Keeping a Personal Music Collection
My personal music collection history is fraught with poor choices. But I’d like to think it’s less because I’m an idiot, and more because I’m in search of the best solution for how I like to both listen to music and manage a collection.
In terms of hardware, I began with tapes and CDs in the 90s, moved to digital with a Sony minidisc player in the early 2000s, upgraded to iPods in 2005, switched to Zunes in 2009, Windows Phones in 2012, and then iOS devices in 2015.
Alongside the hardware, I would switch up where I found music. In the tapes era, I recorded a lot of fm music and made mixtapes. With CDs, it was with money at stores. Minidiscs were usually filled with ripped CDs and Napster grabs. The iPods and Zunes were mostly filled with collections from mp3 blogs, torrents, and podcasts (remember music podcasts?). When I moved to Windows Phone, I began using a combination of my personal collection (using the stellar Zune software) and a service called Rdio, which was Spotify but better.
I loved Rdio, but I never used it as my personal collection. I still kept a library in iTunes. But when Rdio shut down, I changed not only which devices I used to listen to music, I tried to simplify. So in late 2015, I went all-in on Spotify. I tried to accept that things wouldn’t be exactly everything I wanted as a compromise for simplicity.
Earlier this year I became frustrated with Spotify for how it treats your metadata. Spotify lets you do exactly two things with its collection (very important to remember that it’s Spotify’s collection and not yours): you can “save” a track to “your” collection, and you can add a track to a playlist. Unlike iTunes, there’s no way to heart or rate songs in Spotify. There’s a check mark or there isn’t, and it’s in a playlist or there isn’t. There’s also no way to know if a song is in a playlist unless you try to add it again (it’ll ask if you want duplicates).
These limitations aren’t deal breakers. I’ve asked almost everyone I know about this, and I’m the only person I know who rates their own music in any way. Most of them don’t even “save” the song. Most people don’t think about this. But this is the Internet, so of course I’ve been able to find deviants into this.
What is a deal breaker is that Spotify’s collection isn’t set in stone. Songs and albums leave the service all the time. What’s most annoying is that albums will disappear and then re appear, but your “save” information isn’t there anymore. So you can go to Artists and click on Heartless Bastards and find that you only have five songs saved when a month ago you had twenty.
And because songs will leave the service, those songs also disappear from your playlists. I have playlists for my novels—songs that inspired characters and plots, and every now and then, these playlists just get a little smaller. Something’s been removed, but you’re never always sure what.
But this is my fault. I’ve been using Spotify wrong. It’s best to think of Spotify as a Netflix of music, and not as a replacement for a fiddly personal collection. And much like how Netflix is good enough for most people because they don’t keep a personal and fiddly movie collection, Spotify is good enough. It just can’t do the thing I want.
I’m not leaving Spotify. What it does do well is curated and algorithm playlists that help you find new things, and it does that better than any other thing. Discover Weekly is still magic. But good playlists aren’t enough for Spotify to be my only thing. I’m demoting it to the same space Rdio used to occupy: the first place I look for new stuff.
So I’m back to using iTunes (and most importantly, iTunes Match) and I’m rebuilding my personal library. After a few years away, it’s so refreshing to see data. Date added. Date modified. Last played. Last skipped. Stars!. You have to go into settings and enable Stars, but they’re there. Smart playlists! I missed those the most. There are third party sites that try to do smart playlists with Spotify but none of them work the way you want.
Now, if only the iPhone music app was any good.