Updating a Personal Music Collection
This is a continuation of my last post. Since I’ve been rebuilding my personal music collection in 2018, I thought this would be a good place to share where I find new music. This seems obvious, but I think it’s the main reason so many people’s collections got abandoned in favour of streaming services. If you don’t regularly add music, your collection will get stale, and you’ll end up enjoying your favourites a lot less.
Obviously that’s not true for everyone. You might like hearing the same songs over and over. And if you do, consider yourself lucky. This whole thing is a lot easier for you. But if you’re like me, you like to hear new stuff a lot, but you also like your favourites to pop up on occasion.
From 2011 to this year, I went full on with streaming. Starting with Rdio and then Spotify (with a quick dabble in Apple Music, which seems great but doesn’t suit me), subscription streaming became my main source for finding new music. Rdio was better at this. The whole site was designed to be a pleasure to navigate, and it had a “game loop” of sorts. You start with an album you like. Below the album would be reviews by other Rdio users. You could then follow those users, and you could see what they’d reviewed and what playlists they’d shared. This would lead to finding new music, which you’d add to your playlists and review yourself. It was the closest thing I’d found online to the fun early years of mp3 blogs.
It’s still disappointing how difficult it is to do this on Spotify. You can do the same thing, but there’s no reviews, so you don’t get a sense of the user’s voice and taste. But for a few years, I tried my best to swim through Spotify like I had with Rdio before giving up and using it like Spotify wants.
The Spotify “game loop” is really more of a single action: you tap “browse” and pick a curated playlist based off a theme. You can do other things, like save songs to your collection and make playlists and follow users, but those actions are rarely rewarded with any kind of positive feedback. Spotify wants you listening to those playlists. So, that’s what I’ve been doing. They’re good. They do a good job at this. But it’s not good enough to be my only way to find new music.
Weirdly enough, I still find a lot of my stuff while passively listening to curated radio.
I listened to Soma FM in the 2000s all the time, but had forgotten about them, along with mp3 blogs, around the time I moved to Rdio. But in consciously trying to listen to music from more places, Soma became my default radio station. It helps that Soma has great apps on iOS and Roku. Indie Pop Rocks is basically the soundtrack playing on our living room and bedroom TVs.
I also find myself enjoying the music sections of Monocle Radio. The radio station plays a lot of talk shows, but their music shows focus on world pop, and it’s been a great source of European, Korean, and Japanese stuff I’d probably never hear otherwise.
There are two other radio stations I’ll turn on from time to time. I think a lot of people don’t realize this, but Beats1 on Apple Music works without a subscription. It’s pop and top 40 as hell, but as a sometimes food it’s more than good enough for me.
Indie 88 in Toronto is the most traditional thing here, as it’s a traditional FM station. But since I don’t drive a car and don’t own anything with an FM receiver, their online stream basically makes it an internet station for me. While they’re often indie in name only, I’ll usually hear something good the one or two hours a month I’ll tune in. The local Toronto flavour of it helps with concert news, too.
I wrote about mp3 blogs already, but this is really the thing that’s made music in 2018 more fun. I’m still surprised they exist at all, and it’s been a fantastic way of bolstering my library and finding new stuff. Hearing why someone likes something still has so much value.
Adding songs to your personal collection through piracy and taping
I think the thing that’s fun about music collecting today is the bevy of options, but also that none of the options have really gone away. If you want to buy everything on vinyl, you can do so today easier than ever. If you want to legally purchase everything, that’s easy too. If you want to record online audio, rip audio from Spotify or YouTube, that’s so easy now. Digital music showed up at the exact same time as pirated digital music, so it’s always had this stigma, and in many cases the 2000s had this fear that if you pirated music the government would come after you. I think we’re clear of all that now. Streaming music stabilized the music business, and now everyone is a lot less worried about piracy ruining everything.
I’m not saying you have steal your music. I’m saying you should buy vinyl and pay for Spotify and send Soma some money and buy a shirt and a cassette at a local show, and if you download an mp3 or two on top of that, everything will probably be okay. I know people who are hardline anti-pirates who scoff heavy when I mention that I grabbed some mp3s. Everyone has their own dial. But piracy is harder than paying ten bucks a month, so I think we’re at the point where the people are mostly doing it out of habit or spite.
So why do I do it? Habit probably has a lot to do with it. My first piece of music equipment was a double cassette fm radio player that had a record button. It was absolutely designed for mixtapes. I DJ’d for several years and that required a large library of remixes and mashups, all of which existed under grey-area legalities. I like to mess with music tracks, and to do that you need the file. I’m the early days of streaming, bandwidth was expensive so I’d record an hour or two overnight and listen to it offline. I’ve been a taper, remixer, mixtape-making punk for nearly 30 years. It’s hard to change.
One big reason is trust. Like I said, I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve seen several big music services fail and just vanish. From Zune to Rdio and all the way back to Sony’s stuff in the early 2000s, all that work I put into making libraries on those services just vanished one day. It’s hard to not want something out of that relationship.
Yeah yeah, piracy is wrong. But I don’t know how music works without it.