Refreshing My Music

At the beginning of this week, I trashed my entire iTunes music library on my computer at work. It consisted of 4,077 songs, which, if played consecutively, would go on for 13 days, three minutes and 20 seconds, according to the application’s statistics.

Over the last couple of years I’ve imported a number of CDs into the library. I don’t think I’ve actually bought more than two or three songs from iTunes in my life; if I want music, I’ll generally just get the CD. I guess that makes me remarkably old-fashioned, but let’s remember that CDs didn’t exist before about 25 years ago. Even though they now appear to be going the way of the 8-track tape — judging by the shrinking bins at music stores (remember music stores?) — I have managed to compile a pretty good number of them over the years.

But I digress. Even though I have a comfortable collection of CDs, I hardly ever listen to CDs anymore. Generally I just fire up the iTunes on random play and let it run. That keeps the collection alive, because you never know what song, or even what style of music, will come next. Just yesterday, for example, iTunes gave me “Four Horsemen” by the Clash, followed closely — surprisingly closely, in fact, because by default iTunes uses a two-second crossfade between songs — by James Taylor’s “Sunny Skies.” Strangely enough, the transition worked.

If it ever doesn’t work, it’s easy enough to hit the “skip” button — the Macintosh keyboard even provides a key for this — to go on to the next song. It’s really a great way to listen to music, since I’m stuck at the computer anyway.

My problem was that, in addition to all those CDs I imported, I also got into the habit of downloading whatever free music was being offered up by various vendors. Amazon, in particular, sends out scads of free music each week through its MP3 store. I think you have to sign up for their newsletter or something, but each Tuesday they send out an e-mail with links to a bunch of giveaway songs and samplers, which, when downloaded, conveniently drop right into the iTunes library.

Some of them are great. Most aren’t. And usually I didn’t take the time to weed them out when I downloaded them, so over time my iTunes library got more and more polluted with songs that I had no interest in.

So, with the new year, I’m starting over. I dumped the library, and have been re-importing my music from my CDs. And what’s cool is that I started from the beginning — the first batch was artists from the 1960s and 1970s. (OK, it’s the beginning for me, anyway.) I’m mostly through those discs now, and working a little up into the 1980s. And frankly, it’s been great to hear the older stuff — and only the older stuff — come through the computer speakers. Eventually I’ll get back to the point where a Derek and the Dominoes song will be followed by a John Mayer song or something, and that won’t be bad, but for the next few days it’ll go from Derek and the Dominoes to Little Feat or the Beatles or Simon & Garfunkel or someone like that. Next week U2 will make its way into the collection. After that, it’ll be Dave Matthews and his ’90s brethren. After that, Amos Lee and the rest of the new generation (much smaller in number than these earlier artists) will join the party.

And yes, sure I could have just deleted the offending songs and gone on with my just my own music, and saved the trouble of having to reimport all my CDs. But I’m also a geek for statistics, and iTunes kindly compiles information about how often songs are played, when they were last played, etc. For example, in that old iTunes library, the song I ended up playing the most was “Night Train” by Amos Lee. Not my favorite of his songs, but random-play doesn’t play favorites. In fact a good number of the top songs were Amos Lee songs, because for a while there I was in a big-time Amos mood, just selecting his three CDs and letting them run. (As of January 25, by the way, he’ll have a fourth album out, which I’m definitely looking forward to.) Other times, I’d play the Who for a day. Or the Beatles, or, like last fall, the Rolling Stones. Still other times, I’d turn on my instrumental playlist, which contained all of the instrumental songs from various artists; sometimes it’s just easier to write or edit when there are no words in the background music. “The Rock,” Quadrophenia” and “Underture” were way up on that play count, benefiting from being both instrumentals and also Who songs.

But anyway, with the new year, everything’s reset to zero.

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