Originally published December 28, 2020
It used to be that a peek at someone’s CD collection was like a peek into their soul. Once you sifted through the standard in every 90s suburban kids’ collection (Nirvana “Unplugged,” “The Reservoir Dogs” soundtrack, Pearl Jam “Ten”) flipping through someone’s Case Logic was all the information you needed to have someone sized up properly.
But with the here-to-stay phenomenon of streaming music, so much of what made music a part of you is lost. Gone are the days of…
- spending 30 minutes longer than you should at a Best Buy vacillating between one CD that you know you will like because it has 8 songs on it that you recognize but costs 15 dollars and one that you’re taking a chance on because a friend you trust swears by the band and only costs 10.
- flipping through your aforementioned Case Logic and giving that album you haven’t listened to in months one more try.
- the aesthetic pleasure the CD covers provided as you flipped through your alphabetized or genre organized collection that hopefully didn’t include any burnt CDs.
Those times are in the past and as much as it pains me to admit, it’s probably for the best. After many years of refusing to stream music and holding onto my CD collection like Newman holding onto The Ukraine, practicality took over and I signed up with Spotify. And I guess I can say I have no regrets. Streaming music is awesome and just too easy to not like. What was my long play, anyway? Hand down my CD collection to my kids one day just so it could sit in their closets?
But with the deal you make with the Spotify devil you lose something that that you once had with your CD collection – the thrill of choice, risk and identity in music. What streaming offers you in unlimited power of total access, it lacks in propriety. Sure you have albums downloaded, playlists saved but those things don’t come close to being able to show off your CD collection and all its glory to anyone who is interested while defending your purchases as your friend fires away takes at your selections (Look, I was going through a 90s R&B phase at the time, alright!).
When you’re having to buy your own music there’s an ownership involved. There are stakes and consequences. Your CD collection is a message to its peruser that each choice, good or bad, didn’t come easy but in the end, it’s where you decided to spend your hard-earned 15 dollars that day. Sometimes your choices came easy. An album dropping on a certain day that you had been waiting for was a no brainer for you, but what about the CDs purchased on a pop in visit to a CD store? The ones you included in your collection based off of the sampling you gave it at the Blockbuster Music or the album from that band that you had always heard about (Think, Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon) and had finally built up the courage to enter into that new world. These choices weren’t made on a whim like you can with Spotify where there really is no such thing as choice. There’s just click, like, don’t like, keep or move on. The concept of ‘choice’ barely exists and offers you no skin in the game.
There is good news, however, for those that have entered the streaming world but long for the days when they could call their music their own – Get yourself a record player. This last year my ever-so-thoughtful wife bought me one for my most recent birthday, and my new/old music collecting hobby has since been reborn. I have now re entered the world of wandering into a good ole brick and mortar music establishment and soaking in the rush of making the tough decision of what part of their music selection is worthy to be a part of mine. In place of a CD tower, I now have a little crate that houses my records that’s just hidden enough to not be the feature of our living room but visible enough to be accessed when it’s time to put something on or to show it off to a friend. The thrill of music ownership is back, it just looks different.
Times have changed since my CD purchasing days, however, and with the gift of the record player and my current stage of life (not rich, wife, 3 kids) I had to give myself some rules. One of these rules is committing to not allowing myself to buy records that I already had in CD form. The advantage of doing this brings back another element that made CD buying so much fun: the risk. Every record I purchase is a chance, but what an adventure it is. Since records aren’t the easiest to skip through, this puts you at the mercy of the entire album. The forgotten joy of soaking every song on the album, thinking about how they flowed one after another, judging songs too harshly on their first listen only to return to them later and wonder what you were thinking. These are all moments I used to experience with every new CD purchase and they now have returned. This puts the fun pressure on your shoulders of making the right decision with whatever amount of money you have allotted for yourself on that given day so you better come correct.
With so many old feels coming back through record purchasing one new one has been added to the mix that most CD vendors couldn’t offer. The surprise element. If you’re popping into a record store, chances are most of what will be available to you is used, which means you never know what will be there and what won’t. Walking into a Circuit City wanting to buy that Pearl Jam CD you’ve been wanting to add to your collection didn’t provide much in the surprise factor since you could most likely head right to the Pearl Jam section and make that happen. But with records a large part of the thrill is the uncertainty of what will be available to you on that given day in that given store. (I didn’t know I wanted a Conway Twitty album when I came in here today but here is one and it’s only 5 dollars so I think I’ll be buying it)
It’s all such a glorious experience that I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a low cost, low energy hobby that you can grow bit by bit and recapture a lot of what you had with your back in the glory days of CD booklets, CD cover art, CD towers, pre-internet, Case Logic visors and claim what is rightfully yours – a musical identity.