Thursday, November 01, 2012

CLoTHES 2012: Music

It seems that the hardest of my collections to keep under control is my music. Not only does the maintenance of physical albums (sorting, filing, uploading, etc.) take time, but the management of files and music online take a significant amount of time - especially because I'm a stickler for correct file names and finding as many b-sides and rarities as possible. (I know, I know - a true #firstworldproblems if ever there was one. But I continue forward.) It seems that I have developed a pattern that I unofficially have to sort through my music every two years or so. I don't plan for it, per se, but I know when it's time; it's kind of like getting a haircut - I just know when it's time, and it usually ends up being the same duration between each visit.
Previous to last week, the last time I cleaned out my music collection was in August 2010 ("AKA "The Day the Rap Rock Died", when I expunged the vast majority of that erstwhile genre from my collection; the time previous to that was when I moved across the country in 2008, when I divested myself of much of the contemporary Christian CDs that had continued to hang around well past their "best before" date (which, by my count, was February 2003, when Switchfoot released The Beautiful Letdown. I'll probably write a post sometime soon about how that album marked the death of "Christian music", at least for me. But now I digress.). Furthermore, as I reflect back, I can note significant changes to my collection and listening every two years or so. So it makes sense that for the past couple of months that I have felt an almost insatiable need to organize, resort, and quantify my music collection and purge the albums on the fringes. It took a few hours to re-sort through all of the physical albums, but I learned a few things in the process, and I realized that I could actually write the first entry of the Comprehensive Life of Turner Hobby Evaluation Survey (or CloTHES, for short) that I promised several months ago. So what did I learn about the current state of my music listening?
I buy fewer albums than I ever have (either in physical or electronic format). I've had a trend downward in the past three years or so (which probably not-so-coincidentally also marks a time of fluctuation in my employment, but I think it also shows that I'm a bit more choosy in what I buy now. I'm not necessarily listening to fewer albums or less music, though - I'm just buying fewer and listening to more music online before buying it. With that said, I have 124 albums on my wish list, and I would go out and buy almost any one of those discs without a second thought. Oddly enough, even though I'm buying fewer albums, my wish list is not significantly larger than it has been - perhaps more evidence of a more refined palate. My tastes have not changed very significantly over the past few years. I probably add four or five new artists to my listening rotation in any given year, but it's getting more difficult for new artists to catch on with me. Most of the music I buy (at least two-thirds) consists of releases by artists I already listen to, and a new artist really has to blow me away (a la The Civil Wars or Mumford and Sons) to edge their way in. I do listen to a lot of new artists online, but few of them make the cut. I guess it's not too surprising that my tastes have leveled out. Summer 2006 was the last time I remember making a significant shift in what I listened to, and it was also the last time I really had time (before my teaching career started) to invest the time and effort into discovering new artists. I also was entering my mid-twenties, which also marked a leveling out in habits across the board for me, so music is just part of the equation.
I have also discovered, perhaps unsurprisingly, that most of the CDs I am purging are discs I bought for cheap at thrift stores. In fact, most of the discs I buy now are from thrift stores, usually for $2 or $3, and a lot of them are CDs I might like but are not sure hits for me. I think my reasoning is generally that if I see an album I'm not sure about for only a couple of dollars that it's worth the risk. I am not sure what percentage of these tentative purchases actually stick around, but it's probably under half (just as it was a decade ago with demos from Christian music stores), so that's probably a good indicator that I should cut this habit out. After all, I could probably buy another new album I want every month or two with the "couple of bucks here and there" that is being spent on albums I don't end up keeping anyway. I'll have to remember this thought as I'm thrift shopping over the next few months.
Overall, I feel like I'm less passionate about music, but I'm more refined in my tastes. Music does not play a kind of central role in shaping my identity as it did even a few years ago, so it's more of an activity of aesthetics and enjoyment than of identity at this point. I go to a show or two a year (as opposed to half a dozen or more), and it's a much smaller part of my life now. I remember seeing older friends make this same transition, and it's interesting to see how it's happening to me. It's still important to me, and I really enjoy being part of the general dialogue and musical world, but I can feel it slipping away more and more. And I'm actually okay with that. I guess there is more to life than music; I just never thought I'd be the one to say that.

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