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MP3 Philosophies (Share Yours!)

I’ve read that the Beatles were instrumental (no pun intended) in popularizing the long play (LP) album format. Prior to the Beatles, singles (45s) vastly outsold long-playing albums, which typically consisted of either (a) one or two hits and eight or nine “fillers”, (b) songs by different artists on the same record label, or (c) collections of previously released singles. Maybe it was the fact that even the Beatles’ weakest material was often better than the best efforts by other artists, but for whatever reason, once people acclimated to the idea of buying albums, that format quickly became the norm.

Not that that made singles obsolete, of course. I was born in 1973; by the time I was old enough to receive an allowance, I was spending it regularly at Walmart on 45s. I still have a pile of them (probably twenty or so) left over from those days, more for sentimental value than anything. I had most of Queen’s big hits from that era (We Will Rock You/We are the Champions, Bohemian Rhapsody, Another One Bites The Dust), a couple from the J. Geils Band, and lots of, well, singles. Off the top of my head I can remember having Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll”, Weird Al’s “Eat It”, Juice Newton’s “Queen of Hearts”, and Asia’s “Heat of the Moment”, to name a few.

But, once I could financially afford it, I became an album guy. As a youngster I listened to a lot of my parents’ albums, and by the time I was in third or fourth grade I owned several of my own, including the Beach Boys’ Greatest Hits, Rick Springfield’s Working Class Dog, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A., and the soundtrack to Smokey and the Bandit. In fifth and sixth grade (83-85) I acquired several breakdancing and early rap albums on vinyl, and by seventh grade I had definitely made the transition to cassettes, which were all albums. I had a few cassette singles, but very few; most of the ones I bought were in the late 80s, and were purchased to acquire unreleased b-sides.

Despite owning a few singles here and there, by and large (99.9%?) my music collection consists of albums — this includes vinyl records, cassette tapes, CDs, and of course mp3s. In the early days of mp3s, particularly at dial-up speeds, people traded single songs. Within just a couple of years Internet speeds went up and the cost of cavernous hard drives went down and people quit trading individual songs and began trading entire albums (and sometimes, entire discographies).

After dealing with inferior (and small) competitors, I broke down a couple of years ago and bought a 32GB iPod Touch. Six months after that, I bought a 16GB iPhone 3GS. And that’s where the trouble began.

I didn’t use my previous cell phone as an mp3 player; that’s in part why I bought the iPod Touch, which I subsequently filled with … albums. Because that’s how I view music — as albums. Copying all but a few tracks from an album, or half an album, or only one song from an album felt somehow incomplete. After purchasing an iPhone I found that I had my iPod Touch with me a lot, but my iPhone with me always. It also didn’t help things that my iPhone has half the storage that my iPod has. That was, unfortunately, an intentional decision. Based on my previous phone, I never imagined that I would use my phone as an mp3 player. But it turns out I do, and that makes it a pain in the ass to remember which device houses which album.

And with that, comes a change.

Last weekend I deleted all the albums off my iPhone. Since then, I’ve been going through my mp3 collection and adding only the songs I like to my phone. Sounds logical, I know, but it’s a mentality I’m not accustomed to. I’m used to putting a CD on and listening to it from beginning to end. “Random” playlists even feel a little weird to me, so a big pile of single songs definitely feels “jumbly”.

For now I’ll keep storing albums (especially new ones) on the iPod, while individual songs I enjoy will go to the phone.

So, what say ye? Are you an album person, or a singles guy (or gal)?

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11 comments to MP3 Philosophies (Share Yours!)

  • Albums, for sure. I’m sitting at almost 3800 (mostly digital) albums. I have my music organized in such a fashion that I have a folder for all of my “loose” mp3s, and that folder only has 300 or so songs in it, mostly cuts from soundtracks, remixes, b-sides, or songs I’ve had since the Napster era.

    And I completely follow you on the whole “phone as an mp3 player” bit. I had an old iPod at one point, a 30GB monochrome classic. This was well before I got a car stereo that had an AUX port on it, so using the FM Tuner was the only way to listen in the car, and it sounded awful. Turned me off of mp3 players right there, as I’d rarely get out somewhere that I’d need a portable player. Fast forward some 7 years later…I got a Droid 2 about 6 months ago, and it’s been excellent for music. I especially like it since I can upload my listening to my last.fm page.

