I have a confession to make: I am one of the six people left in the world who still buys CDs. Yeah, I know, its kind of embarrassing, and trust me, I’ve heard everything that you’re about to say a hundred times before. I know they cost me money, I know they take up space, I know that you believe there is no real difference in sound between mp3 and CD. But the fact remains that I like CDs. I like the way they sound when you pop one into the car stereo and crank it up, I like that slight bit of tension when you try and remove the disc from its case for the very first time, and for a second it looks like you won’t get it out without it snapping. I like the way I can line them all up and see, right there in front of me, a collection of all the sounds that make me feel good. But I’m not really here to talk about the merits of physical versus digital distribution of music; that is a useless argument in which no amount of touchy-feely bullshit will ever change minds. The vast majority of people will do what is easiest, and that will always be the case. The reason I mention CD ownership is not as a starting point for some kind of anti-digital hate spray, but instead because the actual spending of money on music, and the resulting physical presence in my home, set me thinking about something that is equally applicable to a digital collection. All that…stuff – it’s kind of scary.

Just think about your music collection for a second. Scroll through your iTunes library from top to bottom. Now just try and picture the immense weight of sheer information that is contained there. Pick one song – even one by Nickelback – and think of all the mental, and physical, effort, and all the man-hours that went into the composition, performance, recording and distribution of that single piece of music. Think of all the stuff that you could know about that track; variations in drum patterns between verse and chorus, the choice of guitar tone, or the rhyming scheme of the lyrics. Go even deeper – listen to the subtleties of the reverberation used on the vocals, the way the bass really punches when it hits the upper register. I’m sure you didn’t take the time to actually do any of those things, and indeed that’s almost the point that I’m trying to make. Every single one of those songs that you idly scroll past every day has a completely unique set of intricacies, a set of mental baggage the details of which no single person could ever know completely, and which is only made more complex and fascinating through sharing space with other recordings. That’s what I see when I look at my music collection, whether digital or physical; a massed rank of pure stuff that is almost intoxicating in its possibilities. Just think of all the things you can discover and, more importantly, enjoy about those songs, of the moments when you notice some extreme subtlety of production or composition and realise that it was put there for you to hear it. All those potential discoveries and all those trillions of details lined up on my shelf – alphabetically by artist and chronologically by album.

Maybe then you can see why it can seem a little overwhelming, and sometimes dispiriting, to embark on a life of collectordom, especially in the realm of recorded music. No matter how much money you spend, no matter how hard you look, your collection will never be complete; you will never be able to own every single significant recording. Add to that the fact that with every record you add to your collection you reduce the amount of time you have to devote to enjoying the ones that you already possess and the whole endeavour can seem somewhat futile. This isn’t a question of whether or not to pay for or pirate music – I have spent what in technical terms is referred to as ‘a shitload’ of money on my CDs, and I don’t regret a dollar spent, except maybe on Dylan & The Dead. Indeed, sometimes it seems that the ease of access, and intangibility, of pirating digital music makes the prospect of actually listening to all of history’s great music even more daunting; there’s no thrill of the hunt when you, and every other 14 year old boy, can just Google ‘Metallica discography torrent’ and let the computer do the rest. There’s so much good music – and more every day – that no matter how much you shove through your ears, you will never have heard all of it, let alone discovered all there is to know about your favourite, most-played album. A CD collection is like a physical manifestation of that concept, growing larger and larger as you pour money, time and shelf-space into it, and maddeningly offering only ever more mysteries in return.

Ho there! Let’s reel it back a little. It looks like we hit upon a rich vein of touchy-feely bullshit. I should be alright in about half an hour; I just need a glass of water and a lie down. So yes, it’s not really as terrible as all that, but for the most part I mean what I said, and I have tried to say it in the least pretentious way possible – though as soon as you set out to try and describe a feeling you’re going to venture dangerously close to bullshit territory. It’s just that all that stuff out there – or in there, rather – is just a bit overwhelming for the type of person who still buys – and alphabetises – CDs, and it’d be nice to think it’s at least a little humbling to the type who doesn’t. If you think that you or a friend may be coming down with a case of the collection blues then don’t fear; there’s a fairly simple way that I’ve found to avoid it, or at least relieve the headaches. Rather than think about what your collection isn’t, think about what it is. Take a step back – or a scroll down – and appreciate the fact that you have a fine collection of things that you enjoy, and think about how far you’ve come from listening to Bomfunk MC’s on So Fresh Hits of Summer 2001. Think about all the times your brain’s pleasure centres have lit up like a meth lab on bonfire night, all thanks to the treasure trove of tunes that stands before you. Sure, the journey to complete understanding and enlightenment in all matters musical is an endless one, possessed of an unattainable goal of dubious merit. But to get one step further you just have to put on some music and enjoy it, and as journeys go it doesn’t get much better than that.

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