Music collecting, and why we do it | Stuff.co.nz

Music collecting, and why we do it

Last updated 09:55 22/02/2010

I’ve been reading Wax Trash and Vinyl Treasures: Record Collecting as a Social Practice – and I’ll write more on the book later – for a few reasons (not least of all because I was interviewed for it). But for now, as I dip in and out of chapters, this quote appealed in terms of creating a topic of discussion:

Wax Trash and Vinyl TreasuresIt’s funny, this collecting thing. Although at one time I owned more than 10,000 records and probably half that many CDs (I have since jettisoned a lot of the vinyl), I never considered myself a collector. I was more of an accumulator. When people described record collecting as a ‘hobby’, I always winced. To me it was not a hobby like collecting coins or Star Trek memorabilia. To me it was a lifestyle, a passion. I did not seek out records because they were rare or valuable…all I ever cared about was the music. My job as editor of Goldmine introduced me to so much of it, in every genre, from every period. Goldmine to me has always been about the quest, and for three decades it has helped countless thousands satisfy their own quests, whatever they might be.
            – Jeff Tamarkin, Goldmine

Goldmine is for record collectors, similar to Record Collector.

I guess I saw (parts of) myself in that quote; could identify with it. But I jettisoned the CDs rather than vinyl.

As this book was being written, when I was interviewed for it a couple of times over the last few years, I thought a lot about my collecting…now that the book has been released I am thinking more about my collection.

The idea of having the most, of having everything was never an issue for me – that’s where I definitely identify with what Tamarkin says above (“all I ever cared about was the music”). And for me too it was never about seeing myself as a collector, I too was more an accumulator.

The size of my collection has changed, dramatically. It was much larger – now it is probably more focused. And of course now, despite calling it focused, it does sprawl across more formats.

I started buying cassette tapes. I would make copies of my parents’ records (“dubs”) and I would even dub other cassettes. I was about eight years old.

Tapes were the dominant thing for me – and I was buying them right up until I was 16. My dad told me I was stupid to continue buying tapes and that I had to move to compact discs. It was the mid-90s and I had to be told more than once, I was hardly a trailblazer…

Someone's Huge CollectionBy the time I finished high school and moved to university I had about 500 tapes – but had moved on to CDs. I played tapes in the car still – but I had about 80 CDs. The next time I counted CDs, into my second year of university I had towards 300.

A couple of years later I was working in a music store – so the staff discount was getting a solid workout. It didn’t take long for the number of CDs to rise to about 800.

And then I started reviewing CDs too…

I had this crazy notion, early on, that I must keep each and every CD for reference. Even the CDs I hated. This couldn’t last forever but it saw the collection really mushroom…that and $1 CDs from Real Groovy; I’d pick up random soundtracks, start adding classical music, find compilation albums that had one song I was after. I wasn’t quite a trainspotter but I was definitely accumulating.

At this point I was growing the vinyl collection too – I had a few of mum and dad’s old LPs, whatever they had left; had not already given away. And I was picking up records at garage sales; closing down sales, second-hand stores, things like that…I probably had 400-500 records.

But the CD collection was up around 6000. All meticulously catalogued and alphabetised. Classical music separated out from the other genres…

And then I started to run out of room.

And so the CDs went in boxes and went back to my folks’ place. And were buried under stairs. And were never played. And slowly, surely, felt like they were no longer part of any collection at all.

Music is made to be played – and sure you cannot play everything all the time. There are some things you keep even if you only want to hear them now and then. There are some things you keep to remind you that you never want to hear them again…but you nThe iPod Has Been A Smasheed to have a reason for hanging on to things. And it needs to come from a desire to hear the music – at some point – or to catalogue your own failures and triumphs (relationships, aspects of taste, memories both good and bad).

Someone else in the book Wax Treasures says that music collecting is “about the investment” – and they are speaking about the investment, primarily, of time and emotions, not the financial investment. But certainly people do put their money (as well as their life) into their collections.

So, now, CD-wise, if you came to my house you would find box-sets, soundtrack albums, compilations, local artists and classical CDs. These are the things I am not likely to want/need on my iPod. And they are the things I am likely to want/need for reference; for research. They are also the things that are harder to find again – in some cases. And some of them are special because they have been signed by the artist – or given as a gift. These are the things I have retained.

So many of the other CDs I bought with staff discount when working at a music store or were given to review, or bought – way back when – have been given away, have been traded in for new music or cash…or have been loaned out to others and never returned.

