Monastically Maintaining A Digital Library Of Music

itunes library
In over 20 years of this library, the most popular track has been played…17 times.

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.

just barely scrolling down through the 4114 tracks reveals pathetically low playback stats

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.


About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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8 Responses to Monastically Maintaining A Digital Library Of Music

  1. djjedredy says:

    I’m the opposite I have hundreds of CD’s that I never listen to anymore ! Weird as I listen to a lot to MP3’s and downloads from Bandcamp. My new car has no CD player and that was when I’d have a pile of old CD’s in the car set for the weekly commute. My last CD purchase was from I Start Counting / Fortran 5, re-issues of demo’s that I needed for the collection. Oh and the new Placebo that I got for my wife, but nothing since. It’s strange how listening habits change but like you I do’t get streaming, even though there are some rare things on Spotify. I need the digital pack with the artwork in.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      djjedredy – Bandcamp is an amazing environment. If all I could ever hear was music sold in that store, I think I could be happy [cue Altered Images]. That you can get CD quality tracks and/or compressed formats – even both if you want to, makes if the real winner for digital DLs. I sometimes buy CDs and LPs now, with the guarantee that if I buy the latter, I’m assured of CD quality downloads as well. Though those can be brickwalled [see: Vicious Pink: “West View”] necessitating a digital rip of the vinyl after all! Most US distributors no longer bundle DLs with LP purchases. Grrrr. But foreign vinyl often still provided them. Sometimes the same title on record [as in RSD titles] will have a DL card only in the UK but you’re left to your own devices in America!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. jsd says:

    i collected vinyl and cd’s all through the 80s. my vinyl acquisition exploded in the 90s when i started DJing. when my kid was born, we had to move house, so i sold or gave away almost all the vinyl (and turntables). i stubbornly clung to the cds, but finally last year they had to go too. boxes of them donated to charity. (along with the DVDs). i ripped everything to lossless. between that and Apple Music (which now has a full catalog of lossless music) that takes care of all my listening. I don’t need a box full of iPods as everything lives in iCloud. give me a brand new phone, i can sign in to my account and within seconds i have my full library at my fingertips.

    physical collecting was a large part of my life, but times change and so must i.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      jsd – I can see that a music server solution will be my terminus of listening to music [and probably my life as well] but for now I’m aiming to reduce my physical CD footprint by 20-30% and my records by maybe 10-15%…if I ever get the time to do this! My loved one like the “one in-one out” paradigm, but right now I’d be happier with 10-out, 1-in! Just having room on my racks for all of my CDs would be a feat. I can hold 2800 but have about 4000. Still, I’ve cut purchases to the bone recently. Overseas mail order has done much to curb my completing of collections.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tim says:

    I would ideally buy physical product however storage space is at a premium so now it’s limited to the very, very few things, mostly SDE type releases.

    I do not stream for a variety of reasons, chiefly that I already own most of what I want to listen to so why pay again to listen to it? The other reason is that the compensation rate for artists is pretty awful, at least the artists that I skew toward.

    I found Bandcamp about two years ago (I tend to be a slow adapter, even observer of new technology or sites) and really like it. The two things that I appreciate the most is that one is often able to stream/sample entire tracks or albums before buying and that their player is very easy to use (HELLO AMAZON, whose music player is designed to get you to waste time looking at more things to buy instead of actually using it to listen to music).


  4. the RAHB! says:

    I can say that I’ve not put a CD into a player in likely more than 8 years (barring the happy occasions when we’re all traveling together and I maybe toss a new purchase in the car’s player, while we’re all toolin’ around – `Dictatortots` anyone?).

    At home though? Everything is ripped to FLAC as quickly as possible and added to the file server (which makes it available to the various consumers in the house – HTPC, desktop players, etc.). If for some reason an item doesn’t happen to get ripped in a timely fashion, it simply isn’t heard; though once it is, odds are good I’ll make an immediate effort to give it a listen.

    The hard reality is that the only CD players in the house are those in our computers :)

    I’d say make the leap. Digitizing is a huge upfront investment, particularly when you care about keeping the quality high. In that case, EAC is your best friend – I don’t know if there’s a Mac version, but for those like me with an aversion to Windows, it runs great on Linux under Wine as well. Nothing says you have to do it all at once, in any event – just get a workflow going where, while you’re doing other stuff on the computer anyway, you’re absentmindedly swapping in CDs and ripping them in the background. It actually quickly becomes a habit you forget you’re doing.

    Once you’ve made the switch though, you’ll be amazed you ever messed with racks, and cases, and drawers, and all the attendant bother of CDs.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jon Chaisson says:

    When I moved out of New England I had probably a good couple thousand CDs on hand (plus loads of vinyl and cassettes from over the years), but all my PCs were far too small to save any of it digitally. Twenty years later, and I maybe have about 300 cds, all of them in storage, and I listen to all my music via mp3 now.
    Why the switch? Mainly space. We just did not have any, so I just started ripping and dubbing everything and downloading everything else. And I love the fact that my ridiculously large library fits nicely on an external drive the size of an index card!
    I’ll be honest, I’ve never bothered demanding the highest quality sound…I’m just as fine listening to third-generation copies, simply because most of my tunes growing up were cassette dubs and scratchy dollar bin purchases anyway! I’m more demanding about having the complete discography anyway, to the point of occasionally “building” singles and albums out of separate mp3s and tagging them with Discogs cover pictures. [My player of choice is MediaMonkey, which lets me tag the music with a full mm/dd/yyyy release date instead of just the year.]
    And as for streaming? I lurk around radio station live feeds for the most part (mainly KEXP) but I’ll also use various sites to check out releases before I buy. I’ll use Spotify now and again, but not all that often.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Jon Chaisson – Space is a premium in our tiny home. But I’d be lying if I said that just pulling some of my records off my racks and looking at them gives almost as much pleasure as hearing them. When I had to move them all last summer while we re-floored the home, it was actually exciting for me.


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