How have MP3's and digital storage changed your relationship with music?
October 24, 2004 1:22 PM   Subscribe

How has the explosion of MP3's in the last five years (both legal and illegal), added with the explosion of low priced digital storage changed your music listening habits and how you experience music? [more inside]

I was thinking about Mo Nickels response in this thread, and was struck by how completely rationalized music consumption has become.

Before MP3’s, there were limitations on how much “new” music I could hear, due mainly to money, as if I only had the money to buy 2 or 3 CD’s a week, I was really careful in my purchases (I am not talking about commercial music i.e. music played on radio, MTV etc),

Then, all of a sudden, I could listen to absolutely anything, and damn it, I tried. Downloading music became an obsession – I wanted to hear everything I could – music I would have never bought at the store, all those great unreleased albums (i.e. SMiLE), genres I was too afraid to spend my money on (i.e. a lot of Jazz, world music, country – genres I was afraid to buy in fear of being laughed at by the hipsters at the record store),

So now, here I am, with a gazillion MP3’s, CD’s, LP’s, - and I spend hours a week cataloging, organizing, moving files here and there – trying to think up genres, making up unique playlists to “soundtrack” every waking hour of my every day – etc. etc. etc.

Then it hit me – I hate doing all that shit. It stopped being about the music, and started being about how I organize the music.

Am I alone here?
posted by Quartermass to Society & Culture (23 answers total)
It kind of turned into that, in a way. But then again, never in history have we been able to pull this shit off. I think it's still definately about the music; It has just been marginalized in a more purposeful way.

Some negative aspects that I have noticed:
I won't listen to an album all the way most of the time. If I don't like a song in some infestiminal way I will change the track.

New music means nearly nothing to me. Most new music sucks now because i've heard it all before. Of course there are those landmark albums that really blow away the competition but they don't come by often.

I care less and less about artwork. This is important.

Some positive things:
$199 bought me a 30gb MP3 player. Every song I have in my collection can be played anywhere. Another $100 on some seinnheiser headphones and I have high quality music, anywhere.

I don't support the RIAA because they've made greedy choices in the past (assuming they were the only game in town and anybody who's taken capitalism 101 knows what happens next)

Music may live forever. Half the world gets wiped out and 80% of music may still be saved. Redundant backups.
posted by Keyser Soze at 2:30 PM on October 24, 2004

For the first time since I did college radio and had 15,000 albums to play on the air, I can listen to a lot of great music. I hear more than 100 different songs a day. They give me the feeling of newness I want. The feeling of change. It's forced anomie and I like it.

Music should influence mood, I wrote in the other thread. You suggested there that maybe that was in conflict with not wanting to try to trigger old memories. What I'm doing here is not trying to force the those memories. I'm letting the music do what it wants to me in a natural way. I don't pull out Def Leppard's "Pyromania" and Michael Jackson's "Thriller" hoping they'll remind me of 1984, wanting them to take me back to my teenage years when (it seems now) things were simpler and more of my life plans were still possible. But if they come up on random play--well, it's like finding twenty bucks in last winter's coat. I still want to be surprised, astonished, made quickly happy and quickly sad. I don't want to seek the safety of the familiar because I am uncomfortable with it. The familiar is too much like complacency, settling for less than desired, for being a sheep.

The answer to your question for me is that I was burned out. Burned of music. Four years working in college radio and several years as a smalltime music journalist meant I saw thousands--thousands!--of live performances as I tried to keep up. My friends in the music biz fed the fire. We all wanted to be ahead of the curve, to know more, and to know it better. To be able to call something old hat by the time others were discovering it. We wanted to be on the inside. What we listened to, which shows we saw, and which albums we owned signified who we were.

But I ended up hating it and for years did not buy any new music and saw few live shows. I didn't care any more and I didn't want to care. Even into the MP3 era I still didn't care.

Then two years ago bought an iPod. It could have been any MP3 player, but mine was a 30GB iPod. I burned all the CDs I have, around 400. I asked friends for more--gifts, not loaners--and added another 100 or so. I found a lot of freely available music on the Internet. Legal, too.

