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On Permanence

February 27, 2009

If thereís one thing Iíve learned over the last forty-nine years, itís that Iím going to want to be listening to my music until the day I die. When Iím old(er) and grey(er) and living in the old wargamersí home, Iím still going to want my tunes.

Iíd mentioned previously that Iíd been working on a long-term project to migrate all my music cassettes, about 250 of them, to audio CD.This is one of my ďarchiveĒ projects, collectively attempting to salvage as much of my music, movies, and computer software as possible and prepare it all for the future.

It took nearly five years to transfer all the music cassettes to audio CD, but now that portion of the project is done and Iím starting to worry about future migrations. I donít want to have to spend another five years migrating it all again the next time a major media shift comes around.

My music collection is now of course much larger than what was on those 250 cassettes; I bought a lot of CDs after my cassette-centric years. Hanna has a lot of CDs, plus about 50 more cassettes that I need to convert to audio CD. I havenít gotten around to counting yet, but my rough guess is that between us we have something over 700 music CDs. (And none of it is country-western music, if anyone is curious.)

When the next media format comes out, whatever and whenever that is, I donít want to have to buy all that music again. I already bought it. I paid for it. Some of my recordings Iíve bought two or even three times: in pre-recorded cassette form, in vinyl album form, and in audio CD form. Alan Parsons, Kate Bush, Judie Tzuke, Heart, and the Cars owe me a break on this one.

I realize the music industry is trying to sort itself out in these times of technological shiftitude, and that they would really like to move all music sales to a model in which the consumer ďrentsĒ music rather than buys it, some form of subscription model, but I donít want any part of that. I want to buy music, I donít want to rent it.

My main concern is the permanence of the music. In the old days, I bought a vinyl record or a CD and it was mine, to listen to as often as I wanted. I still have all the music CDs I bought and will hang onto them until, for whatever reason, I canít play them anymore. I gave away all my vinyl records a few years back (a move Iím still kicking myself over) but I still have about 85% of the cassette tapes Iíve ever owned, and theyíre all still playable. The CDs and cassettes are permanent, in the sense that theyíve survived for decades and will survive for several more decades if I have anything to say about it.

Whatís next after CDs?

The newer media out there concern me because they donít have that same sort of permanence. The MP3 players, iPods, and other electronic storage doo-dads are very nice and have some wonderful features, but they have a very limited lifespan. The ďcoolĒ ones especially have a limited life expectancy, not necessarily because theyíre likely to break, but because the owner is going to want to replace them with a newer and cooler model after six months. When you get a new one, you can hopefully transfer your tunes from your last player, but the tunes have to come from somewhere.

Ditto that for storing your tunes and listening to them on your computer. Most home computers last for several years (my main computer is now nearly six years old (gasp!) and I have computers in the basement dating back to the mid-1980ís, still fully functional) but letís face it, one good hard drive crash and your tunes are toast. Besides, I donít have a hard drive big enough to store all 700+ music CDs at audiophile quality level and all my tank games at the same time.

Downloading music from the Internet has a lot of advantages, if you can find what youíre looking for. Even back when Napster was at its height, I donít think it had a lot of bagpipe music available.

Well, cassette players are still around (in decreasing quantity and quality) and probably will be for a while. I think itís safe to assume that some form of CD players will be around for another 15 or 20 years. But what then?

I know, you donít care about any of this if you donít have a significant investment (in terms of money, time, and/or emotional attachment) to a large music collection, and youíre probably wondering why Iím blathering on about this. Maybe youíre right.

I have all the music Iíll ever need. As long as I can keep listening to it, Iím set for life. Maybe I donít need to buy any more music.


Jonathan left this comment:

It might be worth investing in an external USB hard drive, and pulling all your tunes off CD into MP3 format on that for safe keeping. Keeping the music in multiple sources increases the survivability.

To which I replied:

I agree, multiple backups is a good thing. I especially worry about having only one copy of my rare and unusual stuff, and recordings that have never been made available on CD. Trouble isÖ 700+ CDs saved at audio CD quality level takes up, er, 560 gigs of hard drive space?

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February 2009 articles
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The content on this page was written: February 27, 2009
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