I can’t say I have given away anything I wish I had back. If I really want it again, I’ll go buy it again. Or I’ll borrow it from someone to remind myself of it – or I’ll find a clip of it online to re-familiarise myself.

There’s nothing like 6000 CDs anymore. I reckon I have about 1000, max.

But I do have a full 160Gb iPod. And a near-full 80Gb iPod. And I have two computers and two other external hard-drives with tunes on them. There are boxes and boxes of burns too – record company samples, mixDope!tapes that have been made for me, things I have copied myself. Most of them are kept – for reference. I periodically whittle these boxes down – give music away to people. But there are thousands of albums, still.

And the record collection – vinyl – must be getting towards 2000 LPs now.

So all up, I probably have around 10,000 albums of material. But it was never about naming a number. So much so that I no longer have the lists documenting the albums – I just have the album. Sometimes it’s a burnt CD, or an original. Sometimes it’s on vinyl or it’s an Mp3 – in some cases I have it across three or more formats…

But what about you?

How many albums do you own? And what formats do you collect them on? Do you still obtain albums – or do you only care about songs by artists? Are you a hard-drive music collector only? Or are you still vinyl/CD only?

And do you consider yourself a collector? Or are you just a listener/consumer? Are they the same?

And do you think the size of someone’s music collection is important? When does that become important?

And – for the record, as it were – how big is your collection?

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samm   #1   10:21 am Feb 22 2010

About 600 CDs in my collection (I haven’t counted for a while), all visible enough so that they will get a play once in a while. I think size of a collection is vastly less important than what is in it. I would say I am a listener/consumer more than a collector; I hear something I like, and go out and grab it (occasionally taking years to track something down). About 1000 of my favourite tracks have made it onto my MP3 player (its only 4GB). I am only slowly adopting the downloading tracks thing; I like inlays, and my CD collection is in no danger from a hardware failure.

Random   #2   10:28 am Feb 22 2010

I’ve got a reasonably large collection (no way near as big as that picture, maybe just half or 3/4 of the back wall) which is considerably larger than any of my friends. Although I am excluding the people who have basically ripped everyone elses music collection because they don’t count in my opinion. I’ve never counted them though so I have no idea how many I have. 99% of them I would’ve copied on to iTunes but it wouldn’t be an accurate count because of my partners albums and albums from other people that have ended up on my comp for various reasons.

Even though I’ve copied all my albums to iTunes I still keep the CD’s even though mp3 would be the predominant format I listen to, it doesn’t really feel like a collection without the physical CD. I do sometimes listen to CD’s in the stereo though if I’m playing a game on the computer where I don’t want the performance to suffer (albiet minor) with iTunes running.

Size is definitely important, I wouldn’t really call my partners dozen or so CD’s a collection. 5 or 6 years ago my CD collection dwarfed my DVD collection (not just music), now the reverse is the case. The growth rate of my CD collection has slowed considerably in the last few years and the DVD rate still seems to be accelerating (how do you say no to Seasons 1-5 of MacGyver for only $17 each?).

Cafe Chick   #3   11:05 am Feb 22 2010

I buy music carefully, often eyeing up an album for a while and hunting it out specifically. My occasional impulse buys are usually a case of spotting the right thing at the right time, or something I’ve wanted for a while. I decided a couple of years ago that there was no point keeping albums I didn’t like/ever want to listen to again just because I ‘should’ have it in my collection or it was the ‘right’ album to have and got ruthless: Trade Me collected a few success fees out of me. I then starting reinvesting the cash into expanding my collection a bit wider by introducing a few dozen jazz/blues/swing-style albums, along with The Beatles back collection. I haven’t counted, but I think I’m sitting on about 300 carefully selected CDs and around 6000 MP3s.

Although I mostly listen to MP3s on my iPod, I’m happier belting out my favourite CDs when no-one’s around. Oh, and despite occasionally threatening my mother with selling off her vinyl collection (she had a neighbour who worked for EMI in the 60s – lots of good freebies), I’d happily start playing some it if only I had a needle for Dad’s record player, lol.

Scott A   #4   11:08 am Feb 22 2010

Recently I’ve somewhat changed my music purchasing; a year ago I would’ve brought about 10 CDs to 1 downloaded album, now the proportion has completely reversed. However, any album I download I burn onto CD immediately (because I still have a car stereo and other stereos around the house that I can’t plug my MP3 player into).