And then I began to give a damn again. It was like visiting an old girlfriend and remembering why I used to love her. I hadn't remember howed music could manipulate me. Unlike most movies and nearly all television, the music was more like books. It was clever, intelligent, subtle. It had grace and charm and wit, and the good stuff--the really moving stuff--felt like an emotional education.

So, despite my long email, I don't worry much about the mechanics of listening to music. As I say in that ridiculously long other message, my setup usually just involves a single sync in the morning. I add new music when I find it, but I don't set aside time to find new stuff. I let it come to me naturally.

My enjoyment of music is hardwired in me, and unlike so many other traits hardwired into the human character, I think that the ability to enjoy music is the best reminder that our consciousness is just a ghost of what is really happening inside. We are not and cannot be in complete control of ourselves and I think sometimes that's a good thing.
posted by Mo Nickels at 3:07 PM on October 24, 2004

I've been thinking about this a lot. Music has always been a huge part of my life, thanks to my parents. When I was a teenager, it was my dream to work in a record store. I remember working all summer at Burger King and saving money to buy my first CD player: a Sony 5 disc carousel-- $299 bucks. Eventually, I did get that job at the record store and ended up getting the record colllection I could only dream of. As a teen, I made mix tapes, and later, mix CDs (though not as much.) and I've always preferred albums over singles and greatest hits.

Nobody can deny things are changing. I saw this coming when Napster came out. The independent record store I worked has since closed, and Tower, who I also worked for, is in severe financial straits.

This year, due in part to ridiculously cheap storage space, I finally ripped my entire CD collection to MP3. Since then, the computer has pretty much relegated my stereo to the junk heap. I love the instant access, the smart playlists, the reports... Audioscrobbler and MusicBrainz are pretty much a music geek's wet dream.

I'm holding out for a 60 gig iPod so I can carry my entire CD collection around with me. Five years ago, I would have laughed at the idea of that. Now I can. How cool is that?

Like others have noted, I find myself listening to more mixes and compilations rather than albums. And that bums me out. But over all? I'm listening to more music than I have since I quit the record store. The trick is, when I ripped it, I did my research and created a whole scheme. Everything was organized as I ripped it. And I refuse to let "helpful" programs like iTunes get their mitts on my system.
posted by keswick at 4:37 PM on October 24, 2004

I listen to way more new/to me music now than I used to (and I've always found ways to listen to new music), entirely because of MP3s - the fact that I can listen to most things in a proper listening environment (i.e. home, not a store) before I buy them means that I am more willing to try things (I've always been adventurous when it comes to music, and I don't generally subscribe to genre snobbery, I either like it or I don't, but being able to listen at home seems to open things up even more), and am definitely willing to buy things I like. I've found all kinds of new artists and new music because of the intarweb thingy and MP3s. Once I finally get around to getting a portable player, I expect to listen to even more. As others have mentioned, I don't listen to albums much anymore, but I don't know that this is such a bad thing. I certainly appreciate the idea of the album as an art form, but if a group only has one or two really great pieces in then, so be it - I'd rather listen to an ecelectic selection that's all good than an album that's 80% suckage. And the MP3 thing has opened up a whole world for musicians who don't have commercial potential, or who aren't prolific, and that's a really good thing.

I've definitely also found that my own (mad) compilation skillz are coming into their own now (like my "Sweet Home Alabama: Template" work in progress, which consists entirely of songs which aren't actually "Sweet Home Alabama", but which might as well be (in a good way, it's clearly something that works), like Madonna's "Don't Tell Me" and Soundgarden's "Burden In My Hand").
posted by biscotti at 5:29 PM on October 24, 2004

Over the last 8 years I've seen my workplaces change from spots where people occasionally brought in and swapped CDs to massive collections that co-workers add to, borrow from, and listen to. I think most offices are now becoming exchange points for listening habits. I heard "Hey-Ya" first *not* on the radio, but where I now work. I heard Neko Case first on American routes and Patty Griffin live at a local Gallivan Center show, but found that there were full albumns by both of them sitting on my very own machine at one point. And I give back too: I can hardly shut down iTunes on my machine without getting a complaint from somebody else.

