Listening versus collecting

peanuts several hearings

[This is something I wrote on my Dreamwidth account this weekend but thought I’d revise it and post it here as well.  I don’t repost all that often, but figured this was something worth talking about here at WiS.]

I was thinking recently about the way I’ve been listening to music over the last few years. No big surprise there.

As far as expensive habits go, at least I’m not collecting cars that I won’t drive, or picking up housewares that I’ll never use. And I’ve always been pretty frugal about it, very rarely spending an absurd amount in one go.  I’ve gotten pretty good at finding sweet deals.  The more tunage I can get for my money, the happier I am.

But at the same time, I know I’ve made some purchases over the years where I’d probably have been better off streaming instead of buying, or maybe purchasing an album track or two.  These are albums that I liked but don’t listen to all that often.  Sometimes it’s the sound of the band that fascinates me, but the song or album as a whole doesn’t make an impression.  In the past, these would have been cds that I most likely would have brought to the record store in exchange for credit, but as I’m mostly a downloader these days, that method is impossible.

I was also thinking about some of the radio stations I’ll listen to online. There are some that have an interesting mix that keeps my interest, and there are others that adhere to a set rotation to the point where I get bored easily.  One particular station I’m thinking of was a favorite of mine, but now I rarely listen to them because they’ve been playing the same songs for the past 2-3 years that I’m not really a fan of.  As a former radio person, I understand the idea of set rotation, but it needs to be recycled after a few months otherwise you’ll lose a portion of your audience who really doesn’t want to hear that same damn Lumineers song for the 374,539,453rd time.

I also feel like I’m not quite immersed in the sounds when my listening habits are stretched too thin. Don’t get me wrong, there are some years where a ton of great albums come out and I love them all, but there’s only so many hours in the day where I can listen to the albums. Not to mention that I’m not listening to current albums all the time…sometimes I want to listen to something from a few decades ago, or a different genre altogether. For instance, I’ve been listening to the Beatles channel on SiriusXM lately because a) c’mon, it’s the Beatles, and b) it was a refreshing change from all the noise I’ve been trying to escape.

Perhaps my collecting habits are getting the best of me. There are moments where I’ll be a little too focused on trying to find a band’s entire discography and not enough on their music. The idea that I’d listen to their full work is there, but it doesn’t always work out…it really does depend on how connected I am to the music. I never really wanted to be a music collector for the sake of owning something — I find that a bit wasteful and pointless. This is precisely why I’ll pass on collectibles if I already own the songs.

Is this partly due to wanting to recapture the excitement of turning to a station and hearing favorite songs? Who knows. It might be part of it. But it’s definitely my collecting habits getting the best of me. I need to rein them in again.  I love buying albums on release days, but I don’t necessarily have to do so.  That’s partly why I signed up for Amazon Prime, so I could stream the albums where I’m on the fence.

This of course doesn’t mean that I’m giving up buying music I love; it’s merely that I need to be smarter about it.

Get off your ass and jam

So apparently I did have a slice or two of P-Funk in my collection….just not the originals.

(samples “(Not Just) Knee Deep”)

(samples “Pumpin’ It Up”)

(samples “Let’s Play House”)

(samples “Man’s Best Friend”)

(samples “Mothership Connection”)

(samples “Come in Out of the Rain”)

(samples “Atomic Dog”)

(samples “Get Off Your Ass and Jam”)

Giving some of those early Funkadelic albums a listen and OH MAN are they tight. I have no idea why I didn’t get to them sooner.

Do I really listen to that much music?


The new 4TB external doing its thing on top of my dusty PC

So yesterday I started to move my mp3 collection to my new external hard drive.  Originally I thought, hey, why not just do a block copy-and-paste all at once? and tried copying bands A through M.  After about twenty minutes the status said ‘5% done; time remaining, 11 hours.’  That lasted until Depeche Mode, when the PC went to sleep last night.  That was easily rectified of course, and I’m now going via small blocks of letters (it just finished N through P a few seconds ago).

