Wednesday, February 4, 2015

One at a Time


A few years ago - back before I got myself an iPod and grudgingly switched over to iTunes - I had a WMP playlist called 'Recent Stuff'. I listened to it loads. It consisted, at all times, of ten songs: one from each of the last ten albums I had purchased. Every time I bought a new album, I would change all ten songs, which meant that, by the time an album had been pushed to the bottom of the list, almost all of its tracks had had a turn in the limelight.

This was a great way of getting to know the CDs I bought - even if I didn't like an album enough to listen to the whole thing over and over again, its presence in the 'Recent Stuff' playlist ensured that I didn't completely forget about it.

So why did I eventually give up on the 'Recent Stuff' playlist? It's because I got into the habit of bulk-buying. Back in the day, I usually bought no more than one or two albums at a time, and this was essential to the efficacy of the playlist - it meant that albums didn't move down the list too quickly, and that each one would see a fair few of its songs make the ten before dropping off.

Nowadays, though, my buying patterns are different. I'll buy five or six CDs as soon as I get paid, and then I won't buy any more for the rest of the month. Sometimes (particularly when I go shopping in Bristol), I'll even buy 10+ albums in one go, and splurges like this would render the 'Recent Stuff' playlist particularly useless if it still existed.

The trouble with this approach, though, goes far beyond the curation of playlists that nobody else cares about. Buying my albums in bulk means that none of those albums get the attention they deserve; those that aren't instantly, obviously awesome get forgotten about, and even those that are don't get the chance to dominate my life as they once would have. Ideally, I'd like to give every album I buy at least a week of solid, undivided focus, but this is hard to do when I get so unashamedly gluttonous in record shops.

So here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to bring back the 'Recent Stuff' playlist, and I'm going to buy no more than two albums at a time. I'm doing OK so far; I've only bought one new album (What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World by The Decemberists) since the start of the year, and I've been listening to that record far more than I would have done if I'd bought half a dozen others at the same time.

The real test will come when more new albums start coming out - I'm looking forward to a lot of releases in 2015 (Modest Mouse, The Mountain Goats, and Aidan Moffat, to name just three), and when all of these awesome new albums are looking back at me from the window of Spillers, it's going to take some real self-restraint to pick just a couple. Especially when I've recently been paid.

I suppose time will tell how well I do. In the meantime, I'd like to know more about how you buy albums - do you live for those dozens-in-one-go splurges? Or do you limit yourself to one at at time?

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Joel.

    I know what you mean when you say your albums aren't getting the attention they deserve. Relistening to albums for my album of the year posts, I'll often start to hear depth or nuance that was lost on me the first few times - thus changing where they end up in my end of year ranking.

    As my music buying habit has increased, I've found my listening methods scattered all over the place.

    A couple years ago, I made my own 'Hot 10' playlist, which I tend to use strictly for singles of the moment or stuff from new albums.

    I also have a 'Hot 30' playlist, which I fill with any stuff, old or new, that I wish encourage myself to keep listening to.

    My desire to sample new music, old music and everything else in between has caused a real headache for my purchasing plans. I used to buy a bunch of albums every month, like you. Now, however, I decided (through necessity really) to rein in all my vinyl/CD purchases and go digital-only with Google Play, Bandcamp and others.

    Keeping playlists up-to-date is an ongoing task, so I've also made myself a spreadsheet for playlist ideas to keep themes and song lists together, whether they're in my iTunes library or not. I'm hoping that this, along with my new initiative to make playlists whenever an idea comes to me, should mean I start to listen to more of my music in new ways.

    Yes, like you, only time will tell how well this goes. I haven’t bought or listened to any of my priority Jan/Feb 2015 albums yet – only Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special and Peace’s Happy People – and my wishlist is longer than ever. Perhaps I’ll have to give in and buy a Google Play streaming or Spotify subscription in order to keep up with all the new releases?

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