Napster and AudioGalaxy made me realize I could go out and find that one odd track that I'd been thinking about for a while. iTunes does this to some extent too, and the experience is indeed so much better than current Peer-to-Peer that I usually pay for it. I also buy new music there (picked up some of the latest Tom Waits) because of the preview feature.

And mix CDs are so easy to make now! The art of the mix still takes some effort, but at least it's not all about popping various bits of plastic between their cases and your stereo. It's select, review, and burn.

Finally, Quarternmass, the only administrative burden I find is periodically backing up. I'm probably going to buy a Glyph drive soon which I hope will take care of that problem.... but for the rest, I just adopt Google's credo, search, don't organize. Small playlists for stuff that I'm actively enthusiastically about at the moment, and the rest is only a search away.
posted by weston at 5:34 PM on October 24, 2004

I didn't even listen to music, really, until I was around 17.5; that was the heyday of Napster. I got recommendations from my friends, read online reviews voraciously, bought albums (a lot, too, in my senior year of high school), and downloaded what at the time I thought was a lot but really wasn't. Almost all of my music consumption has been mediated by the internet; that's how I found out about a large number of bands and styles, even if I don't still follow them. I can't imagine what I would be listening to without napster, audiogalaxy, and most recently soulseek. Now that I know where my tastes lie, in certain areas anyway, I'm willing to buy stuff unheard based on trusted descriptions or even labels, but that's only really been true for the past, say, two years. And it still doesn't apply for areas of competence or unfamiliarity, just specialization.

I have very little organization. Other than a hierarchical directory structure and a separate directory for albums I haven't listened to yet, it's all stuffed in one big playlist ("all.m3u"), periodically regenerated by a python script that walks the filesystem. Another script allows me to view the complete albums I have and play them individually (like albums -p "art bears"). None of the albums I have on physical media are on my hard drive, though I keep meaning to change it. I listen with xmms on shuffle mode. This is decidedly sub-optimal; among other things, it encourages rapid switching, especially when something doesn't immediately click or if it's more unfamiliar (all the more so since I set up keyboard shortcuts to control xmms). When my audioscrobbler plugin was working, which for some reason it isn't anymore, I would listen more to stuff that didn't immediately grab me; now that it's kaputt, I don't so much anymore (actually I just checked my user page and it looks like a massive update went through, though it certainly doesn't contain everything I've listened to on xmms in the past month. Nevermind anyway).

You can't get a good idea of what I listen to from audioscrobbler because I haven't been using it very long, and because the way I listen will sometimes result in a particular artist getting a large boost. Also it doesn't take into account playing times (except for needlessly excluding very short tracks). If I listened to one Necks album, that would count as one track even though it would be 60 minutes long (except their new one). If I listened to Anthony Moore's "Reed, Whistle & Sticks", that would be 99 tracks, even though it's about 34 minutes long. This is why Benjamin Britten is currently third or fourth on my page; I listened to an album of his cello suites.

I wish xmms had some kind of smart playlisting system, though setting up comments for about 10,000 mp3s and oggs will, I suspect, be something of an infrastructural challenge.

The lack of structure is pretty frustrating, especially when I was still doing radio shows, since I have enough music now that I'm not very familiar with some of it; that makes it hard to construct a coherent sequence without repeating myself.
posted by kenko at 6:25 PM on October 24, 2004

biscotti: I admire your SHA: Template project. Don't forget The Spin Doctors!
posted by crunchburger at 6:36 PM on October 24, 2004

Seems I'm the odd one out: I still tend to listen to albums. Mind, most of the music I listen to tends to be more listenable as an album: I particularly like artists that tell a story or set a theme through an album. The individual tracks are meant to be heard in the overall context of the album.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:47 PM on October 24, 2004