    It’s got 74 albums on it, mainly stuff that I consider my “old standby” music, things I know I’ll want to listen to at one point or another.

    I’d love a post detailing how you catalog it all. That kind of stuff fascinates me.

  • Zeno

    I am also exclusively an album guy and have neither plans nor desire to change this. I guess I’d say it’s a preference – but I prefer to think of it as a discipline – born out of hundreds of hours listening to analog music formats (LP & Cassette) play themselves straight through except for a brief interlude to flip record or tape sides. Back then there was no easy means to selectively pick and choose select tracks to listen to repeatedly, so you just learned to put on an album and take the whole ride. I don’t think, cognitively speaking, I could ever come to terms with breaking the mental “wholes” I have of albums into “parts”. Granted there are only a few bands I really like, and I express this by carrying their complete discographies with me on my MP3 player. Fortunately it all fits in under 20GB with room to spare for the occasional impulse to listen to something else, so I’m not necessarily needing gigaquads of storage.

  • Matt

    I remember when artist put out albums that I wanted to listen to from beginning to end (some were better than others, but all the songs were good!). Now it seems that you get 2 to 4 good songs and the rest I would skip…so now I just buy singles

  • I’m an album guy. I grew up with ELO, Alan Parsons Project, Pink Floyd and other bands that were “album” bands: they put a lot of thought into connecting tissue between songs, and constructed the entire thing as an illustration of a single theme or idea. Sure, they’d spin a single off of that whole to get the radio airplay and get people to buy the album and hear the song in the context in which it was intended, but I’m very much an album guy.

    That said, for portable devices, I’ll frequently put together playlists of stuff that just happens to catch my fancy. Drives in the car are too disjointed and distracted to really soak up the experience of a well-constructed album.

  • Rob

    I have a root share on my server named simply “mp3”. Under that share, I have the following folders:

    MP3 (Adult)
    MP3 (Cassette)
    MP3 (CD)
    MP3 (Christmas)
    MP3 (Flack)
    MP3 (Podcasts)
    MP3 (Singles)
    MP3 (Spoken Word)
    MP3 (VH1 Top 100 Albums)
    MP3 (Videogames)

    All of my albums are stored under MP3 (CD). There are actually five folders under that folder: A-E, F-J, K-O, P-T, and U-Z. This was done not for organization, but because devices like the PS3 that force you to scroll chronologically through a list would time out before I could get down to the bottom.

    Albums I download go to !Incoming and albums I rip myself go to !Rip. I do this because once I move things to MP3 (CD) they tend to get lost and forgotten about. These folders work as a little buffer so I can decide if I want to put them on the iPod or iPhone before I file them away.

    Most of the other folders are things that originally existed in MP3 (CD), but got pulled out because I didn’t want them to play if I ever used shuffle mode on the entire MP3 (CD) folder.

    MP3 (Christmas) contains 20 gigs of Christmas music. Incidently, MP3 (Adult) ALSO contains Christmas albums. I created that folder the year I was playing random Christmas songs and “An XXX-Mas To Remember.mp3” came up. It’s a folder I could safely delete and never miss, but I probably won’t.

    MP3 (Cassette) contains mp3 rips of cassettes and vinyl records I’ve done — mostly ones from local bands, and ones that I made as a kid by taping things off the radio. Obviously they’re not CD quality, so they have to sit by themselves.

    MP3 (Flack) contains songs I’ve personally recorded.

    MP3 (Podcasts) and MP3 (Spoken Word) are self-explanatory.

    MP3 (VH1 Top 100 Albums) … probably 10 years ago, VH1 ran a special listing their top 100 albums of all time, so a friend of mine and I spent a month or tracking all of them down. Theoretically they should be moved into the MP3 (CD) folder but I’ve always kind of liked them being set aside.

    MP3 (Videogames) is full of video game soundtracks.

    MP3 (Singles) is whatever’s left over — one off tracks, everything snagged during the Golden Age of Napster, comedy, joke/parody tracks, singles, and lots of miscellaneous crap. There’s a pretty large cache of old 80s songs in there, along with a bunch of other things. I used to have a subdirectory in there called “Guitar” which was filled with songs I liked to jam along with on the guitar, but that went by the wayside eventually.

    If I were starting over from scratch I might do things differently. This is a folder organizational structure that somewhat developed itself for a collection that grew out of hand over many years.