So why am I doing this?  Well, I think my externals are just getting worn out.  Currently the collection is on two smaller 1TB externals and I’m starting to have issues with the PC reading one of them.  It’ll work, but if the PC happens to go into sleep mode for any reason, the connection will get all wonky.  No fear, though!  Every mp3 is also copied to a third 2TB external whose sole purpose is to simply be backup storage.  Nothing has been lost!

But seriously, though…why 4 terabytes?  Isn’t that a bit excessive?  Well, no.  It’s a very comfortable amount of space for a collection that’s slowly been expanding for almost forty years.  It gives me space for what I have already and an equal amount of space for any future purchases, rips, or downloads.  [Especially now that I rip my cds at the max bitrate of 320 kbps.  I’m not too snobbish about bitrate, but the higher it is, the better, clearer and louder the sound quality.  And I usually stick with mp3 format instead of FLAC or anything else, simply because it’s space saving and I don’t hear too much of a difference.]

But that still begs the question: do I really listen to that much music?

Well, I don’t listen to every single song in my collection on a daily basis, no.  That would be impossible.  It’s more of a library than just a collection, anyway.  I use it not just for entertainment but for background while I’m writing.  I use it for reference with my music-related writing.  And I share it with a few people on my Plex server so they get to listen and enjoy my tunage as well.  A. likes to listen to stuff occasionally via that route while she’s working.  Not everything gets heavy rotation play, but my library is big enough where I can shift that rotation and keep it fresh.

But yeah. I really do listen to that much music.  If I don’t have a streaming radio station going, I’m probably listening to a certain batch of albums.  Currently I’m going through a bunch of the 2016 albums in preparation for my eventual Best Of list next month.

Some people love vintage cars.  Some love special edition books.  Some love collectible figurines.

Me?  I love music.

Any Day is Record Store Day


John Cusack in ‘High Fidelity’


As you’ve probably figured out (or remembered from last year’s LJ missive), I’ve decided to give Record Store Day a pass from here on in, as it’s pretty much become the antithesis of what I feel about record stores.  I bring this up because it’s about that time of year, and the online music blogs are starting to talk about it again.

Back in the late 00’s, RSD was conceived as a way to celebrate the then-struggling record industry, a day for everyone to head over to their local shop, peruse the aisles and come home with some nifty deals and some sweet music.  I was on board for that, considering my own spending habits.  [Hell, just recently I was going through some old bank paperwork and found my checkbook register from 2003-4 — the number of times I hit Newbury Comics during that time was astounding.]  You can still find my 2008 comment in the Public Quotes section of the website (I’m the third quote down here).

Nowadays, I feel this celebration is less about remembering how cool record stores are, and more about that really cool collector’s edition 7″ (only 1000 printed!) of songs I have already but DUDE IT’S RED VINYL.  Really, I’m not kidding — check out the ‘special releases’ for this year.  And that’s just the US listing…other participating countries have even more, sometimes bigger lists.  Not to mention that it’s no secret that many of these end up on eBay at inflated prices before the sun goes down.

Now, I really hate to be cynical about this, I really do.  But last year when I went over to Amoeba to enjoy perusing the bins like I always do, I realized there was no way in hell I’d be able to do so.  The reason was that many of the outer aisles were blocked by an insanely long line of about four hundred people, arms full to bursting with the same collector’s edition purchases and not a single item from the bins. Others not in line were blocking the inner aisles, chatting away and comparing collector’s edition finds and other rarities they’d found over the years.  I gave it about twenty minutes before I walked out of the store, pissed off and emptyhanded.

I never do that.  Not at a record store.  I’ll at least have one or two items in hand when I leave.

SO.  I submit this:  Any day can be Record Store Day if you want it.

Heading to the local shop shouldn’t just be about getting the collector’s edition…not that I’m dismissing those, but I’m of the mind that music shopping isn’t just about getting that rare item.  It’s about finding that cd in the dollar bin that you’d completely forgotten about for a decade or so, with all the memories of that release flooding back to you from out of nowhere.  It’s about seeing what’s hot and what’s not.  It’s about putting those beat-up headphones over your ears to sample a few songs before you buy.  It’s about finding a nifty present for your sister or your husband or your mom or whoever.  It’s even about buying that tee-shirt of that band you’ve just fallen in love with.

