Monday 02.04.2013 | 10:23 AM EDT
Vinyl Addiction by the Numbers:
Or, How to Kill a Chilly Saturday Afternoon
Music geeks are obsessive catalogers. Their enjoyment of music is not limited to the recording itself, but to the metadata associated with one’s collection. The digital age makes that data readily accessible (if the geek is obsessive enough to tag his tracks with complete, accurate information). Digital music libraries like iTunes allow one to quickly glimpse a variety of data sets that heighten musical enjoyment. How many albums do I own? How many artists represent that number? What year did a particular album come out? Numbers give the music geek both a road map to his/her collection and a sense of the historical perspective the collection represents.
I am a music geek. I revel in the huge collection of music I’ve amassed over the past 30 years. And, with the help of iTunes, I routinely sort, filter and catalogue my collection by almost any criteria I could want. I can quickly refine my choices to find just the right record to listen to for any given mood or occasion. But on Feb 7, 2011 something happened that put a virtual stop to my digital musical consumption. I caught the vinyl bug.
I purchased a Pro-ject Debut III Turntable and, with the fervor of a fanatic, began acquiring used, new and re-issued vinyl by the scores. Week after week, empty LP cartons stacked up outside my door while upstairs in my office the number of precious pieces of finely-grooved plastic grew at an alarming rate. I was hooked.
But my obsession eventually ran beyond just the consumption of vinyl. I jonesed for the metadata, you see. How many records had I acquired in the past 2 years? Where was my road map? I began toying with the idea of arranging my collection by decade (genre being a category that is too often blurry and subjective). This would give me at least one precious piece of information that could help me in selecting what to listen to when I was in the mood for, say, romantic pop with a penchant for keyboards. To the 80′s bin, Robin! And I began to wonder: Hmmm… how well is each decade represented by my collection?
I mentioned this whimsical musing to Rachel on several occasions. Each time, my extremely good-tempered wife-to-be answered with a cringing retort: I am not spending hours helping you shuffle pieces of vinyl around your office. And besides, I’ll never be able to find anything! So I gave up the dream. For the moment. Until one morning, as we lay in bed on a cold Brooklyn Saturday morning, I mentioned my irrepressible desire once again. This time, she formulated an interesting alternative: Why don’t you instead create an index of all your records, listed by decade? Brilliant! Create my own set of metadata the old fashioned way. By hand. Sort of. Will you help me, I pleaded? I was excited by the idea for reasons beyond anything a rational middle-aged man should ponder. But, with an air of peculiar excitement of her own, Rachel agreed to help. You see, she’s a geek too. A spreadsheet geek.
We hopped out of the warm bed, made some strong coffee and blew off the household chores of laundry and grocery shopping. Instead, Rachel took her position behind the Mac, nimble fingers at the ready, as I knelt beside one of the eight bins of vinyl scattered and stacked around the office. One by one, I pulled each record from it’s alphabetical position and dictated artist, album title and year to my lovely and patient geek at arms. It seemed a formidable task. But we flew through it. In less than 4 hours, we’d created a spreadsheet of all 456 records in my collection. Ah, that number. So satisfying. So frightening in it’s size-to-time ratio. But once the data was properly sorted, the real value of it (to me at least) shone through. I knew exactly how many records I had from each decade since 1920.
I had speculated on the spread as we endeavored in this somewhat ridiculous task. At the end of the day, my speculations proved correct. I am a child of the 80′s. My collection confirmed this. I had by far more records from that decade than any other, followed closely by the 1970′s. The 90′s (the decade dominated by the CD format) were the most anemically represented – many titles were simply not pressed on vinyl during that time. And while the 2010′s represented only 7% of my collection, we are merely two years in to the decade. At the current average rate of growth of 15 records per year, I will theoretically have collected 150 by decade’s end!
Many will exclaim: What a colossal waste of time! And they may be right. But for reasons incomprehensible to the non-geek, it was a great way to kill a cold winter day. Rachel confirms it. This is a truly satisfying collection of data.
Some have asked, what are the top ten artists in this vinyl collection? We are here to serve:
- The Rolling Stones: 21
- The Beatles: 18
- Bob Dylan: 13
- Rush: 9
- Elvis Costello: 8
- Lou Reed: 8
- U2: 8
- Belle & Sebastian: 7
- The National: 7
- The Smiths: 7
For more interesting (?) statistics on digital music play count, visit my LastFM chart page.
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