  • AArdvark

    Interestingly, I think the music has changed because we all used to have to go to where the music was, not bring it along with us. With a somewhat captive audience, (you stay in one spot or room and listen to the music) the artists could be reasonably sure people would tend to listen to a whole sequence of songs in a row. So concept albums were better received by the masses. Now-a-days it’s all music on the go, so the industry tends to go for the hit and run single (general attention span = .00000004 seconds).

  • I was born in ’63, so the album mentality may be even more ingrained for me. I bought a handful of singles (on vinyl and even cassette) but mostly I was more practical about albums being a better value.

    I’ve always been pretty dismissive of artists who only produced 1 or 2 good (or even great) songs and the rest of the album was mush. But you’re right, iTunes and its 99¢ single song downloads has reshaped the music industry – regardless of whether we like that or not.

    I load mostly full albums on my iPhone and usually shuffle songs within each album. I even find that since I listen to whole albums, I often end up enjoying even the less favorable songs after a few listens. Rarely, I do a shuffle of the whole contents and just let it take me whenever random fate will go.

    And I’m still critical of artists or bands who can’t create whole albums or quality material. (Not to speak of artists who can’t crank out an album without having 3 or 4 guests on every track, but that a rant for another day.)

  • gratte

    Eh.. I’m definitely a singles person. Even back when all I had was vinyl and tapes, I’d only listen to a whole album once to see what was good. After that, I’d just skip around to the tunes I like. Pain in the ass for cassettes, but there’s no way I’mma sit through filler.

    The vast majority of musicians only have a handful of good songs in ’em, It makes financial sense to do albums and the whole industry’s been set up for that, as Rob said, since the Beatles. But that doesn’t mean, as a listener, I’m gonna kid myself that the experience of an album is better than it is.

    It’s funny w/MP3s though. I’ll keep whole albums of them around (in a directory) even though I don’t listen to most of the songs. Just listen once through iTunes, star the stuff I like, and ignore the rest. If space was a problem, I’d go through and delete the unstarred stuff.

    My full “collection” lives on the desktop computer with its big drives and regular backups. Only a few favorite tunes, and the latest albums I wanna check out make it to the portable device.

  • My organizational structure is kinda meatheaded and nonspecific by comparison. I have a share on my server called “Music”. Underneath that, there are the following three directories:

    Soundtracks (this makes up the majority of my collection)
    Not Soundtracks (simple, if it’s not a soundtrack, it goes here, uness it’s…)
    Not Music (sound FX, podcasts, audio theater, and so on)

    There are alphabetical directories under each of those. Beyond that, “Not Soundtracks” is divided up by artist, “Soundtracks” are divided up by, well, soundtrack, “Not Music” is divided up by title.

    I just think it’s funny having a NOT MUSIC folder under the MUSIC share.

  • I like that style. I employ something similar.

    I also have an “inbound” folder, named (~~) for some reason. In my main music folder, every artist has their own folder, and within is each album, leading with the release year in brackets.

    I also have some subfolders like you.

    (~~) 80’s Tunes (yes, they’re loose mp3s, but I like them separated)
    (~~) Chiptunes
    (~~) Comedy
    (~~) Country (need a place for those Kenny Rogers and Garth Brooks songs)
    (~~) Rap
    (~~) Soundtracks (sorted by year of release)
    (~~) VG (anything gaming related)
    (~~) Loose mp3s (the aforementioned catch-all)

    I’ve been using the MusicBrainz tagger to name everything in a uniform fashion, and a program called iTunes Watch to make sure that everything I add to the folder makes it into iTunes. It queries the xml file and looks for new data.

    I’m also a stickler for having album art in iTunes, too. The Watch program I use makes a new playlist when it adds stuff, so I can make sure it all has artwork.

    I love being able to keep this all organized, I only wish the rest of my life were this easy to keep straight.

  • Rob

    Yeah, it looks like our methods are pretty similar. The only major difference is, mine are all named “Band Name – Album Name”. I got into that habit on day one and never got out of it.

    I forgot to mention a couple of things. All of my compilation-type albums are listed under Various Artists – Album Name. And all of my movie soundtracks are listed under Movie Name – Soundtrack. For some reason “Top Gun – Soundtrack” made more sense to me than “Soundtrack – Top Gun” at the time. If I had the gumption I’d probably go pull all the soundtracks out and put them in their own directory as well.

    I have my chiptunes in with the video games. If it even sounds like it came from a video game, it’s in there. ;)