And you can do that any time.  Hell, even if you don’t have a local record store you can get to (which, in all honesty needs to be rectified STAT!), head to the band’s or the label’s website and order the cd direct.  Donate to a PledgeMusic or a Kickstarter or a Patreon event, watch the band in the process of recording that album, and get a copy in your hands when it’s all done.  Check out some of the great no-label indie releases on BandCamp.  There’s a shitload of great sounds out there, if you’re willing to search for them.

Because really–it’s about the bands, when you get down to it.  The record store is where they sell their wares.  It’s where you’ll find what you want and need.  And you can do that any day of the week.


Collecting: The Black Hole of the Dollar Bins


This past weekend A. and I headed over to the Haight to stop at Amoeba Records.  Her motive for going there has been to search for older Doctor Who serials and other BBC television series, while mine (as always) has been to scour the bins for music.

This time out I was looking for albums by Sinéad O’Connor and Saint Etienne to bulk up my collection, and I knew I’d find both in the dusty dollar bins hidden way in the back western quadrant of the giant store.  I wasn’t let down, either–I found three of O’Connor’s albums I needed (a fourth was found used in her regular bin for $7), and I found a lot more Saint Etienne than expected (plus grabbed two further albums for $4 each in their regular bin).  Further browsing in the store brought up a few more ‘why do I not have this yet?’ albums.  All told, I must have spent about $30 on 14 cds, which is not bad at all.

I have two days off surrounding my birthday in a few weeks.  There’s a good chance I may head there for a second round.

I’m a sucker for dollar bins, I’ll be the first to admit it.  I don’t mind if the jewel case is scuffed up or slightly cracked, or if the cd is a bit worn–as long as it sounds good.  It’s about the music for me.  I’m well-versed in digging for gold in these bins, and I have no problem with spending a good two or three hours getting dirty and dusty doing it.  Back in my nearly-broke days in early 90s Boston, I was a regular at Nuggets, Planet, In Your Ear and Looney Tunes, and back then my finds were all cassettes and albums.  I could buy a dozen full length albums for less than twenty dollars.  And in the late 90s and early 00s, I’d continue to make monthly runs to Boston to find sweet deals.  My record collection was age-worn and scratchy, but it was also damned huge and well-rounded.

Here’s the trick:  the dollar bins are often full of albums that are at least ten to twenty years old, so if you’re in need of that classic album from 1993 that you never got around to buying, chances are it’s in there, the original versions given away now that their former owner ripped them to their computer or bought the remastered-with-extra-tracks editions.  This was the same when I used to do the Boston runs:  in the early 90s, I could easily build up my 70s classic rock collection; in the late 90s it was the 80s pop; in the 00s it was all the Britpop I was too broke to buy first time out.

At this point I’m realizing things have come full circle, as I’m now finding all the albums from my tenure at HMV in the late 90s.  I see titles I once owned either as promo copies or bought at a discount, but I also see many that I’d completely forgotten existed.  On multiple occasions I’ve pulled out a cd and stared at it for a second, that memory connection suddenly refreshed and clear.  And they’d get dropped into my basket.

Yeah, I’m well aware that dollar bin diving is pretty much a lost art now, considering the current state of music downloading, streaming and sharing, but think of it this way–that copy of Boston that you used to have on vinyl and never got around to picking up on cd?  You could either download it from Amazon or iTunes for the midline price it usually goes for (as of this writing it’s one of Amazon’s monthly $5 titles)…or you could buy the dollar bin copy for $1.99.  If you’re a compulsive music collector like I am, this was, is, and shall always be one of your favorite sections in the store.

