Strong opinions, weakly held

Defining your music collection

I’ve read a number of blog posts lately that have me wondering what music collection is these days. Before the age of online radio and MP3, it was simple. Your music collection consisted of your library of CDs, or tapes, or records. Now it’s something more ephemeral. I had thought of my music collection as my library of MP3 files, but I’m starting to think there’s more to it than that.

Anil Dash mentioned the other day that his iTunes library got corrupted, and while his MP3 files were fine, his playlists, ratings, and listening history are gone. That’s traumatic. Here’s what he says about it:

I’m surprised by how much grief this causes me. As it turns out, my experience of these songs is determined by the record of how I’ve lived with them — without the information about how I’ve listened to them, and how often, and what I thought of them, they’re just not my songs. It makes sense, at some level; Art without curation or creation without witness leaves a work mute. But as geeks, a lot of us wouldn’t even necessarily see this as data loss — the original files, after all, is still there.

I am certain I would feel the same way. I am attached to my ratings and my listening history. It’s an essential piece of my collection. Indeed, it’s one reason why I haven’t bothered with any of the subscription music services where you can listen to songs from a large online library, but you don’t actually possess any of them, like Rhapsody or Yahoo Music. I even feel a bit of anxiety about listening to CDs in the car, because the songs don’t become part of my listening history.

I’ve seen it argued many times lately that the music system of the future is not an iPod and iTunes, but instead the Sonos system hooked up to a large library of music (like Rhapsody). Tim O’Reilly just linked to such an argument today. That could be OK for me if I could keep track of what I’ve listened to. This is where last.fm could play a role. As long as something can be “scrobbled” you can include it in your listening history, as tracked by last.fm.

I wouldn’t mind not “owning” tracks so much as long as I could include the fact that I’d listened to them in my history. What we need is a way to scrobble satellite radio, scrobble the Sonos, and so forth. If there are more people out there who feel like me when it comes to their music library, it could remove a big mental barrier to buying into such systems.

(The thing last.fm needs is a way to export your profile data, although even if I could export it, I don’t know what I’d do with it. It would just make me feel better.)


  1. I agree that having a last.fm export would be great, but I do wonder how much data they store (i.e. raw data instead of aggregate data).

  2. Rhapsody definitely tracks your listening history but you can’t do much with it. You can view it on a per-track basis and it will generate a personalized playlist for you but that’s about it. There are no smart playlists and there’s no export other than RSS feeds of recently played tracks and albums. I’ve been using Rhapsody for years now so I’m really hoping the day comes when I can extract all that data and do something interesting with it.

  3. I totally agree. I just got a 80GB iPod for christmas and about 40GB music on a removable HD. I’m slowly moving forward in transferring music over but the key point was figuring out how to move my Winamp playlists (of which i have over 100) over. Once i figured that out, I felt that i could really make the iPod primary music repository rather than my HD.

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