Confessions of a Music Hoarder

In an era when the iPod has encouraged us to download as many albums as possible, Tim Lehman confronts 34 gigabytes of music he has never listened to.

Gaining access to the seemingly endless collection of music on the private, now-defunct bittorrent tracker Oink may have been one of the worst things to ever happen to me. Even if that claim is full of hyperbole (it is), and even if I have downloaded a considerable amount of music that I love from Oink and the sites that were created after its demise (many, many gigabytes), I am convinced that my introduction to the world of high-quality music has been a detriment to my overall experience as a listener of music. I have more music than any one person could possibly need, and I haven’t listened to most of it.

This compulsion to download album after album might be linked to the music I missed during my formative years. Between sixth grade—when I would listen to the local pop radio station and tape songs like B*Witched’s “C’est la Vie” and Citizen King’s “Better Days” off the air in an attempt to create a mixtape of my favorite songs—and eleventh grade—when I bought my first iPod—I removed myself from music. It wasn’t deliberate, but during those years I listened to only a modest selection of albums. On September 11th, I remember going to my room and listening to the angriest CD in my meager collection: Americana by the Offspring. Maybe today I feel the need to play catch-up.

When I bought my iPod, the appeal wasn’t that I would be able to take my entire library of music with me wherever I went. I barely had a library to begin with. Rather, the iPod became the reason to acquire music; the collection became the goal, listening to the music became secondary to simply having the music. After buying the mp3 player, I loaded it with the few albums of mine that I wasn’t ashamed of. (…Baby One More Time didn’t make the cut; the Titanic soundtrack, however, did.) I found myself needing to find new sources of music.

My turn toward illegal downloading occurred conveniently right around the time when I began to develop a legitimate interest in the music I was listening to beyond simple enjoyment. This enlightenment spiraled long and hard, turning me onto new albums and artists with each circulation, until I began downloading entire discographies and subsequently dismissing them based on a couple of half-listened tracks. I was being presented with too much information. My library began to inflate with music I knew I was supposed to like, rather than music that I had actually taken the time to enjoy. New music, old music, there was no discrimination. Everything was equally left by the wayside.

Recently, I realized just how many songs sat at the bottom of my iTunes library, their play count resting permanently at zero. Making an effort to listen to all of these abandoned songs appeared to be the only way to walk along the virtuous path of a music hoarder.

Setting up a smart playlist in iTunes was the first step, but I needed parameters to keep the project honest and engaging. The first guideline was that any song in the playlist must have a play count less than one—that is to say, zero. Second, I filtered out all music that fell into the genres of classical or soundtrack. (Learning to appreciate Rachmaninov will require a wholly different project.)

The playlist weighed in at over 4,200 songs, embarrassing in a library that contains just over 7,000 songs to begin with. That was 12.2 days of unlistened-to music, equaling a staggering 34 gigabytes. The proof of my reckless consumption was sobering. To be fair, the playlist contained songs that I listened to on my iPod, or on other iTunes libraries where the play count had not transferred, but the enormity struck me all the same.

Since I began shuffling through the playlist, the barometer of my shame has decreased to 11.9 days. I have listened to “Track 15″ from Songs of Old Russia, filled with lots of hearty chanting, not unlike something that might come from The Hunt for the Red October soundtrack. Currently, the seventeen-minute Pink Floyd epic “Dogs” drifts from my speakers in a wave of hallucinatory synth rifts. Next up it “How’s It Going to Be?” from Third Eye Blind. I can only imagine what will play after that.

The opportunities that Oink presented were overwhelming, certainly for someone who possesses an innate tendency to collect intensely. It’s possible my compulsion to download has endured for so long because of the intense connection that can occur between listener and music, a bond that approaches spirituality. Or maybe it has lasted because, with the proliferation of file sharing, it has become an item that is free to collect and consume. I, however, tend to believe differently. Perhaps my appetite for music lives on because there is so much of it, because a complete collection is impossible, because there will always be more, because for each song that is deleted from my unplayed playlist, another will certainly be added.

Tim Lehman is a graduate of Macalester College. In his spare time, he attempts to relive the four months he spent studying in Amsterdam by drinking Grolsch and eating sub-standard Minnesota falafel. He may well be missing the point.