[Okay, I’ll add this as well: I’m not out to cheat the musician, far from it.  I know they don’t get diddly from used sales, obviously.  My point here is Buying On a Budget, whether you’re a completist and buy in bulk like me, or have limited cash flow.  By all means, if you have the funds to pay the bands, please do so, and they will thank you.  And they’ll be able to stay together and record more neat stuff for your waiting ears.]

So this April, when you’re heading to whatever shop for Record Store Day, spend a little more time than that ten minutes grabbing your RSD Collectible goodies and that hour waiting in line to pay for them.  Spend more time in the regular bins, reacquainting yourself with your favorite bands and others you’ve never quite gotten around to listening to.  And spend a good three or four hours in those dusty dollar bins (and provide your own Wet-Naps).  You’ll be surprised what you might find.

Songs in the key of life

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve gone past the point of being a music collector and should now consider myself an archivist.

I say this, having gotten to the point where I am now fulfilling my eMusic points by downloading albums that I’d never gotten around to buying in the past.  More specifically, I’m downloading a handful of pop albums from the 70s and 80s that I once listened to as a teen, as well as a  handful of recent pop albums.  Just the other day I downloaded the three Wham! albums, two Billy Idol albums, Robert Palmer’sRiptide(the one with “Addicted to Love”, for those playing along), and Mr. Mister’sWelcome to the Real World.  And just today, thanks to Amazon’s one-day 99-cent mp3 sale, I now own Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream.

But the willing forfeiture of my IndieCred™ card isn’t the point here.  My point is that my music collection has grown quite absurdly large, thanks to the ripping of purchased cds and downloads over the last eight or so years, building complete discographies (sometimes down to the single level).  I’ve always been a completist, ever since the days when I searched for all the Beatles band and solo albums and singles as a kid.  Sometimes I’ll just buy a few tracks of the band if I’m not a big fan, but more often than not I’ll eventually end up buying their entire catalog.

There’s something to be said about buying an album that I’ve always wanted to pick up, or finding a sweet deal on an album I’ve been curious about, but why am I grabbing all of these tracks?  Am I ever going to listen to any of them any time soon?  I actually did a quick tally to see how many tracks I have and how long it would take for me to listen to all of them at least once, and came up with just shy of one full year.  Suffice it to say, I have a ridiculous amount of music.  At present I probably have over 100,000 tracks.  A good many of them are doubles or even triples (or more) due to my creating the mp3 version of the band’s single release, or its presences on one of my many mixtapes recreated as a playlist.  There’s also the box sets, soundtracks, and compilations, and albums owned by my wife.  Still, that’s a lot to contend with.  I’m surprised I still have some space left on the drive it’s on.

But again, why do I have so many, and why am I still collecting? Well, why not?  It’s a hobby–not quite a full-blown obsession, at least not as bad as it once was–and it’s one that I truly enjoy.  There are always new bands coming out with new releases, and old bands that I’m finally discovering, and records I used to have on vinyl and never transferred to digital.  Part of the interest comes from the creativity of music and the emotions it can evoke.  I love it when a piece of music moves me emotionally, be it classical or alternative or rock, and I especially love it when a song blows me away.  Even more so when a whole album can do that.  Part of it also comes from the history of not just the band, but history itself.  The story of how a song was created as an emotional response to an event is fascinating–such as Neil Young’s heartbreak and anger over the Kent State shootings causing him to write “Ohio” as a form of both protest and release.  The history of the many genres of rock music are fascinating as well, as is the history of radio, at least to me, at any rate.  That’s why I’m currently writingWalk in Silence.

Then there’s just the fact that I love a good life soundtrack.  I love having music playing in the background, and it definitely comes with my upbringing.  My mom always had the radio on in the kitchen when she was cooking, and my dad always had the radio on downstairs in the basement when doing research.  My sisters also listened to the radio quite a bit when I was a kid.  Added to the fact that nearly all of us have a bit of musical ability to some degree, it’s hard to stay away from it.  Our family was always surrounded by it.  It only made sense that I’d eventually bring it to its logical conclusion by collecting the things I listened to.  It wasn’t enough for me to be a casual buyer of music, I had to go the whole hog.  I could never understand how others could just own a handful of tapes or records, most of them in sad shape.  They were missing out!