Thanks, crunchburger! Which Spin Doctors track?
posted by biscotti at 6:47 PM on October 24, 2004

quartermass - for a while i got stuck making a lot of specialized playlists, listening to single songs instead of albums, spending a lot of time sorting things... and i did start feeling burned out on music. it became an almost OCD thing, a compulsion to micromanage everything. not fun. but then i found a friend with a similarly voracious appetite for music who managed things [it seemed to me] a lot better. namely, he made sure that he listened primarily to full albums at once, and he didn't bother sorting things into genres. all of his music was in a "music" directory, separated by artist [or compilation/soundtrack name if more applicable.]

while i found things like usage statistics, smart playlists, files sorted into genres, and so on to be cool at first, i now find that they interfere with actually listening to music. dividing things arbitrarily into genres means that it's much less likely that i'll randomly stumble across an artist i haven't heard in a while but suddenly really want to hear [something which happened a lot when i listened solely to my cds, and now happens to me again.] things like smart playlists or themed playlists end up having less variety than the radio, leaving me in a musical rut, and too much time painstakingly picking things for them rather than enjoying the music. and listening to single songs rather than albums - i found that, again, i tended to lose something, as the playlists weren't as varied, and i'd find it hard to get familiar with the entire album of a new artist - i'd keep on going back to the first song or two that struck my fancy. furthermore, many artists are still making albums that are meant to be listened to as such, and listening to only single songs means that you miss the interplay of songs on an album.

so today, i keep all of my music in one big folder, under the artists' names. and i listen to whole albums at a time. i don't find the lack of further structure difficult, really - despite the fact that i still download new things from slsk at an unholy rate, or the fact that i dredge my 18000-mp3 collection weekly to put together a radio show. the only upkeep i find myself doing is the work necessary to integrate new downloaded stuff - putting it into folders, and fixing the id3 tags, which is admittedly a somewhat onerous task. ideally, i'd like to add "backing up" to that list, but i'm too broke. the listening [and the finding of new music] seem to follow naturally.... as long as i don't let the OCD organizing aspect of digital music take over.
posted by ubersturm at 7:06 PM on October 24, 2004

and fff - i tend to agree with your attitude towards albums much more than biscotti's. while there are undeniably some groups that put out cds that are 80% crap... i don't seem to have music by many of them. in their cases, i will download the good songs and ignore the rest. but the vast majority of albums i've listened to tend to be much more even in quality, and i still believe that most artists make albums with the idea that they'll be listened to "as an album". most artists aren't producing for the single-focused culture of mtv or mainstream radio.

[shrugs] not that there's any One True Way to listen to music. but i do think that people who listen to everything on random and abandon albums entirely miss something.
posted by ubersturm at 7:15 PM on October 24, 2004

Since I was 9, I could remember enjoying music and making mixes. Neighborhood friends and I dubbed over blank cassette tapes with tracks from Snoop's Doggystyle (an album we'd already dubbed from someone else) and songs recored off the radio. when there wasn't a blank available, we grabbed one of our parents' old tapes, stuck a tiny wad of tissue in one of the cassette holes and went to work. By the time high school rolled around, we were grabbing our songs off AOL's warez/mp3 scene, then Scour, then random FTPs, then Napster, then Audio Galaxy, then Morpheus, then Kazaa, now Soulseek/Bittorrent/mp3blogs. I can't remember a time when our trading and recording methods were ever legal.

I don't really mess with SmartViews/Playlists except to separate songs that are tagged from the ones that aren't. Most of my music doesn't even have the genres tagged. Aside from when iTunes re-organized my music (i downloaded the first windows buggy release to test), I've never really spent too much time on the organization process. So I guess that keeps it fun.

