One aspect of music fandom/appreciation/worship/whatever is collecting. In our day and age, having a collection is not at all necessary. Collections of anything are cumbersome – they take up space, they cost money, they are at risk to perils like flood and fire, and they cost money.
I came up in the old days, when everyone had a music collection. And I’ve maintained one most of my life, from when I started piling up cassettes in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s. (Thanks, fake names and Columbia House!)
I would quickly move to CDs as the ease of use over tapes was massive. No more rewinding or fast-forwarding the end of a side, just let the album play. The CD would be my primary music format for a long time, probably from 1992 through to 2017.
Then there is the matter of the vinyl record. I would be exposed to vinyl at an early age – it was abundant in the early ’80’s. It was still for sale at retail along with cassettes and the just-emerging CD. I messed around with my parents’ collections, including a bunch of old 45 singles. That was mostly popular ’70’s stuff like Fleetwood Mac and Heart.
I would wind up with a handful of my own records. I ended up with a stack of Sammy Hagar’s solo records that had originally belonged to my deceased uncle (sadly I no longer have those). I also wound up with other relatives’ hand-me-down records. I do recall having multiple copies of Boston’s first album and Frampton Comes Alive! There was some, uh, other stuff in there too – I kinda recall Captain and Tenille as well as a bit of Barbra Streisand. But overall I got some pretty good classic rock scores from my betters.
Then, of course, everything changed in the 2000’s. The digital music revolution hit – first as a pirated fileshare mechanic, then as a legit sales source innovated by Apple. What used to take up a lot of space on shelving could fit on a hard drive, on an iPod, and later on a phone.
I did not go quickly or quietly into the digital age – I went late as hell, kicking and screaming the whole way. “Only physical formats are real! I’d rather die with an 8-track in my hand than play an MP3!” I’m sure I said a bunch of other stupid shit, too.
Eventually I would give in and truly join the digital wave. In 2008 a buddy of mine upgraded his iPod and sold me his old one. And yeah, I finally understood it. I don’t think I need to explain the nuances of digital music versus physical formats. Can’t play your records on a drive or a stroll through the park, we all know that.
I never did fully adopt buying digital music, though. I kept with the CD as my main purchase point and I wound up with a collection of about 800 before I finally got sick of looking at so many plastic cases taking up so much space. I still haven’t moved on from them to this day but I’m on the verge of actually downsizing and keeping only the ones I really want.
Of course I’m not going to be left without a physical format to collect, and I’m sure most know what every good hipster got into back several years ago. Yes, friends, the LP record is back in business.
I had been buying records occasionally over the years and I finally made the switch to it as my primary format a few years ago. I got a bit panicked by the collectibles price spike of 2020 and quickly fleshed out my Iron Maiden collection, and also bought a bunch of other stuff because fiscal responsibility is for losers.
As I sit today I do still buy records. Hell, I occasionally buy a CD because it’s cheap and I might need to evaluate it for a future project of some sort. But, like a lot of people, the allure of streaming music isn’t lost on me. I use Spotify pretty regularly to keep up on new releases and visit past music I don’t own or explore scenes and genres I haven’t previously had exposure to. And being blunt, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to give them 10 bucks a month than it is to drop a few hundred on any record I might possibly be interested in. I know there are issues of artist support there but I’ll let that thread hang for another time.
It’s been quite an adventure going down these twists and turns in how music is distributed. I like having a collection but I could point to more than a few reasons not to. At this point though I have some pretty cool pieces and there’s stuff I wouldn’t part with unless a total catastrophe hit. I still have a fair bit of Iron Maiden stuff I want to get and that’s before getting into the more expensive things out there. And even if I pare down how much I spend there are still boatloads of old, cheap albums out there I certainly wouldn’t mind having.
We’ll see what roads music takes in the future. The ultimate physical format, the vinyl record, prevailed just as it looked like physical collections were dead. But digital still serves the masses when it comes down to it. Is the next step a sort of neural implant, akin to something from Cyberpunk? Hard to say, but until then, I guess I’ll have some form of music taking up too much space in the house.