A couple years ago, I promised myself that when my MP3 collection hit 10,000 I’d pause for reflection. But that pause never happened.

Now I’ve hit 20,000 tracks in my iTunes library, and I’m drawing a line in the sand. At least temporarily. No more! At least not today.

For me it’s become like a sickness, a disease, an addiction.

Firstwith, let me characterize my collection, which gives some indication of the scope of my problem. I have 20,919 songs in my collection by 7,468 artists in 77 different genres. That’s approximately 61 days of continuous audio. 109 GB of data.

Of these, 4,645 tracks have never even been played. “Put Yo Hood Up” by Lil Jon holds the record; I acquired it in November 2005 and still haven’t played it. At least I know what it sounds like. There’s plenty of stuff here that’s a complete mystery. I don’t know what it is or how I acquired it in the first place.

The first thing most people want to know is, “Where do you get it all?”

  1. Our CD collection. Over the years I’ve ripped ’em all, and we recently boxed them up for storage in the basement.
  2. Other people’s CD collections. When I’m over at a friend’s house, I might ask to borrow five of their favorite CDs. I take ’em home, rip ’em, return ’em. I believe this is legal.
  3. The library. Kinda like the previous, but the library has a way bigger collection. I check out a stack, rip ’em and return ’em. Is this legal? I think it still falls under “fair use.”
  4. Music blogs. Not sure what the legality of these are, but they’re one of the best ways to get turned on to new music.
  5. Other internet sources. There are lots of archives of free music all over the web. This tends to be weird, fringe or obscure stuff.
  6. P2P file-sharing networks. Dubious legality, but these account for a small fraction of the overall collection. However, I recently got a decent BitTorrent client and you can use that thing to download whole discographies. That’s frightening to an addict like me.
  7. Purchase. I never used the iTunes Music Store because I didn’t like the DRM restrictions. When Radiohead released their own album online last year, it was the first time I ever paid for a music download. Then I got an Amazon gift certificate from my in-laws and I spent it all on MP3 downloads. Convenient and good quality.

I naïvely thought I’d reach some natural limit of my own interests. I thought I’d discover some artists that I like and then hit some kind of horizon beyond which I wouldn’t care to venture. I didn’t account for the appeal of sheer novelty, or the breadth of my musical taste. I’m still discovering artists and subgenres that I find really compelling. For example, most recently I discovered the incredible band Dead Can Dance.

In the interests of full disclosure, kind of like candidates releasing financial statements, here are charts of my listening activity according to Last.FM and iTunes. (Warning, it’s a very large page. Or you could just check my Last.FM profile.) It should be noted that the extreme prominence in these charts of Nirvana, Foo Fighters, U2 and some others is due to Xy’s influence. Keeping these artists high in the mix does wonders for our domestic tranquility. However, I will take full responsibility for the Blue Öyster Cult.

So anyway. So what? So I enjoy hanging out and listening to music. I also enjoy researching and learning more about new music, expanding my horizons. So what’s the problem?

Well, the sheer maintenance and curatorial work involved with this collection is a bit daunting. I like to have things somewhat orderly, even if I’m the only one who ever sees it. Properly tagged audio makes all sorts of interesting things possible when it comes to programming playlists. But each file has roughly a dozen fields of meta data that need to be filled out, and these rarely are filled out completely when I acquire the file, no matter the source, or worse, they’re filled out improperly. Currently I have 285 tracks for which no artist is listed.

So I do research. Sometimes this leads to interesting philosophical conundrums, such as the concept of genre. But it is time consuming.

And then there’s ratings. iTunes lets you rate each song from one to five stars. But just try rating 20,000 songs and you start to feel like a gerbil on a wheel.

Sometimes I get to feeling like the collection is managing me, rather than the other way around.

So. Resolved. I’m slowing down.

Just as soon as I check out the new Renard Poché album

  1. I feel your pain, although my collection is relatively paltry (just wait until I get all of that vinyl ripped, though!) Tag-wise, compilations drive me nuts – I’d often like to know the original album for a track, but if I file the track under the compilation I can’t do that. It’d be nice to have a “originally appears in” in addition to an arbitrary number of “also appears in.”

  2. I was about to give you props on this post and tell you how many gigabytes of music I have stored but I thought about The Patriot Act and decided that it might not be a good idea.

    You may want to delete this post before you get a subpoena for your hard drive.

  3. Cliff does have a point there b, I would at least put a “read more” in there somewhere.

    I have many many songs of my own, no where near your collection, but attained the same way.

    I’m from the napster generation damnit!

    I actually purchased my first song last weekend, Eric Clapton’s live version of Cocaine…………..

  4. Been “archiving” my 20 year CD collection since 1998 and also have yet to buy a song. After downloading most of the music I already had on CD (because it was easier) I’ve pretty much given up the practice except for an occasional artist or song or two.

    I could be inspired to begin again b…email me the bittorent client you’re using. Most of the ones I’ve tried over the last 2-3 years were clunky and slow.

  5. I too got Radiohead’s latest, but I was part of the 35% that didn’t pay one cent for the album. Trust me–the music is twice as nice, knowing the price is right.

  6. You are not an addict. I don’t feel you would steal or prostitute yourself in order to add more music to your itunes player. Of course I could be wrong. Wouldn’t matter anyway since there isn’t a rehab for it.

    “Try to make me go to rehab I say no, no, no.” I downloaded it last year.

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