I want my MP3

  • 11 February 2005
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With the fear of being branded a weirdo by friends and family, Eoin Butler sells out and puts all his collection on an iPod. Oh dear

The fascinating thing about switching over to MP3s is the insight software like iTunes can offer on your music collection. My own CDs have long been my most treasured possessions. But I made the decision to convert after an incident in which my teenage cousin offered to "burn" a copy of an album he liked for me. "Why would you burn the album?" I asked, betraying my idiocy. "I thought you liked this band." I found myself on the receiving end of that stock teenage facial expression that says: "You are so old and out of touch it would be a waste of my time to even explain this to you." It's a look I know very well. It's a look I once specialised in dishing out. Surely, I figured, I'm not old enough to be on this end of that look already.

It was time to catch up with the 21st century. Understanding almost nothing (and caring less) about technology, I chose an iPod just because it looked cooler than any of its rivals. However, even the 40 gigabyte model I opted for still holds just 10,000 tracks. With a CD collection that runs to easily 1,000 albums, it seemed I had some tough choices about what to put on.

Not so. I'd always imagined myself presiding over my CDs with Jose Mourinho-esque attention to detail: understanding the temperament of each player, carefully vetting new acquisitions and bullishly protecting them from the covetous eyes of other managers. (Sure, Gene Clark's post-Byrds opus No Other may sit on the bench unused for six months. But if I decide to call upon it you can bet your life it will be primed and ready for action. Or, failing that, in the right case at the very least.)

It was a shock then to discover that my precious collection actually contains as many Verons and Crespos as it does Robbens and Terrys. Doing what amounted to an audit on my CDs reminded me that nearly half of them are promo copies of justly obscure albums that I will never listen to again. (I can take comfort from the fact that they arrived on free transfers I suppose!) Also, while I was aware that I am sitting on a huge stockpile of Bob Dylan albums, I never knew I owned this much Neil Young. That I never acquired an acoustic guitar and made a hobby of ruining parties is to my eternal credit surely.

When all of the 5,213 tracks I wanted were successfully transferred over, the iTunes database was a font of (mostly useless) information. It would take 13.5 days to listen to my new library the whole way through. The oldest recordings are by Billie Holiday from 1939. The newest are from 2005. The spoken intro to 'Fly Away' on Michael Jackson's Bad is the shortest at 0:08. Miles Davis' 'Bitches Brew', from the landmark album of the same name, is the longest at 26:59. (I was sure it would be something by wig-out terrorists The Mars Volta, but they were beaten into an almost succinct no. 38 by the likes of Kraftwerk, Can and Parliament.)

The genre function is also a genuine revelation. Because under its unforgiving glare, the oh-so eclectic taste I've always prided myself on possessing turns out to be something of a sham. The clear majority of tracks on here fall under the seemingly interchangeable banners of 'Alternative & Punk' (1,818) and 'Rock' (1,455), with 'Hip-hop' (343) and 'Reggae' (337) a long way behind. The fundamental contrariness of my musical palette is at least confirmed by the fact that I have an identical number of tracks deemed 'Country' and 'Electronica/Dance' (260).

More surprising still is just how few CDs I have by Irish artists. When I'm shelling out cash I just want the best thing out there, I don't apologise for that. Whether the drummer's sister went to school with my friend's girlfriend doesn't come into it. But with a measly six out of nearly 500 artists (David Kitt, Mumblin' Deaf Ro, My Bloody Valentine, The Pogues, Van Morrison and Republic of Loose) even remotely Irish it starts to look as if I have a vendetta against the place!

So, as I proceed into the permissive, sometime legally dubious world of file sharing and downloading, this nifty little gadget has given me plenty of food for thought.