I've always tried to get my hands on as much music that I think I'll like, so it's predictable that I listen to much more, and more obscure artists than I would have say, five years ago. Since I'm listening to whatever I've just downloaded in the car, in the shower, at work, and when I'm doing nothing at home, I usually have time to find the gems in all the mess. I barely listen to the radio, unless it's Howard Stern. I've always listened and shared lots of music, but my iPod+Winamp has allowed me to enjoy it much, much more than I would've without them.
posted by lotsofno at 7:37 PM on October 24, 2004

It has totally changed the way I listen to music. I am now a permanent 'shuffle' player which know is lazy but it helps me hear all the new music I have, ahem, acquired. I also organize like a fiend but I used collect and organize vinyl like mad too. I can get a bit weird about accumulating, I will borrow people's CD collections and dump them to my hard drive. I know about the whole album/compilation thing now. I used to get albums and listen to them endlessly as a whole and now I miss doing that. I have a Minidisc player and it prevents me from getting an Ipod as I have to select the songs to put on it. This can take ages and I listen endlessly to them now. Gives me a good balance of favourite music and new stuff. I am also making really good compilations and mixes for friends. I dig it. I make the CD covers and everything. Finding files on the internets can be a bit like vinyl collecting to me- finding high bitrate copies of the rare stuff isn't too hard because they are collectors but finding a high bitrate copy of, say, Ashlee Simpson is harder. Gives me a buzz when I get one in 320kbps. I might like that cheesy pop stuff but I ain't buying it. If I like the album enough, I'll buy it.

posted by bdave at 7:46 PM on October 24, 2004

Within the last five years, my music listening habits have not changed much -- but then again, I've been using Ogg Vorbis for that long, and MP3 for years before it. In the mid-90s, there was a thriving MP3 piracy BBS scene -- and MSDOS utilities to encode and play them -- before the Web finally came and consumed all, and so some of us have been downloading and playing MP3s for a very long time.

Prior to that time, I didn't listen to very much music at all beyond the cassete tapes I had accumulated over the previous 20 years, and the bandwidth limitations of the day made my migration to digital music a very long and slow process. I'd argue that my habits as a listener were more changed by the invention of the SCSI CD burner and the drop of CD-R media to the $2 price point -- it became possible to trade 650M of files much more easily than by modem, opening the door to my listening to all sorts of crap that was thrown in with the files I wanted.
posted by majick at 7:50 PM on October 24, 2004

no - the only difference i can think of is that i may listen to some tracks on amazon before deciding whether to buy the cd (but then i sometimes listened to the cd in the store anyway).
posted by andrew cooke at 8:14 PM on October 24, 2004

I agree with the "don't organize, search" mindset. I have 40-60 gb of mp3s. Both searching and organizing are time consuming, though.

Between Traktor DJ studio, Winamp and iTunes, it gets to be a royal pain in the ass. I only use iTunes for searching and playlist building, never/rarely for any sort of listening or playback.

Truth be told, I haven't bought any CDs in a long, long time. Not even used CDs. But another truth: I wouldn't have bought anything from any "current release" or RIAA-member labels anyway. Ever. Not since before I was in High School, which was over a decade ago. I listen to a lot of experimental and electronic music (including techno/IDM), and the vast majority of the MP3s in my collection aren't purchasable at all, even if I wanted to do so. A lot of this stuff isn't easily obtainable, and quite costly to purchase the original albums due to collectors and such.

And really, would I want to spend up to hundreds of dollars for that rare Coil or Halfer Trio or Nurse With Wound vinyl LP just to look at the cover art and play it over and over until it wears out? Not really. I just want to be able to listen to it, and I seriously doubt that the artists I like to download are all that interested in profiteering.

Every artist I've had the opportunity to ask - and I've asked a lot of artists if I can download their stuff - has responded with something like "You search out and find my stuff on the internet and download it and actually listen to it over and over without paying me? That's cool, man. Whatcha got? Did you get that bootleg from that show we did in London? What's your email? We'll hook up and trade some stuff!"


On the techinical and semi-audiophile side of things, I find myself often choosing to listen and re-listen to tracks - specifically downtempo/IDM stuff like Plaid, Boards of Canada, Casino vs. Japan - that have a sort of "broad-spectrum" sound quality that encodes into MP3 with a cleaner sound for some reason.