As I continue to download more songs and expand the collection even more, I realize that I’m at the point where I’m coming close to being an archivist.  My father collects information about our home town as a local historian.  I’m collecting music to create an ongoing library much in the same way now.  I’m no longer thinking of music collecting as a way to feed my urge to buy the latest thing or keep up with the hits; I’m actually at the point where I’m collecting them to make sense of my life, and life in general.

WiS Notes – Collecting

When I started my research for the Walk in Silence project last year, I’d decided to write some personal notes and reflections on how college radio affected me in the late 80′s.  It was a brief overview of what I want to cover in this book that lasted for twenty-five installments, a sort of a detailed outline of memories, thoughts on influential (to me) bands and albums, friendships, and such.  I’ll be posting these sporadically on the site over the next few weeks or so.



My parents were enablers.  Well, that, and I was insistent that they buy me such-and-such’s album.  Still, it wasn’t in a bad way that they enabled my music addition.  When we went shopping at the local mall, I’d gravitate to the music stores while my mom shopped for clothes and my dad spent his time in the bookstores.  They didn’t mind that I went alone, because they knew that’s where I’d be and where I’d stay until they came to get me.

My first collection, of course, was the Beatles.  After receiving the Blue Album (1967-1970) as a Christmas gift, I started my search for Beatles albums I needed to complete the discography.  They came from varied areas—Help! came from my uncle, Abbey Road and a few others from the local department stores, still others from tag sales, flea markets, and elsewhere.  The Beatles were the first band where I went out of my way to acquire a complete discography (including various bootlegs).  It wasn’t enough to get the US catalog that was available at the time…I had to find the rare b-sides like “The Inner Light” and “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)”…the ones that hadn’t been released elsewhere.

Once I started actively listening to music—sometime around 1981 or 1982—and more to the point, around the time I’d started taping stuff off the radio (1983-4 or so), that’s when I really started the collecting thing.

Part of it was due to acquiring various music reference books or taking them out of the library, and part of it was due to the info on new releases that radio deejays would give out.  Most of it was from the books, though.  And once I started listening to college radio, a lot of it came from a copy of the Trouser Press record guide form the local library (and then my own, once I found it at a book store).

Once I had all this info, I would wonder what those albums sounded like—not to mention what the covers looked like, since the stores in my town obviously never carried them.  That sort of sparked, or at least fed, the mystique of college radio as something nocturnal [more on that later].

About 1984 onwards, my dad would let me buy an album or a cassette or two while on our roadtrips.  Most of them were popular, easy-to-find titles like Purple Rain, Born in the USA and so on.  It wasn’t until 1986, after I started listening to college radio, that the collecting really kicked in.  One of the first acquisitions was the cassette version of The Cure’s Standing on a Beach—the one with the b-sides on it.  I figured that would be a good place to start. (Amusingly enough, when I heard “Let’s Go to Bed”, I immediately remembered that song from the early days of MTV.  Small world, and that wasn’t the last time that would happen.)  That soon led to other first acquisitions—The Smiths’ Hatful of Hollow (found at a record store in North Adams), Depeche Mode’s “Shake the Disease” single (found in a cutout bin at a K-Mart in Leominster!), and others.

Truthfully, I really had no real idea who to look for, since I was new to the genre.  I basically looked for who I recognized from Trouser Press (or was mentioned in Star Hits, the teen music magazine I read at the time), or who I heard on college radio or on Night Flight and later on 120 Minutes.  That would explain why I gravitated towards the more well-known of the bands—The Cure, Depeche Mode, and The Smiths.

Another way of collecting was via those record clubs one used to see advertised in TV Guide and in newspaper inserts.  I believe RCA was the first one I joined, sometime around early 1987.  By then I had a few part-time jobs—one had been at Victory Supermarket downtown, and later at the local YMCA.  What little funds I got from that job that didn’t go into a savings account went to my pocket.  That was my money for music magazines, candy, and the occasional cassette or LP, and also the money used so I could pay off the music club.  I bought a small number of albums and ordered things for my sisters as well.  One early purchase from them was World Party’s Private Revolution on cassette.  I believe I also snagged a few albums on vinyl that were on sale.

