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.