Why do we like to collect music?

It’s been a couple of days now since I read it, but I keep thinking about an article I read in The National Post, which has been running a series of pieces about the seven deadly sins. The one I read on Tuesday was all about greed, and in particular, about how some people hoard music. But these people aren’t collecting antique wax cylinders used in Edison’s time, or 78 rpm slabs from the Victrola days; they are collecting mp3 files — in some cases hundreds of gigabytes worth of them.

For example, the story describes a member of a group on Last.fm (called the People With an Absurdly Large Music Collection group) who has more than 75,000 files, or about 368 gigabytes worth, which would take almost a year to listen to without a single repeat. Depending on how you calculate it, that’s equivalent to about 7,000 albums or CDs. One of the good things about collecting mp3 files, of course, is that you can have 75,000 of them on a single hard drive, whereas 7,000 albums or CDs would fill several rooms in your house and/or your basement.

Collecting albums seems to make a certain amount of sense from a sort of fetishistic point of view, though, just as having an absurdly large library does (like one of those ones where you have to climb a giant ladder that runs on tracks around the room). Albums and even CDs are physical objects that you can look at and hold, and album covers were a great art form at one time, something that has sadly been lost with the move to CDs and mp3 files. I was just talking with a friend today about how much I loved to look at the old Yes covers by Roger Dean, and Pink Floyd and so on.

But what point could there be in collecting 75,000 mp3 files. Not only would sorting them and tagging them and so on be a gigantic pain, but you can’t even really look at them — unless you run them all through iTunes and use the Coverflow view, I suppose. But still, are you going to flip through the equivalent of 7,000 albums? No. Of course, I guess the guy (and they are always guys) with 7,000 or even three million actual albums probably never looks at half of them either.

I only have about 3,000 songs — but the main reason I do is because I like to put them on shuffle and get surprised by a song that I can barely remember ever downloading or ripping, but one that I remember listening to way back when. That’s a great feeling. And it’s even better when you can do it with a select group of songs you love, rather than just waiting for one to come on the radio by accident. What if you had access to a constant stream of all the music you could possibly want — the way Fred Wilson describes in his recent post? Would people still want to download and keep songs?

8 thoughts on “Why do we like to collect music?

  1. It's true. I don't really want the mp3s. But I do want a list of “my” music files, so that I can organize them (by rating, adjusting tags, compiling playlists, etc). And there's no technical reason why I couldn't do those same things from an all-you-can-eat subscription service. I used to use Rhapsody to listen to music at work, and I really liked it, but I found that a lot of music I owned (or just wanted to listen to) wasn't available. It was also a pain to transfer to my portable players (in fact,as I recall I never quite managed to get it to work on my “compatible” players, and naturally it didn't work with my iPod).

    Now imagine if the hypothetical iPhone subscription service allowed you to stream anything in a comprehensive library right to your portable device? They could even include mobile access to podcasts. If they got the interface right, and they got the iPhone working with 3G–eventually 4G–that would sound just great to me.

    • I agree, Jake — if it could be configured properly so that you could
      create what amounts to a personal library, then it would be as good as
      having them all in your posession. And yet, as Fraser notes in his
      comment, I think lots of people would still feel a subconscious desire
      to have them and own them and possess them.

  2. From what I've heard from many music fans, the cultural attachment to possessing music (probably the same trait that in the extreme drives one to collect 3 gazillion songs) has been the major impediment to music dial-tone.

    It's not a question of whether they'd hoard if they had access, but that they're resisting streaming because they hoard.

    • Besides how would my 7 year old at the time be able to ask me about my really big CD collection and get into Jimmy Hendrix if not for music hoarding?

  3. Pingback: Why Fred Wilson is Wrong About Streaming Music Taking Over for Files « SmoothSpan Blog

  4. I'm reading this because I was surfing over the internet trying to get some serious information about “music addiction”. I am Physician, so almost all night after job and long sessions of reading, I just started to see new releases, to look for nice albums in torrents and thinks like that. I know it's weird, the matter in collect toons of mp3 is that you really know is impossible to listen them, so I use to change all the music that i have in my Ipod frequently. Every new album goes to the ipod.
    My friends sometimes get surprised the amount of nice albums that I get, even when they are not always comercial.

    I am not worried at all, it's just like a different hobby, As I'm DJ just for fun, I'm always looking for new albums and version.

    It's true! you can't touch all the collection, one can only see the covers and that's all, but even so, this is Kind of addictive.

    best!
    Happy new year!

  5. I'm reading this because I was surfing over the internet trying to get some serious information about “music addiction”. I am Physician, so almost all night after job and long sessions of reading, I just started to see new releases, to look for nice albums in torrents and thinks like that. I know it's weird, the matter in collect toons of mp3 is that you really know is impossible to listen them, so I use to change all the music that i have in my Ipod frequently. Every new album goes to the ipod.
    My friends sometimes get surprised the amount of nice albums that I get, even when they are not always comercial.

    I am not worried at all, it's just like a different hobby, As I'm DJ just for fun, I'm always looking for new albums and version.

    It's true! you can't touch all the collection, one can only see the covers and that's all, but even so, this is Kind of addictive.

    best!
    Happy new year!

  6. I only have about 3,000 songs — but the main reason I do is because I like to put them on shuffle and get surprised by a song that I can barely remember ever downloading or ripping, but one that I remember listening to way back when. That’s a great feeling. And it’s even better when you can do it with a

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