I quit RCA around late 1987 when my friend Chris tried to get extra albums by signing his friends (read: me and a few others) to join Columbia House.  I decided to join that one basically because it had a better selection—that is, RCA was more mainstream and CH was more adventurous in their selection.  I stayed with them  until college started, I believe, and finally quite for good sometime in 1991.

Back to stores—I spent most of my money at the mall stores, simply because they were more accessible.  The Strawberries at Searstown Mall in Leominster had a great selection (I’d buy many major-label titles there like Music for the Masses, Love Hysteria, Flaunt It (the vinyl version), and so on).  There were two at separate ends of the Hampshire Mall in Hadley—the one at the western end next to JC Penney (whose name I’ve forgotten) had a great selection.  I remember being pleasantly surprised (and the cashier indifferent) when I found Love Tractor’s This Ain’t No Outerspace Ship on cassette there, soon after I heard it on WMUA.

My foray into the independent stores came early, specifically when I started looking for Beatles bootlegs.  That’s Entertainment in Worcester was one such place my Dad took me in the early 80s.  That was a neat store, because it carried a lot of their hard-to-find solo albums, like the early pre-Plastic Ono Band discs that John Lennon did with Yoko.

I think it must have been soon after I started listening to college radio that my dad brought me to Al Bum’s—first to the one on in Worcester, then to the one in Amherst—and soon after that, to Main Street Records in Northampton.  Al Bum’s was a local mini-chain of new and used titles, and definitely catered to the college crowd.  And since we didn’t go to Worcester as much as we did the Pioneer Valley (mostly due to ease of driving there), so the one in Amherst became a hangout.  I found a few Beatles boots there, and later many alt.rock titles I’d been looking for.

By association, we also went to a storefront that was originally an outlet of a Noho store called Faces.  That store in particular carried the usual proto-Hot Topic clothes and accessories (I was into silly pins back then, as everyone was).  In the back, there was a small record store-within-a-store (sort of like the old fashioned Five and Dimes) called For the Record.

It was here that once I’d started buying more college rock titles, I’d find some great titles to add to my collection.  One was Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s Flaunt It which I’d heard about through Star Hits.  Another was The The’s Soul Mining, which I’d picked up after buying Infected elsewhere (possibly at a mall store).  Flaunt It would end up being one of my life-changing purchases (so to speak), as not only did the music excite me and inspire my rebellious streak, I’d meet a whole new group of friends after writing a review of it in the school paper [more on that later as well].

Once I started hanging with that group, it became a weekend thing to drive down to Amherst and/or Northampton to hang out.  These people were just shy of a year from graduating high school, so they of course gravitated to the Five College area (instead of roadtrips to, say, Keene or Leominster or Worcester).  The Valley’s ambience grabbed us and fit our mindsets perfectly.

We made Al Bum’s our second home, as well as Main Street Records.  Not to say that’s all we did, of course—we did go to the movies, eat out (the Panda East in Amherst was a favorite), and basically hung out, like any high school group.  Just that mine had a few core members who were as big on the music as I was, and we gravitated to the music stores most of the time.

Of course, the collecting wasn’t always about buying.  In our own way we were guilty of ‘Home Taping Is Killing Music’ by borrowing each others’ tapes and vinyl, and dubbing them onto cheaply bought blank tapes we’d buy at Radio Shack or the department store or wherever.  It almost became a ritual to let each other know who had what and borrow it throughout the course of the year.  For the most part we were good about it, borrowing on a Friday and getting it back to them on a Monday.  By the time my friends graduated high school, we were dubbing in earnest, trying to level off each others’ collections before everyone left in the fall.

At that point, in the late 80s, my penchant for collecting wasn’t as intense as it was later on…I was content to search for albums and not every single minutiae that got released.


August 31 – September 10, 2010