Why I deleted my digital music collection

I deleted my digital music collection on the weekend. More than thirty thousand tracks, taking up over 160 GB of space, all gone. It took me years to collect all of those songs, but just minutes to get rid of them. The story of my digital music collection is probably not very unique, but it does illustrate just how far technology has come in such a short period of time.

It started, of course, with Napster. Everyone was talking about Y2K until Napster came along and stole the spotlight. Like so many others, I downloaded the software and quickly found myself searching through thousands of songs. I tried Kazaa and a bunch of other services too. Those services opened my eyes to what was possible and introduced me to a bunch of new artists. Eventually I learned about BitTorrent. No other service came close to matching the convenience, selection, quality, or speed of BitTorrent. I never had a favorite site, but I did use Suprnova, The Pirate Bay, and Mininova.

Once I realized how useful having music in the MP3 format really was, I used MusicMatch, and later Windows Media Player, to rip nearly all of the CDs my family owned (which, let me tell you, was quite a few). One of the first MP3 players I had was Creative’s Nomad Jukebox. It was huge (and looked very much like a discman), but it had a 6 GB hard drive. I loved my original iPod, well except for the battery life. In 2004, I got the Creative ZEN Touch for Christmas (which despite the name did not have touch functionality). I had a variety of other MP3 players over the years, and my favorite was probably the iPod Touch.

Score! iPod touch!
Purchasing my iPod Touch from the Apple Store in NY in 2007

I have purchased one and only one album with DRM. If I remember correctly, it was Social Code’s A Year at the Movies. Though I had read a lot about artists earning more from concerts than albums, I wanted to try to do the right thing. Turns out syncing it to my devices was not easy. Moving the album to a new computer was even harder. The experience was so horrible that I vowed to never purchase DRM-enabled music ever again.

I tried lots of different software for managing my growing library, but nothing worked better than Windows Media Player. I have never been a fan of iTunes, which is quite possibly the worst software ever written for Windows. Most other apps just fell over when I added the entire library, but WMP just kept working. I spent quite a bit of time organizing songs, making sure they had the right metatags, adding album art when WMP couldn’t identify it automatically.

Now I find myself wondering why I ever put in all that effort. The answer of course, is that I didn’t have any other options. You couldn’t buy digital music at first, and then when you could, it was laden with DRM. Streaming music services didn’t exist probably because Internet connections were slow and intermittent. The “cloud” wasn’t yet a thing.

I haven’t touched any of my downloaded music in months. That’s why I deleted it. I’ve been a paying customer of Rdio for exactly a year now, and I love it. With over 12 million songs in the catalogue, there’s rarely something I want to listen to that isn’t available on Rdio. It works on all my devices and in pretty much any browser. It connects to Facebook to automatically share what I am listening. The audio quality is fantastic. Every album and song is labeled correctly and has album art. It’s amazing that I get all of that for just $4.99 per month. Streaming music services have most definitely arrived!

I know some people prefer to “own” their music libraries, but I have never felt that desire. I never built a massive physical media collection like a lot of people did, so I guess I never developed any attachment to “owning an album”. For me, listening to the music I want, when I want, where I want, is really all that matters. Five or ten bucks a month to have access to an impossibly large collection, on any device, at any time, is totally worth it to me.

As much as I love Rdio, I think I’ll probably switch to Xbox Music when it becomes available. For me it’s all about the ecosystem, and I have chosen Microsoft’s. An inexpensive service that works on my computers, my Xbox, and my phone with a first-class experience on each? Yes, please.

  • Tom Opgenorth

    So what if Rdio comes out with an XBox client? 🙂

    But yeah, I hardly ever use my iPod anymore, and the music on my phone comes from Rdio.

    • I might go for an Rdio app on the Xbox actually!

      • Tom Opgenorth

        You know that Rdio is written in C#? It might be possible if you ask them nicely. 😉

        • I did not know that! Cool!

        • Whole app or parts of it? Django website (djangoproject.com) front page says that they are using python 😉

          • Tom Opgenorth

            I can’t speak as to what they are using on the website, but I know the Android and Windows Phone apps are in C#, and that Rdio is working on coverting the iOS app to C# as well:

            http://xamarin.com/apps

  • Roshan

    I only listen to my mp3s. I have 60BG worth of music on my laptop with copies of it on a separate external hard drive. I have a closet filled with dusty cds, most of which I have never played – but ripped as soon as I could open them. I can’t imagine going back to cds. I just organize my files into folders and play which ever artist that I feel like listening to on that day. I keep it simple – no organizer. Just Winamp and my mouse to select the files.

    • I remember those days. I’d rip CDs as soon as I got them. I’d borrow CDs from friends just to rip them. I had more than a few hard drives full of music safely stored away unless one of them died (which happened to me a few times). Ahhh so much work…

  • I currently have an android phone and iPod that I regularly use to listen. I still maintain my huge collection and I don’t think I can replace it with any online service. The reason being all my music is not provided by any single online service.
    I keep all my files in high quality mp3 and most new devices support that. I do however keep experimenting with cloud based storage and perhaps a cloud based music storage is what I may use in future, but can’t delete my collection just yet!

    • I guess my tastes are too mainstream 🙂 The only artist I haven’t been able to listen to on Rdio that I used to is Metallica. Maybe the odd album or song from others has been missing, but that’s pretty rare.

      A cloud-based music storage service could be a good approach if you have a bunch of unique, rare, live, or other music that the services don’t offer. Haven’t tried one of those!

  • Kory

    Out of honest curiosity, what do you do for flights without net access?

    • I did have some music synced to my phone, but honestly, when I’m on a plane I’m usually either sleeping or reading (yay Kindle!).

    • I could be wrong, but I believe Rdio allows you to sync music to your mobile device, so you don’t need an internet connection to stream from it. I don’t believe that’s in the 4.99/month option though.

      • You’re right, that’s in the $9.99 option. Which I would consider switching to if it turns out that Xbox Music is not what I am hoping it will be!

  • I started my Rdio subscription in December last year. I have kept the CD’s that I ripped as a digital music collection but I don’t use it much. I had some network problems for a few days and was glad to have it as a back up when streaming was unreliable.

    Interestingly, I find it is frequently some of the smaller Canadian artists that I can’t get on Rdio. Maybe their labels are too small or ? for Rdio to negotiate rights.

    Rdio allows me to synchronize music to my iphone. My subscription permits such synchro to 5 devices (I pay a bit more) so our family can all live off the same subscription. You can’t simultaneously play back … so you just have to turn off your network connection when you play back if 2 want to play at once.

  • e

    …..You’re an idiot.

  • Great idea. I’d have to manually delete my music files though because a lot of my music isn’t available online as it’s foreign content primarily from Hong Kong, Australia, and UK. I can’t even buy CDs to some of the music I downloaded over the years. I gotta note though, some music I found on Spotify have been removed as well. So unless I have a physical CD, I will probably not delete it haha.

  • VetTeacher

    Works great if your tastes are Plain Vanilla. (Or even Vanilla Fudge…..).

    But if you’re a musician with forty years of experience with diverse literature spanning centuries and every idiom from (literally) Ancient music to everything up to (I stop there and I’m proud of it) “hippity hoppity”, then the ” renting beer” model is completely and hopelessly inferior. I don’t trust the public’s taste to keep what I think is important either maximally rendered while streaming nor even available. I know this thread’s old, but it’s as dumb now as it was dumb then. Articles like this one make the content owner functioning near monopolies dizzy with satisfaction. Buy it. Own it in the best fidelity you can find. Before actual musicians with actual instruments disappear forever.