Tuesday, October 02, 2012

COLUMN: Collection

Whenever someone asks me about my finances (which, let's be honest, never happens), my go-to joke is to respond that my money's wrapped up in CDs -- just the wrong kind. I never realized how right I was until recently.

I have an extensive music collection. I don't say that to brag, because it's nothing worth bragging about. It's more of a cry for help, really. There reaches a point where a collection crosses the fine line between "wow, that's really impressive" to "wow, you must be a really sad person who doesn't get out much," and I'm pretty sure I crossed that line somewhere in the mid-90's.

I should have seen the warning signs. Such as, oh, when one has to move into a new house because one's music collection has outgrown one's apartment. Or when you start to become fairly sure that your shopping habit is crucial to the week-to-week survival of your favorite record store. Or when you prioritize buying CDs over paying the utility bill that powers your CD players.

I tell people that I keep a large music collection because of my weekend job as a club DJ. Truth be told, I have a weekend job as a club DJ so that I have enough money to keep an even larger music collection. To each their own, I suppose. You might collect stamps or baskets or dolls. I'm a music nerd.

Recently I caught a new TV show called "Collection Intervention." Ever seen it? I'll never forget it because it might just be the most horrifying thing I've ever watched. In each episode, they find someone with an impressive collection -- it's on Syfy, so it's usually some nerd with a house full of Star Wars memorabilia or something. And that nerd usually has a Mrs. Nerd who's reached the breaking point, ergo a counselor-type person comes in, looks around, and tells the person that their collection is out of control.

The end of each episode usually culminates in a good chunk of the collection being auctioned off while the counselor says "good job!" to the nerd, who's usually too busy hyperventilating to notice. I've officially banned myself from watching. This show is BAD for my health, because I'm usually hyperventilating right alongside the guy. If I ever had a signifigant other bring in a counselor about my music collection, they'd find themselves signifigantly hitting the bricks.

But I'll never be on "Collection Intervention." Know why? Because there wouldn't be a payoff at the end of my show where I make $100,000 in an auction. No, I somehow managed to pick a hobby where the resale value is about as close to nil as you can get, and even that value seems to be dropping by the day.

The other day I visited one of those stores that deals in used media - CDs, DVDs, video games, etc. And I was shattered to discover that their normal resale price for used CDs is now $3.99. That means people coming in with used CDs to sell are probably getting a buck apiece, if that. Huzzah.

Let's see. If I were to add up all of my CDs, multiply by an average retail price of $13.99, then divide by the resale value of $1 apiece, it comes out to exactly: ONE WASTED LIFE. Of course, many of my CDs are limited edition collector items, which means they would have a higher resale value. But of course, since most of my favorite artists are obscure UK indie rock bands that no one outside of Great Britain has ever heard of, this higher resale value might only apply were I re-selling it to an equally pathetic music nerd from Barmby-On-The-Moor.

Just as vinyl begat 8-tracks which begat cassettes which begat compact discs, so now have CDs given way to the mp3. I heart technology, I really do. And mp3's are pretty cool -- it's great to have an iPod that I can carry in my pocket with room to hold 10,000 songs. It's fantastic to know that I can own pretty much ANY piece of music with fewer than five clicks of a mouse. But it's not the same.

What's the point of spending money foolishly on material goods if you don't end up with any material? If I spend years of my life looking for a musical rarity, I don't want to hide that accomplishment inside a hard drive. I want to hold it in my hand, tear off the cellophane, fight to get that maddening security sticker off, see the album cover, read the liner notes. I never thought I'd see the day when CDs would be considered "old school," but it's almost there.

And if that's not bad enough, now you don't even need the mp3. You just need a "cloud." With cloud technology, you don't own a physical or digital thing. Instead, your song just floats around the internet and you pay to access it at your leisure on the computer, tablet, or smartphone of your choice. If this is the way of the future, count me out, thanks.

What happens if your hard drive crashes? You lose your mp3s forever. Or, if you're like ME, when my last hard drive crashed, all of the files stayed seemingly intact -- yet all of mp3s began inexplicably playing "Ghostbusters" by Ray Parker, Jr. Worse yet, what would happen if Apple were to go under? Far-fetched, sure, but what if down the road they put all their, well, apples into some new product (the, umm, iStink or something) that was an unmitigated flop? If Apple went bankrupt, I don't think their first priority would be ensuring the immortality of their cloud.

Just as the newspaper industry is evolving to secure its place in the internet age, so too is the music industry. But if that "place" is to turn commercial music into a disposable commodity to be downloaded and forgotten, then don't mind me while I sit some of this age out. If you need me, I'll be in the basement with my musty albums and antiquated CDs. Don't even THINK about intervening. They might not be worth anything these days, but they're still music to my ears.


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