively — then it would make sense. Instead, it became an understandable but illogical canard, but one with just enough emotional impact to work. After all, we’d think, we’ve all been burned that way before, one way or another. True, doubtless — but constantly?

This may all seems little more than sophistry at this point; the cows have long since bolted, etc. etc. — pick a metaphor or simile you’re comfortable with. Still, even though I agree with there things are going now, I’m not thinking it was necessarily the baseline assumption made at the start of the decade — if anything, that was more an understandable excuse. Playlists, as the Idolator post notes, were the real turning point — the ability to rapidly search, organize and present material, whether through iTunes or iPods or something else again. The impact will continue to play out, of course.

More tomorrow, as I continue to work through all those CDRs…

Unpacking my digital library — first thoughts

For the past few days I’ve been engaged in a rather tedious but necessary task. One by one — by one — all those hundreds (and there are hundreds) of CDRs and DVDRs that I’ve accumulated over the years, all pretty much stuffed to the gills of mp3s and similar files I’ve ripped and the like, are being read and their contents shifted over to my new hard drive. It’s something I’ve just long wanted to do, and now the time is here to do it — arguably very, very late in the process, of course.

Looking back on that 136 list of mine from almost nine years back now, I’m both amused and gratified by my combination of naivete and relative insight:

While the hype regarding mp3s and so forth has mostly remained that during the latter part of the decade – from a strictly capitalist point of view, the market is promising but still very small, and limited by infrastructure and other technical issues – ten years will see this change radically. Enough initial toes-dipped-in-water scenarios have occurred, wherein increasingly bigger name acts have made songs available for free download to entice album purchases and, far more importantly, for download of a song for direct purchase independent of an album. While this is on the face of it little more than an extension of the basic philosophy of vinyl [and CD, etc.] singles, it’s not that hard to extend this situation wherein a musician can eschew formal ‘album’ releases in favor of simply uploading newer songs as they are recorded to a central location. From there, purchasers can take what they want, make their own mixes from an extensive back catalog, select some songs but not others from the newest batch, and so forth. No doubt discussion and planning for such a possible variety of approaches is going on right now, and will only accelerate.

Studying where this is all right and wrong would take forever, though I am intrigued how long it took for something like the In Rainbows situation — very vaguely forecasted here — to finally come about. In essence, it took that long for the market to be ready for it, and by ‘the market’ I mean everyone involved in it, from band to consumers and back again; it’s not that Radiohead were per se revolutionary — as was made clear over the past few months, they were perfect fine with the standard model so long as it was something they would be on better terms with than they were with EMI. In essence, it was a process of culmination at work — an act with a high enough profile to be able to publicize a certain approach just by idly announcing it on their website.

But that’s speculation on a different matter than what I’m doing right now, which involves — as I demi-romantically like to see it — freeing up all these files that have been sitting around, waiting to be listened to but for the most part just sitting around. Now, most of them will remain unheard in their new home as well — there just isn’t enough time in the day — but being able to call up random songs is always very entertaining. And this itself is not a new thing at all — these past few years, as assumptions about music have radically changed, so too have the methods of consumption.

Tackling another bit from my essay:

The album model is not set in stone, but a creation of the technologies and limitations available in the mid-century: how much you could fit on any one side of a vinyl slab, the attendant size of the product and need to create art or design works of that size, and so forth. As much as vinyl fetishists kicked against the compact disc dominance of the last two decades, CDs at least fit a familiar listening model still. The rise of this new model, which like every other musical medium will get increasingly cheaper and with wider access for both purchasing and actual creation of music, is a much different kettle of fish. Uniform ‘releases’ may become increasingly irrelevant when two different consumers judge the same batch of songs from an artist and select only those which please them, and therefore only keep those. If one person’s Album X is different from another’s, and both are notably different [in amounts of songs, running order, whatever] from ‘the Album X sessions’ database all tracks were downloaded from, the potential implications for both albums as an artifact and the methods in which recorded music collections are criticized will play out for years to come.

My biggest mistake here was of course the assumption of a base album as still being a big priority — it is in some corners, but not as much anymore. My ‘Album X sessions’ idea has played out but only in a very limited sense for a specific audience — for instance, New Pornographers fans, given the release of the ‘Executive Edition’ of Challengers. But the new model — driven of course in large part by Apple, but the Amazon mp3 Store provides a new model in turn — is increasingly becoming the model, tied up as it is with the assumption of entertainment as digitally-driven and downloaded, something that constantly gaining further ground in an overlapping series of waves.

I’ll have some more thoughts tomorrow about all this, and how I’ve been looking at all this process as I rip and transfer and store and finally fully create my new ‘record collection’ as such.

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