Over the last 20 years I have grown a small digital library. It was never my intention to have one. I listen to CDs and I buy records that had material not available on CDs, which [ideally] I would eventually digitize and burn to archival CD-R. CDs were great for me because they freed me from the time and expense of recording records to chrome bias tapes and then playing the tapes for listening. Switching freed up about 20% of my music budget – which went a way towards the greater cost but also greater convenience of the format. 2001 arrived and so did the iPod. I could have cared less. I had thousands of CDs that would need a box of iPods to fill with everything I had. I was never a Walkman person. I don’t like having headphones on, shutting out the world, if I can help it. So I never bought into the concept music on me at all times. Besides, my brain does that trick all by itself with no conscious effort!
iTunes Got A Foothold
But as my music budget also decreased since I was no longer working in software development as I had in the 80s-90s, the occasional purchase of a DL from the iTunes store helped me avoid buying a $13-15 CD for the one track I needed for a collection. Not the way I’d prefer to do things but it had a certain expediency. Over the naughts, I may have bought <100 downloads. Much of the material was only available in that way. Mostly remixes for “the collection.” And bands started to release tracks on the web as freebies that were rare or otherwise unavailable material. This also slowly grew the digital library, though it was always a footnote to my collecting. One thing to mention is that I never actually played much of my downloads. If I’m sitting in front of a desktop in my free time, I’m generally involved in digitizing/denoising vinyl, so that precludes listening to anything in the iTunes library. Looking at my playback stats recently revealed that some DL only tracks in there have played as many as 16 times over a 20 year period. It’s just not how I listen to music.
Look at that damning screen capture above. It says that there are 4114 files in my 21 year old iTunes library. I’m so old I still refer to it as iTunes, not “Music.”The capture above is of the total library with the scroll bar at roughly 11%. It shows all of the songs at that relatively high level of playback popularity at 2-3 plays for the lot of them. Scrolling down to the 25-30% mark reveals that everything under that level has been imported into the library yet never played! And this is a library that’s over 20 years old! I’ve had this library since buying my 2nd Macintosh; a used 1998 blue + white G3 Mac Pro in 2000. My library has lasted through a total of four Macs over the last 23 years. For many years there was only the very occasional track I would buy from iTunes populating it at under 100 songs!
Blogging Made A Difference
In 2010 I started blogging about music and that fact, more than anything, has made my digital library grow to the point where it is today. From 128 songs, where it had languished for the first 5-8 years to 4114 now. With almost two weeks worth of music to listen to. Once I started getting promo downloads I needed to review, this grew the library bigger as well. That same time I was doing web development and needed to test responsive sites on a mobile platform, and not having an interest in owning a cellphone or especially a smartphone, I compromised and got an iPod Touch. Which rarely had music on it, but it was the only way to listen to promo DLs in order to review them for the blog. 90% of my listening is in the car on my work commute, so it’s vital that I be able to listen to music there.
At other times, I wanted to review a 12″ single in the Record Cell for the blog, and making a quick and dirty rip to the computer and adding the art in iTunes got it on the iPod Touch reasonably fast. Over time, I discovered the miracle of ClickRepair software and that managed to give me excellent results in a blindingly fast framework as compared to manually removing clicks as I used to have to do. Making excellent sounding files with artwork in my library might take as little as 20 minutes for a 12″ single if fortune smiles on me.
So in the last decade, my iTunes library had probably doubled with lots of vinyl only material from my racks that in many cases had gone unheard to for decades as I tended to build complete collections of rarities for an artist, and then make a box of material at one time. Here’s a grim vision of mortality…I’m now too old to wait 20 years to listen to a record , so I tend to process the collection for listening a bit more fast. Most of my DL purchases over the years switched from iTunes to the superior Bandcamp platform. I loved that I could download material in CD quality or any flavor of compressed. That segment of the market is exploding with material that will never be on CD. Also, as I am aging, the reality is that a large collections is not an elderly man’s game. I’m already curtailing my purchases severely for the last two years. I don’t shop for music in the pandemic. I can certainly imagine the day when all of the CDs and records are gone, with only my digital library being evidence that they were ever there at all.
Wireless Networks Proliferating
Ours was never a television household. I stopped watching in 1993, and my spouse was fine with no TV, save for what we watched on LaserDisc, then DVD. But pandemic killed the movie theater for us, and by that time, many films we wanted to see were being commissioned by Netflix which tended to dawdle if not ignore coming to DVD. So in 2021, we got a cheap, used, HDTV and an Apple TV. This had the side effect of being able to stream the iTunes library to the living room sound system. So I will occasionally do that if there’s something there I would like to listen to. And I recently asked my wife to buy me a bluetooth speaker so that when I am outside of or on top of the house working on projects, I can stream music for some extra enjoyment. So in 2022, I am finally using my digital library. It’s still adjacent to my main listening, which continues to be CD format. The 2018 car I bought last year was joyously decked out with every possible option to enjoy music: aux in, BT, CD player!
I bought a cheap, used iPhone SE when I thought I was going to take a trip to England and Wales in March of 2020 since I couldn’t imagine doing that trip without easy web access. In spite of my long term dislike towards cell/smart phones [and especially their bills]. And that gets the DL material on it for the car, when needed. I like that the car has an aux minijack, since I would never pair my phone with my car; too many privacy issues get trampled by the car’s computer systems which tend to suck down your phone data without much care for keeping it secure. So in 2022, I have a flat screen TV and a smartphone. I probably listen now to my digital library more than ever, if only 5-10% of the time. Evidence of how this curmudgeon has moved, grudgingly, with the times. Wither music streaming?
I still want nothing to do with streaming music in spite of now streaming movies/entertainment on the flat screen TV I never planned to have. Streaming music still represents an inconvenient, expensive, and off-putting way to interface with music. How is $10/month expensive, you may ask? Well, it represents data usage above that cost on my phone. Naturally I have an unlocked, contract-free phone. I buy my voice/data on an as needed basis from my chosen vendor at roughly $12.50 a month for the piddling amount of data I use while mobile. The phone gets email and message usage but I only use the web when mobile when I need vital info on the move.
So I can still not imagine ever streaming music. My cells recognize it as an alien way to forge a relationship to music. But as I can see, looking back at my recent history, that I should never say never. Join me in 15 years time and well see what tune I’m singing.