Autobiography through (Musical) Devices (Part Rogue)

This post is inspired in part by Cyborgology’s Autobiography through Devices series:

I grew up surrounded by music. Dancing wildly in the living room to REM’s Don’t Go Back to Rockville and Rusted Root’s Ecstasy with my siblings as we were toddlers remain fond childhood memories of mine. As I grew older I kept listening to my parents’ music, including an entrenched eighties phase, and as I left Junior High, I owned a Train tape, a Cat Stevens Classics CD, and Motion City Soundtrack’s first album, I Am The Movie, among others. I shied away from the popular music of my peers in Junior High, and avoided Alkaline Trio, System of a Down, and Blink 182 (this was a mistake, I might add).

Instead I turned to the local college radio station WONC 89.1 for guidance. I’d spent many nights unable to fall asleep without listening to music, and with an alarm clock radio, I was listening to the station literally night and day. I acquired a radio walkman, complete with belt clip (nearly identical to this one), and wore it out through numerous pairs of behind-the-head headphones like these and later, countless sets of earbuds; until the belt clip came off and I taped it back on. The walkman and the radio DJs were my only companions as I would go for long walks around my neighborhood, always with a pen and always forgetting paper, and return with inked song titles scrawled across my hands and arms.

Death Cab for Cutie and their song Styrofoam Plates resonated with me, Of Montreal and their lyricism about sanguinary hearts (I also spent hours combing dictionaries for intriguing words, and the seeming dissonance between the words sanguine and sanguinary amused me), I discovered so many bands through that radio station. The radio walkman could only last so long, however, and as my focus shifted to the indie rock show, Lo-Fidelity Radio, that I followed from Friday nights, to Sunday afternoons, until all the DJs that were a part of that show, Wes, Lindsay, and the others, had graduated, my focus shifted to other media.

As I went to the library to bury myself in more fictional lives, I would make trips to the CD section as well. I was not a rule breaking child and remained oblivious to the likes of Kazaa and other pirating software until years later, and I justified burning CDs from the library onto my computer due to the fact that, well, somebody had paid for them and they were publicly and legally available, so what I did with them after checking them out was up to me. I’d roam the collection, looking for the artists whose names had faded from my wrists and been diligently transcribed into notebooks upon notebooks, or just some album covers that intrigued me. I discovered the off the wall album Underwater Cinematographer by The Most Serene Republic, but they were the only band I picked at random that I enjoyed. By this point I had access to the family computer, but only in rotations with my brother and sister. I’d typically have the chance to import a library CD, then I’d burn it onto its own CD. I can recall one night when I drove my sister to the brink of anger while we stayed up one night doing homework, as I listened to The Format’s album Dog Problems on repeat. I crafted many a sharpie-laden cover for the fronts of albums by The Streets, Rufus Wainwright, and Interpol.  Mix CDs, too, a necessity for room cleaning.

I had moved on by this point to a portable discman that would fit in the pocket of a coat I “borrowed” from my dad. I also started going to concerts, attending 9 throughout high school. My Internet connection had long moved past Dial-up and into DSL, and with that came the discovery of PureVolume, and an obscure band called American Eyes. I made a MySpace to interact with the band and the Indie radio show that I still followed on a weekly basis. Later still came an obsession with music blogs upon music blogs, growing to 20-25 that I’d follow via RSS.

As digital technology improved, so did my music technology. I had one of the first mp3 players commercially available, a red Rio Sport with a whopping 128 MB of storage. I could quadruple the amount of songs I could listen to at once, from 20 to 100! Rather than transfer library CDs onto blank CDs, I began to leave more of the music on the family desktop to move onto the newfangled device.  Soon, with the release of the iPod nano, I was able to move up the chain of mp3 players. My music collection continued to grow on the computer and off, with burned CDs, purchased CDs, and early Warped Tour sampler CDs quickly filling up a 200 CD capacity case. From a first generation nano with much more storage than the Rio (the exact quantity is lost to me now), to a second generation nano with 4GB of storage, I soon maxed out my song storage capabilities.

I was now in college, and I finally had my own laptop. I made sure that the first thing I did was to transfer all of my music from the family computer to my laptop. I got an 8GB iPod touch, and later the “grandaddy of them all”, an 80GB iPod classic, finally large enough to hold my music library. Once at college, I knew that I had to join the radio station (the existence of which was on my college “must-have” list). After a nervous first semester and a flaky cohost that I had entrusted to make plans that never meshed, I began the next semester DJing at WESN 88.1 in earnest with a new co-host. I had TWO radio shows, one with a punk and ska theme with my co-host and the other was just me and my music. I fell in love with it.

The next year I applied to be on staff, and just like that, I was the technical director, a position that lasted for a year and a half until I studied abroad. Always a voracious consumer, now I was quite literally the producer of each local show that played in our studio on a near-weekly basis. I learned how to use the mixing board after learning the radio soundboard, and repaired the turntable more times than should have been necessary. After a semester off for my study abroad, I returned as the station manager of the station. I infiltrated the local music scene and helped review the new music sent to the station. I managed to attend 32 shows, not counting the house, garage, and bar shows that I went to as a college student. Throughout all of this I maintained a diligent iTunes library of my music, editing some songs with Audacity (Like NOFX’s song Wore Out the Soles of My Party Boots) so that they would be radio-clean, and meticulously recording songs with swear words in the lyrics and the record labels of their radio appropriate counterparts.

