Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Digitizing My Music Collection: A Journey of Discovery and Culling...

Thai funeral music? Yup, I got that...

I'm this close [holds index finger and thumb very close together] to fully digitizing my music collection. Those familiar with my music obsession know that's quite a few tunes, but I'm starting to get a full idea of just how many.

My love of all literally all varieties of music from hip-hop to the Grateful Dead, dub reggae and Vietnamese mood music by Dr. Phong Nguyen — except modern country, which I define as anything from 1980 onward, although there are a few rare exceptions... lookin' at you, Jamey Johnson — has led to stacks and stacks of CD spindles shelved away in my office, many of which I haven't listened to for years. 

For a good stretch, I was collecting music at such a good clip that I would burn a CD, save the best songs from an album on my computer and then get rid of it to make room. Between album purchases from record stores, Amazon and anywhere else, relentless scouring of free live music from, and others, and some great website finds of albums that you can legally download because they're out of print or unavailable anywhere else, I thought getting it completely digitized would be a near-impossible task. It's taken about a year, including countless hours spent peeling home-printed labels off some of the really old CDs and testing multiple computers to find out which one would actually read some of the extremely-cheap Princo CD-Rs I bought back in college from God-only-knows-where.

But it's been extremely rewarding rediscovering old records I'd forgotten about. There have also been some unfortunate coincidences: yesterday I finally ripped my Afroman discography... and then less than 12 hours later he connects with a full-on haymaker on some poor girl dancing onstage at one of his shows. And now I can't listen to "Tall Cans" without feeling like a bad person.

Some of the highlights:

Weirdest Record: Thai funeral music. It's crazy and cacophonous, and hard to listen to more than one track in a row, but it's weirdly beautiful. Kind of like the Thai version of a New Orleans second-line funeral parade.

Most Records By One Artist: Technically, this would be the 212 Grateful Dead shows plus the handful of studio albums, but that's live music, so we'll set it aside. This one goes to the great Miles Davis at 29 records. 

Records I Wish I Had More Of: Allman Brothers' shows. I managed to find 28 good or passable-quality recordings. But the best stuff is the old stuff, and the quality on old Allman  Bros. tapes is not great.... at all. I also kind of wish I had more old Bollywood soundtracks, but the quality-to-dreck ratio there is also not great.

Most Grateful Dead Shows From a Single Year: 1977. Gotta be '77. I'm actually more of a '76 guy, which isn't that common, and neither are good/complete '76 recordings, which is why '77 wins out. Songs in '76 were played at one of two speeds: Ludicrously Fast, and Nodding-Off-On-Heroin Slow, but I think it's a really good blend of the jazzier sound the Dead had in '73/'74, and the full-on psychedelic-locomotive sound of '77. But it's really hard to say enough good things about the spring 1977 shows: Phil Lesh plays the greatest bassline I ever heard on the 5/8/77 "Scarlet Begonias"; the ooey-gooey start to the 6/7/77 "He's Gone," when Jerry leaves his Mutron-III pedal on coming out of "Estimated Prophet"; the re-emergence of "China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider" after a three-year disappearance in the middle of the 12/29/77 "Playing in the Band" jam... the setlists have a lot of similarity, but every show is the shit.

Weirdest Band Name: Turkey Bouillon Mafia. No question. Decent funk band. Check 'em out on

The precise count at this point is 1,192 different artists, 508 gigabytes of music, with a few more GB to go, I suspect (I keep finding 50-disc spindles all over the damn house). Someday I might do the math on the number of songs, but I didn't go to journalism school so I could do more math.

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