I like having a wall of CDs in my lounge; I’ve also got boxes of tapes and vinyl in various cupboards and spare rooms. But with a growning number of slimline CD cases for burnt CDs I find I’m not taking up room like I used to. I used to cull my collection for space reasons at about 500 CDs, but I think I’ll probably be going a lot higher with the smaller cases.

I think I’ll only start putting CDs in storage or selling them when every device I own can play MP3s, and I don’t anticipate upgrading my car stereo until I upgrade my car so that could be quite some years away.

tim   #5   11:12 am Feb 22 2010

hard drive = 280GB CDs = i don’t know, they are all in storage vinyl = approx 1,500 – photo here: http://www.musicofsound.co.nz/blog/my-analogue-ipod

Alan Perrott   #6   11:25 am Feb 22 2010

I’m afraid I get all misty-eyed over me rekids – I’ve been hunting and gathering since I was 13, well, aside from a spell in the 90s when the vinyl got wafer thin and they looked to be on the way out. I’ve never been one for photos as music has kinda taken on the role. Different albums and singles take me back to certain moments or events and I have this fetish where I have to buy a rekid in every significant place I visit. China was hard but my only failure on that front has been Noumea – hopeless place vinyly. Even Mangakino came through in fine cocktail fashion last month. Anyway, I’ve finally got all my stuff in one place – to call it my happy place doesn’t come close – although it’s already threatening to spill over the edges. Aside from the usual stores, nothing is more adrenalising than going bush and trawling through remote second hand shops. Those are the days when constant rekid flicking tears up the wee piece of skin on the outside of your thumb nail which every subsequent cover seems to jam itself into. But that moment where you flip a single over to find a gem…there isn’t much to beat it, which is part of the reason why I won’t buy online. That’s just fish in a barrel and takes all the work out of it. Style-wise, I’m a stupidly broad church; focus is for cameras. Aside from new discoveries such as The Relatives, Don Fardon and Gizelle, I have an enthusiasm for musical irony. But while that means I’ll happily pick up a pristine Jimmy Osmond album and some voiced-over square dancing singles – nice one Papakura – that enthusiasm will never, ever extend to Dire Straits. I hate Dire Straits and all they limp around for with a bottomless passion. Numbers-wise, no idea, but thousands and they look gorgeous. I’ve never counted them and I’ve never filed them. While that means it can take hours to find the track I’m after, each search is guaranteed to throw up other tracks I’d completely forgotten….oh, good times.

iscariot   #7   11:28 am Feb 22 2010

I made a conscious decision not to collect insofar as, as you noted, Simon, music is to be listened to.

I’m probably down to 250-300 CDs [inclusive of some earlier drek I used to be into and can’t seem to find anybody tasteless enough to take it off my hands]. My vinyl is closer to 100, I jettisoned a lot in the past and retained only stuff I actually like – especially my New Order 12′ singles.

Don 1   #8   11:53 am Feb 22 2010

Not a “collector” more of an accumulator. I used to have about 2000 albums on vinyl (plus about 500 singles), but left most to my brother when I came to NZ. I have about 2000 CDs, many of them compilations bought cheaply for one song. It wasn’t the collecting with me, it was just I loved being surrounded by music I loved and I knew that any album I put my hand on would be good. My borther on the other hand was a completist and has a frankly frightening (catalogued) vinyl collection in excess of 10,000 albums and countless CDs. I do miss cassettes, though.

Darryl   #9   12:29 pm Feb 22 2010

I gave up the collecting thing when the kids came along. I had a pretty massive vinyl collection that was stolen (gutted!) I’ve now got thirty or so LP’s most of which I had hanging on my wall in their sleeves and the slimy thieving scum missed (ha, a small victory)

After that sorry episode I started in to CD’s. I have about 300 odd, then when my wife moved in she effectively doubled the amount of CD’s in the house. Not that I’m going to be rushing to play her Westlife albums, although I do like her Ella Fitzgerald CD and a few others.

His Lordship   #10   12:37 pm Feb 22 2010

I have about 700 albums all up. 1/3 of which are classical. Nothing on vinyl. Most on CD. Some on MP3 only (and I really should get around to burning those). The only tapes I have are some mixes I did for the car back in the day and which I keep only as a timecapsule of what I was listening to back then.

Only one set of classical music is there as an actual, formal “collection” which I went out of my way to acquire. Most of it is the accretion of years of listening. I very rarely throw any away, even if I listen to it only every couple of years and don’t really like it anymore. This might change if at some point I run out of space.

I like my music accumulation. It tracks my life in a very physical form. For this reason I don’t see myself shifting to a pure digital purchaser any time soon.

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