Then, I graduated and spent a summer unemployed. One night I decided to go through some of the music on my computer to clear off some hard drive space. I was also in the process of wiping and partitioning my backup external hard drive to make room for extra storage space. And so I proceeded with deleting folders of artists I didn’t listen to, and folders with nothing in them. I periodically emptied the trash to keep the hard drive space clean. Half an hour or so went by, and I went to listen to a song. It didn’t play. None of them played.

All my music was gone. All of it.

After some hours spent in hysterics and lots of tears, I had a magnificent realization. My iPod! It housed all the music that mattered most, everything I’d elevated with a two-star rating into a “My Top Rated” playlist that comprised the bulk of my listening. I did some extensive online research, and set about recovering the music from my iPod to return to my computer. Slowly, the songs came back, with 4 letter words like ABYG as their titles. It would take an extensive amount of time and an overly tedious process to rebuild my library. Not wanting to lose the historical record of what had completely disappeared, I set about populating a skeleton. I didn’t want to lose my playcounts and meticulously annotated lists of songs with swear words in them either. However, with 15,000 or so songs, it would not be an easy task, and I quickly grew tired of combining the skeletal duplicates with the new functional tracks.

A month and a half later, I got a job, and with that, any remaining hope of fully rebuilding my library dwindled. The tedium was not worth it. So I made the jump. I went cloud. I tried SoundCloud, I tried Spotify, and I kept using my iTunes library. I’d always tracked my music on but it had always been centrally housed within iTunes. Now, my likes were spread out across 3 different platforms with varying levels of access. This shift was also driven by a shift in the functionality of and time I could devote to my music blogs. With less time to spend reading them, I cut down my music blogs to a mere 3: Sunset in the Rearview out of nostalgia for introducing me to Chiddy Bang and G-Eazy, and All Things Go and The Burning Ear for consistently excellent recommendations. Long ago had the age of sharing albums and curated mixes for free on MediaFire and MegaUpload disappeared, now the blogs linked almost exclusively to Soundcloud premieres, or Spotify playlists. This practically necessitated a move away from my longtime practice of wishing to download and own first, and listen later. (Lydia from Sunset in the Rearview reflects here on her own musical past, lamenting the lost days of MySpace)

I also cut down my shows since I started working, having attended only 5 since I moved to Michigan a year and a half ago. I live across devices and media right now. Starred songs on Spotify, mix CDs for my car, Soundcloud on my iPhone, and a combination of all of them on my Macbook. Spotify has brought me into greater interaction with my partner, and we send songs back and forth. He’s helped fill in the “holes” of my Midwestern versus his Bay Area upbringing, sharing hyphy songs with me, and artists like Astronautalis. Soundcloud lets me keep up with the music blogs, and helps me discover new artists like RAC and Nathaniel Rateliff, and follow the new releases of old favorites like Cold War Kids. I can afford to buy music now, and I try to. My computer is too slow to run Spotify alongside the tabs that I always have open, and iTunes runs into the same issue. I’m not invested enough in any one solution to go premium with a cloud service either. But the habitual listening likely brought on by a lifetime of FM radio dedication means that I prefer a mix of songs, rather than a complete album, so I gravitate toward the simplicity and fleetingness of Soundcloud, and avoid the DRM-laden iTunes singles that is often required of me to own the music. Bandcamp is a respite, and my friends have released albums on there. The future is bright, but has certainly shifted since the musicopalypse. My media practices are still in flux, and I hope to find a more settled down method of listening and interacting soon.

Selected playlist:

REM - Don’t Go Back to Rockville

Rusted Root - Ecstasy

Train - Drops of Jupiter

Cat Stevens - Moonshadow

Motion City Soundtrack - The Future Freaks Me Out

Death Cab for Cutie - Styrofoam Plates

Of Montreal - Forecast Fascist Future

Matt Pond PA - Halloween

The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players - Mountain Trip to Japan, 1959

The Most Serene Republic - Content Was Always My Favorite Colour

The Format - The Compromise

The Streets - Let’s Push Things Forward

Interpol - PDA

American Eyes - Telephone Wires

NOFX - Wore Out the Soles of My Party Boots

Chiddy Bang - Ray Charles

G-Eazy - Runaround Sue ft. Greg Banks

Astronautalis - Do You Believe In A Life After Thugs? (Soundcloud)

The National - This Is The Last Time

RAC - Let Go (ft. Kele and MNDR) (Soundcloud)

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats - Look It Here (Soundcloud)

Cold War Kids - Miracle Mile

Wild Cub - Thunder Clatter

Manicanparty - It’s In Her Eyes (Soundcloud)

Carousel - Into the Night (Soundcloud)