Rehashing a Music Debate, or: Someone Stole My iPod

music is my boyfriend, music is my girlfriend

In the uplifting whirlwind of my past week (I signed a lease!  I locked down another job!  My parents came to persuade me to go home to North Carolina, and they failed!), I’ve suddenly found myself in another slump, and one that I would’ve expected after I moved to New York, not before: two days ago, someone stole my phone and iPod from my makeshift bedside table while I was walking my friend out to his car.  I’m a txting junkie, so the loss of the phone was, of course, a blow, but what hit me more was the iPod theft.  I love music.  All my friends love music.  We snobbishly listen to our music on big DJ headphones and tweet Starfucker lyrics with #STRFCKR.  At least once a summer I listen to Abbey Road on vinyl with them.  Yeah, I’m one of those people.  I wear v-necks and neon and sunglasses indoors—especially at night.

I Skyped my parents (praise to the Internet for existing), and they reactivated my old phone with the T9 keypad and sticky battery pack and Fedexed it to me (it arrives this morning.  I’m anxiously awaiting the email from my campus mailing center).  So the phone situation is almost fixed.  Now for the iPod.  What to do in this age of music, when losing your mp3 player sentences you to dull, loud train rides and awkward eavesdropping on the subway?  Not to mention, that’s at least 24 gigs of essential music that I’ve painstakingly ripped and downloaded that I’ll have to sync to another iPod… when I can afford one that can store the vast amounts of 320 kbps files that I’ve organized on my external HD.

But enough obnoxious audiophile talk—or maybe not.  The last time my iPod went on the fritz, I was in high school, and I put everything on CDs and wandered around with an old school DiscMan, switching out CD for CD at every opportunity.  It was kind of a drag.  CDs take up space, the DiskMan takes up space, no matter how many mixes I made I’d always want to listen to a song on a different CD next, I couldn’t see the album art, etc.  This time, I’m far from my backup DiskMan and giant case of CDs (both bought and burned).  I have to resort to opening my laptop just to have something playing while I read, clean or pack.  And I’m beginning to notice, perhaps with my snobbily developed ear, that some of my favorite songs are showing signs of wear.  I hadn’t ripped them in lossless FLAC form, or I’d opted for the smaller 128 kbps file size, and now I could tell: there were gaps in the music, in some of the instrumental layers, that flickered or shorted out completely as the song played on.  On other songs, the sound modulated from left to right, but never in true stereo.  I know, I know.  The horror, the imperfect quality of my music!  And how could I fix this, if I didn’t have the original CDs I’d ripped them all from!?  (I could replace them quickly, but I have a personal squick about buying music from iTunes.  It has everything to do with the DRM and overall file quality and nothing to do with the pirate-revulsion at paying for music.  Let’s not get into the debate on piracy, I don’t have enough words.)

And what was worse: how am I going to listen to these soiled tracks on my daily commute—by leaving my laptop open while I read some Bret Easton Ellis?  Don’t be absurd.  That takes up way too much space.  Only grownups open their laptops on the train, and that’s because they have spreadsheets to look at and Powerpoints to polish.  I’m just a student, a youth who doesn’t know how to go anywhere without something in my ears.  If only I had my Walkman and some sweet, CD-quality music piping in through my Klipsch headphones.

I’m not delusional about what this post is roundaboutly advocating.  The fight for physical music isn’t really much of a fight at all, and hasn’t been for a long time, with record stores inexorably losing ground to other dealers like Amazon, which offers non-DRM tracks and almost CD-level quality, and to the entire torrent culture, which can get you or anyone else with an internet connection the FLAC and portable-friendly 320 kbps (or even 192 kbps) versions of nearly any album for free in five minutes.  And admittedly, portable music itself pales when you listen to the same track on a more powerful machine like a laptop, desktop, or amp.  Honestly, vinyl wins the audiophile debate on every front.

But I’d still like to make the case for the humble CD, the technological link between big, fragile, warpable vinyl records and tiny pocket-sized, low-quality mp3 players.  A CD is solid.  It’s material, it takes up some space.  If you’ve bought it new from Best Buy or used from a record store like P-rex (near where I live right now), it doesn’t matter—it’s going to sound just as good in your CD player.  All the layers will be balanced, the bass will have the perfect, intended depth, and the highs will be crisp and clear.  And there’s so much art that goes into an album package: the cover art, the liner notes, the top of the CD itself.  There’s still something to be said for artists who release albums and not just a list of singles.  There’s still something to be said for the feeling of holding a CD and knowing that you own whatever tracks are on it.  If your computer crashes or your external HD reformats itself, you’re okay.  You have the original CD version, which is nicer to listen to anyway.  Plus, no one’s going to steal a five-year-old DiskMan and a six-pound CD case.

If you’re still the type to buy CDs or at least download tracks of CD quality (burn them onto actual CDs!  Burn them now!), then luckily for you and me there are still many record stores around the city that cater to our obsessive audiophilic needs.  While I’m still in New Jersey, I have P-Rex, which deals in many, many used CDs and records as well as blank CDs with enough storage for larger high-quality downloads.  In the city, though, I’ll probably head to Village Music World.  They’re not paying me to say that, they just have a $2 student discount off any CD, and I’m student-poor.  I already have to spend money on another DiskMan.


I tweet while I’m at work. I have yet to master hashtags.
My personal blog: a collection of music and other pop culture things I like.

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