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The Big Takeover Issue #93
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My Music Collection Has Become a Forest

20 June 2007

I’ve probably thought, and written, too much in recent years about the practicalities of music-collecting, but still I persist. A few things lately have me thinking about the best ways to organize and keep track of my CDs, records, tapes and MP3 files. One is, of course, the ever-present issue of space (ever-present, that is, for big-city small-apartment-dwelling) – which only matters because I care some about the aesthetics of my home and thus don’t feel like living among stacks and stacks of music. Another is my ongoing quest to keep my music collection meaningful to me; to not keep getting more music just for the sake of having more things. But the third one was more of an event: this week my computer’s hard drive crashed and wiped out my iTunes library.

On the one hand, it makes me glad I haven’t given myself over to the computer era completely, though if I did so I certainly would have been better about keeping back-up copies. At the same time, I feel liberated somehow. My iTunes library is now a blank slate, ready to be built again. Most of the music came from my own CDs, anyway. It’s got me thinking, though, about how my music collection no longer resembles one collection, but a maze of interlocking collections. The iTunes library is like a mirror version of my CD collection, but only reflecting some of it back. But a mirror that also picks up other random things, and that changes day to day.

It’s similar to the other intersections among formats – the way I’ll have an album on CD, cassette and record, just because I kept coming across a cheap copy I couldn’t pass up, or because I forgot I owned it. How did I get so many different copies of Purple Rain, for example? Who’s to say – it’s a philosophical question. The music industry is certainly helping my collection become more of a forest, with all of their reissued and repackaged version of the same music (a trick I only sometimes fall for).

I’m feeling this growing desire for a map. It sounds ridiculous, really, but I’ve started the Sisyphus-like task of documenting every piece of music I own. Keeping a spreadsheet or database of it all: a foreign task for someone unmathematical and unorganized like myself. Never mind that I get more music, for reviewing or from purchasing, on a near-daily basis. Right now it feels like a worthwhile use of time…or am I experiencing one of illnesses you get from spending months wandering about un-navigable territory?

What does everyone else do? Is it only anal-retentive types with too much time on their hands who endeavor to keep track of everything like this, or has this become a necessity for those of us who aren’t ready to keep up on all the old formats, or aren’t ready to turn our cherished records and tapes into an untouchable digital format, to turn music into air?