Kind of like early Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, but for MP3 codecs instead of AM radios. And the concepts aren't that far apart. How much "pop" music over the years has been created and engineered to pop - err, no pun intended - on the air? Most of it? Almost all of it except for the most dedicated studio artist and/or experimenter?
posted by loquacious at 8:59 PM on October 24, 2004

I'm lucky enough to be able to listen to music at work. And I have coworkers who don't seem to mind my rather quirky tastes (although they'll balk at anything too dissonant, dirgey or mellow - we work nights). I've ripped about 10K songs to my hard drive and I make random mp3 mixes to listen to. We hear everything from Willie Nelson to Tuxedomoon to J-Pop to Neurosis and Nat King Cole and it's great! Eventually, I'm going to get a 200 gig external HD and move everything to it, and that'll be my iPod!
posted by black8 at 1:46 AM on October 25, 2004

(sorry for derail!) biscotti - all of them! Well, both radio hits:"Two Princes" and "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong". If you hum along.... "In Birmingham there lives the guv'nor".... you'll see what I mean
posted by crunchburger at 3:38 AM on October 25, 2004

1) I no longer spend excessive amounts at the indie used-CD store trying to find albums I like based on a couple words I read about them somewhere.

2) When I find music I really, really like via downloading, I purchase - on vinyl. If I already have an album digitally, owning the CD doesn't feel like I've purchased anything new. Vinyl is much more fun to purchase and own - it feels more personal (and a bit ritualistic) to play.

3) I see shows for bands I might not have heard of (and-or if I hear about a show I can dl some tracks and see if I want to go or not). When I go, I might not have physical copies of the band's albums so I generally purchase at the show. Not only do MP3s allow me to go to shows I wouldn't have heard of, they allow me to put my money where it's most effective - in the artist's hands.
posted by Gortuk at 5:16 AM on October 25, 2004

biscotti -- Don't forget Drive-By Truckers, who actually produced an entire album that was EXPLICITLY built on the SHA template. (Southern Rock Opera)
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 5:29 AM on October 25, 2004


I went from never bothering to buy or listen to music (had 1 or 2 albums given to me) [pre-soundblaster] to a collection of MODs [post-soundblaster] that I listened to a lot (but never got any CDs for, being that they didn't exist) to a collection of around 200 or 300 CDs [post-MP3]. It also helped me decide on what music genres I prefer (pretty much anything that isn't on FM right now) as compared to those I don't (generally, the entire right side of the FM dial). Also, now I can get a good grip on what a band's album sets are like, I can generally know well beforehand if I am going to buy their next one or not. Too bad I can't ever find anything decent in the record stores. :-(

I always listen to music in order and can't stand getting stuff that isn't in album format. I hate music that doesn't properly flow through the album -- music should set a tone or a mood for the listener, and a badly compiled album breaks it with each song. Shuffle is just nasty -- I would *never* use that feature. I also don't use playlists -- what's the point considering MP3s are almost always track numbered to start with.

Oh yeah, I bought one of those battery sucking MPTrips not long after it came out. That was fun while it lasted (piece of Chinese junk!)
posted by shepd at 7:42 AM on October 25, 2004

It didn't really change anything for me for a long time, apart from being able to find some neat rarities and such. And even now, after I got an ipod, I still buy cds and listen to them (on the ipod) as albums rather than playlists or shuffles. The only real way it's changed how I listen to music is that I'm way more likely to pick out good albums I haven't heard in years on the ipod, rather than listening to a few "current favourite" cds that live on top of the stereo.
posted by transient at 7:56 AM on October 25, 2004

I no longer keep CDs or own a stereo. CDs have become delivery vehicles for digital audio, which lives on my FireWire drive.

I never listen to the radio. The inane ads always drove me crazy, and the repetitive playlists meant I could never listen for more than a couple hours at a time; now I get hundreds of channels of commercial-free MP3 audio playing tons of cool, interesting, quirky music that you would never hear on FM.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:47 AM on October 25, 2004

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