Saturday, July 27, 2013

Rediscovering my music collection, the digital way

I really enjoy listening to music. I have a fairly decent collection of about 7700 tracks in more than 600 compilations. I know these compilations as "albums". You know, those collections of songs we used to buy on vinyl?

When vinyl gave way to CDs, I let go of vinyl and carried on my collection with CDs. CDs were the perfect format for music for me. Long lasting, consistent playback in a physical format that I can hold and look at.

I like to listen to albums on CD. Albums were a collection of songs performed and compiled to give the listener a complete sense of an artist's state of mind. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is by far, the best example of what I mean by this. Each song can stand on it's own, as John Lennon has fiercely defended when asked about them, insisting it was not a "concept" album. Yet, the songs all seem to lend a common theme. I find this in many CDs that I have listened to over the years and so, I prefer to listen to the entire compilation to gain the sense of depth an artist is expressing with his music.

In the past, my tendency was to just play my favorites. Some would just naturally be played more often. I was playing favorites with my music collection and rightly so. But I discovered that I was beginning to tire of this. So I turned to Pandora.com, Groove Salad and Lush on Somafm.com. These music services gave me a sense of random, unpredictable music selections within the same genre that I had come to enjoy on the radio, much further in the past.

There is something about listening to a music service like Pandora or Somafm that I really like. I like hearing a good set of tracks selected by someone else, like in an album. I like the random and unpredictable selection because I don't have to think about what to queue up next.

After a while, although I really like streaming music services, i want to listen to my own music collection again. My listening experience at home tends to be very consistent. Some sort of rock music during workouts and quiet or lounge electronic music at all other times in consideration of my family. Quiet, non-intrusive music is particularly necessary in the early morning hours. I'm a morning person, I admit it. I just naturally rise at 4 or 5 in the morning, without an alarm clock. No coffee needed. Only warm water with lemon juice and a little honey. During that time, letting other people sleep is important so that I can write.

I've built a nice quiet channel on Pandora for that quiet music I like to play while writing. I use Pandora because I can play quiet music without thinking about it. My only problem with this service is that from time to time, Pandora will play a forgotten hit from Motown, without any prompting. I have no idea why this happens and continues to happen when I've been rejecting every one of those songs on this channel.

To send a clear message to their servers at Pandora, I reject the Motown songs I don't want on this channel and then close the browser tab so that they know I'm displeased. I sometimes wonder if maybe they're just throwing an irritating track in there to check and see if I'm still listening. Could be.

Even though I like the streaming services, I still miss my own music. I have songs in my collection that I haven't heard in years and I want to know my music collection again. At home, I tend to play what I remember most, what I think is palatable to my wife and what is safe for my baby's sensitive ears. I can't just go nuts with the Devo or Del Amitri. Although I will play a good set of Rush tunes with the room cleared.

So I came up with a solution enabled by Google Play Music. Google Play Music allows me to stream my entire collection of music from any Android device, or a computer with a browser, assuming that an internet connection exists. To use Google Play Music, I install an application from Google that scans my music collection and then uploads the collection to their servers. Yes, they do support Linux, and they do so very nicely - that is yet another reason I like Google. Here's the most interesting part: the limit is 20,000 tracks. Never mind that some of my tracks are more than an hour long. Some of my tracks are in the FLAC format, too. Bigger, but better audio quality. The per track limit is 300 megabytes.

Once I uploaded my music to Google Play Music, I realized that with all my albums in the cloud, I could do something that I hadn't ever done before. I could play my albums from A-Z. This is better in my mind than playing every artist in sequence, A-Z. Playing alphabetically by album title rather than band title gives me just the right amount of randomness while keeping the themes of each album intact. It requires a little manual effort, but once started, it's easy to keep going.

With Google Play Music, I can stream my collection through my phone in my car every day. My commutes are pretty short, so I only get to hear maybe two or three songs each day. But that is just enough to keep it interesting. For longer errands that I run on the weekends, I hear a bit more. Besides, some of the music in my collection just doesn't play well around the house in consideration of others. So driving alone in the car is the best time for me to listen to that music.

I've been doing this for more than a month now and I'm just nearing the end of album titles that start with the letter A. Already, I've heard tracks I haven't played in years, or tracks that I didn't even remember that I had. It's been quite a treat to run through them this way. At this rate, I should finish in a couple of years.
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