A Library of One's Own

Emma Gase | Medium Talk Co-Creator

The Numbers

As it stands today, these are my iTunes stats:

  • 12,049 songs
  • 70.96 GB
  • 32.5 days’ worth of music
  •  96 Genres
  • 1,172 Artists
  • 2038 Albums

Simple math tells me that there is no way I could hope to fit my library onto my 64GB iPhone. My iPod Classic is now defunct (RIP). Buying an iPod Touch is redundant—with a max storage of 64GB, it’s essentially a handicapped iPhone. In terms of hardware, the only other option is to either listen directly from my laptop, or access the Cloud, which doesn’t encapsulate my illegal downloads, mix tapes, or anything I’ve burned from CDs.

Despite the fact that no math is ‘simple’ for me, it is clear that I have a storage problem. What do I do with the music that I actually own? How does one curate a music library today? I’ve been a fairly dedicated streamer for the past two years, but my Spotify profile hardly encapsulates the physical breadth of the library I’ve been building since I got my own laptop in 2005. How can you replace an entire life and library of songs? Where would you even put it? Is listening to music offline a thing of the past?

After more than a decade’s worth of painstaking music curation, legal purchases, illegal downloads, bootleg hunting, CD-burning, and playlist-making, my personalized music library is now rendered nearly obsolete. My beloved arsenal of music is scattered across the internet, multiple hard drives, and my obsolete iPod Classic. How did I get here?

The Transition

Last year, for the first time ever, streaming services took in more revenue than CD sales. Streaming pulled in a hefty $1.87 billion whereas CD’s earned $1.85 billion. Not exactly a staggering difference, but still, this is significant in the larger scheme of the music industry. We know which way the tide is turning (TIDAL notwithstanding), and that’s in the direction of music-streaming subscriptions.

It’s certainly evident in my own pattern.

If I’m looking by “Date Added” on iTunes, the last song I downloaded to my library was on August 11th, 2014. By that time, most of my preferred downloading sites had been either shut down or rendered useless by the DMCA (RIP MP3 Juices). I didn’t actively choose to move the bulk of my listening to streaming—I was forced there, and only paid for it because I find commercials intolerable.

But once you pay for it, Spotify is sneakily addictive. New music every Tuesday, all wrapped up for you in a playlist! A bonafide, artist-endorsed ‘Viral 50’ so you don’t even have to slum it on the blogs anymore! The diamonds in the rough are now gifted to you—no need to be a miner. It’s perfect for Millenials: All the access and none of the work. And I bought in, whether consciously or not. After years of scouring the internet for new releases and watching my favorite music magazines fold one by one, it was a relief to have someone else do it for me.

The Conundrum

Everything was fine for a while. I’ve been living on Spotify for almost 2 years with no complaints, but recently a sense of guilt has been mounting.  I’ve been letting some of my all-time favorite artists gather digital dust because they aren’t “trending” on Spotify. Who goes to Spotify to listen to Pavement? Or XTC? Or the Clash? If I’m going to listen to ALL the music I love, there’s no one place to go, and this inconvenience could be precluding a lot of musical discovery and innovation.

Alas, there is no one, perfect solution to merge the classic library with new streaming one. But with some creative ad hoc-ing, it’s possible to build a library that’s as good as the one on your hard drive, as long as you don’t mind cross-pollinating a bit.

However, it can be overwhelming to sift through the multitude of platforms, sites, and devices. Luckily, I’ve been sifting full-time since that last download in August 2014.

The Contenders, Ranked

1.       Spotify: Still the No. 1 option. Best bang for your buck, quality and breadth-wise. That said, there are still major gaps. A significant number of artists and musicians don’t allow their catalogues to be streamed. Taylor Swift (yes, this is a gap in my opinion), Thom Yorke (Radiohead still available, minus In Rainbows), Jason Aldean (“Dirt Road Anthem” alone is worth the $9.99/month), The Beatles (THE BEATLES). Unauthorized but popular mixtapes, a la Acid Rap or nostalgia, ULTRA., aren’t there, either. Gaping holes and ethical questions aside*, nowhere else does such a large collection of material exist in such an easily accessible format for the price.

2.       SoundCloud: A downgraded musical YouTube laden with homemade covers and illegal, lo-fi remixes. Worth using to get the first listen, as artists often use SoundCloud to drop tracks directly to fans. Also a great place to listen to mixtapes or DJ sets. Interface isn’t the greatest, but that’s a common thread among streaming.  

3.       TIDAL: See last week’s post.

4.       Pandora: For people afraid to make decisions.

5.       iTunes: Problems, problems. Confusing layout, lack of hard drive space, constant software updates that don’t actually improve anything. Inability to store music not purchased through iTunes on the Cloud (this excludes all illegal downloads, mixtapes, mix CDs from the early aughts).

6. Google Play: I tried this briefly. At first, it seemed like an iCloud solution that automatically downloaded any new songs from my iTunes library into my Google Play library that I could access from any computer. Caveats: Terrible sound quality, confusing layout, no social connectivity (unless you’re doin’ it big on Google+ these days...)

Or, for the truly fed up music acolytes:

7.       Go Analog: You could swing the way of my parents, and rededicate your entire life to building a comprehensive music library out of vinyl. The problem with building a vinyl collection is that it’s a luxury—you need a lot of money (vinyl ain’t cheap), correct hardware that also ain’t cheap (a good receiver, turntable, and speakers), patience (vinyl needs to be cleaned, dusted, handled with care), and a proclivity for listening to music in the album format (you can’t put a record on ‘shuffle’). You also have to be mentally prepared to flipping the record over, even if you are extremely comfortable on the couch and don’t really feel like moving at the particular moment when Side 1 comes to an end.



*[Sometimes I wonder if Spotify is the Forever 21 of music. Like the fast fashion heavyweight, Spotify is forced to keep up with the increasingly swift turnover rate of the music industry. A single that drops on Tuesday and is trending on the ‘Viral 50’ could be forgotten within the next Tuesday new-music cycle. Does this kind of environment inspire innovation, or does it just become a rat race of who can trend the quickest by using the most current pop formula? Combine this with an emphasis on promoting easily digestible playlists that are more palatable than interesting, and artists that quickly flame out after they’re done ‘trending.’ Is this equivalent of paying $17.99 for a Forever crop top that you’ll toss in 6 weeks?]