09 December 2008

Rounding Out the Collection: Intro

So I’m going to try to do a variety of different things with my part of this operation, and one of the most important to me is a series of posts I’m going to call “Rounding out the Collection.”

Like most people I know who are serious about music, the internet has radically changed the way I consume, search for, and discover new music. When we got the internet for the first time in 1996, the first thing I did was look up “Led Zeppelin” on Altavista’s search engine. I spent the day reading crappy Geocities fanpages (complete with classic 1996 webdesign and interface—and still there after all these years!), and learned all about the convoluted mythology of Zeppelin IV, the first CD I owned after my first great musical “epiphany,” the summer I turned 14 and put away childish things (top 40 radio).

Led Zeppelin - Battle of Evermore

By 1997, I had moved on musically and technologically. I spent a lot of nights my last year in high school on a listserv for my favorite band, the Old 97’s, trading concert reviews, rumors about the band’s next album, and getting into the Dallas music scene (which was a little weird, since I was from Wisconsin).

Old 97’s Beer Cans (Too Far to Care Outtake - Never Officially Released)

I missed the first wave of Napster by a year or two—my first very own computer (a Gateway bought in 1997) didn’t have an Ethernet port, and when I got to college in the fall of 1999, home computing remained a dial-up affair for me (much to my first roommate’s chagrin, I ran a jury-rigged phone cord along the dorm wall from my desk to the communal phone jack, and dialed into my parents’ AOL for two years, before simply giving up and using campus computers for my internet needs). So in college, there was album swapping (I met my wife-to-be in part because she was one of the only people I knew who had a good CD copying set-up on her computer—with two CD-Rom drives!—and I wanted to trade albums with my then-girlfriend), ordering from the still-minimalist storefront at http://cheap-cds.com/, and whatever scant word-of-mouth was available in Cedar Rapids, IA. I had one buddy in particular, who had grown up in Washington, IA but had excellent taste in CBGB-style New York punk. I was finally able to put a sound to names like the Dead Boys, Johnny Thunders, and Richard Hell & the Voidoids.

Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers - Born To Lose

When I got to Grad School in Madison, the prospects improved. When I had been in high school, a trip to Madison was massive for me—State Street from the University to the Capitol was a haze of record stores like the (now relocated) Sugar Shack and the B-Side, which immediately became my go-to spot, the place where I bought the long-lost Rocket from the Tombs record when the re-issue came out.

Rocket From the Tombs - Final Solution

But the way I got at music didn’t really change until I got my laptop and DSL in 2004. This is a story most people already know—the experimentation with different P2P services, a short tour with BitTorrent, and finally, looking for something a little more secure (damned RIAA!) and maybe a little more personal, I found music blogs. I started with Hype Machine and mp3 blogs, and quickly graduated to Totally Fuzzy and the full-album variety—accumulating music at an alarming rate (pointless hoarding, my wife calls it). With so much at my fingertips, one problem is solved—I rarely have to spend months (or years) trying to find an album (or worse even, a song) I’ve heard a reference to in a book or a conversation, skimming the used bins in every record store in every city I visit, carrying around a list in my wallet, (almost) paying ridiculous fees on eBay for weird out-of-print records I’m not even sure I’ll like.

What I tell myself (and thus the name of the series) is that I’m “rounding out my collection,” filling in the “gaps” in my already 100 GB+/1200 album collection—stuff every serious fan of country/reggae/classic rock/1970s Cleveland post-punk/early Piedmont Blues should have. But obviously, it tends to degenerate into wild, bleary-eyed, late-night downloading binges—stabbing wildly across genre lines into the weird little nooks and crannies of recorded music’s century of history. These posts are an effort both to:

  • Slow down my ridiculous accumulation of music I don’t even have time to try out to a workable pace—to be intentional in what I download, to return to the real goal of “rounding out my collection” with records I’ll like and relate to the music I most enjoy.

  • Document the process (personal and digital) by which I find these songs and albums, thinking about how they fit in with my record collection and my life.

This may all seem a little ponderous, but it’ll be good for me, and maybe interesting for somebody out there. I'm not going to post new stuff--strictly catalogue material--but I hope I turn up a few things interesting to more than me. Thanks for playing along.

Posted by Brandon

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