My Digital Music Collection
2014-10-28 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2015-06-26 — Addendum / update
2015-08-21 — Subtitles, new section on artists
2016-06-19 — Brushed up for better readability
The “Hardware Aspect”
This is a follow-up on my earlier blog entries “My vinyl record collection” and “What’s in my LP collection?” — but I’m not going to chew up things the same way this time, partly because I have already discussed my collecting philosophy for CDs in the posting “Transitioning from vinyl to CD”. For my digital music collection I don’t maintain a database as detailed as for my LP collection (note: this has since changed). So, let’s take a less chronological approach, but rather a descriptive and comparative one.
A Summary View
First, some summary numbers:
- Let’s first have a “summary look” at the LP collection. There are some 1800 vinyl LPs in my collection, which I collected over the 20 years between 1968 and 1988. If an average LP is about 50 minutes of music, my collection is about 90000 minutes, or 1500 hours (62 days of 24-hour, non-stop music).
- Now I find that I have a collection of around 2120 music CDs collected between around 1995 and today (updated 2016-06-20, still growing, of course). An average CD is around 65 – 75 (up to 80) minutes, i.e., this is substantially more music than in my LP collection: my CD collection is about 2250 hours (94 days of 24-hour, non-stop music). These numbers are per 2016-06-20. I now have ripped all CDs (currently almost 27,700 tracks) into iTunes.
“Digital” vs. CD
In the title I used “digital music collection” (rather than “CD collection”) — this is a more accurate description, for two reasons:
- I did not buy not all this music in the form of CDs: some of these were MP3 or equivalent purchases.
- The CDs for me are more of an archival medium — the active part of the collection is in my computer: I rarely ever use a CD player (or the computer’s CD drive) to play music: I store the contents of all new CDs on my computer and listen from there, and I’m making good progress towards “sucking” the contents of all my CDs onto the computer. Update: as per 2015-06-26, iTunes now holds the contents of all CDs, see above.
Legal and Security Concerns
On the other hand, I may be a bit conservative and security-oriented:
- I burn all MP3 or other online purchases onto CD(-R), as a backup in case I lose my computer (OK, that would take my office or our house to burn down). On the computer I maintain two copies, both on RAID file systems that are unlikely to break, let alone both at the same time. I also have Apple’s TimeMachine that allows me to access older versions of any file.
- At the same time, the CD hard copies are a proof that all my music is legal — I don’t do illegal downloads. There are very few tracks on my computer that I didn’t pay for, and those are exceptions that are not available on CD or as legal downloads. I will not pass on such downloads, and once a CD will be released for these tracks, I will definitely purchase the CD, so the artist gets the compensation (s)he deserves.
Sources for the Collection
Where did I get / purchase the music from?
- My first purchases were from Tower Records in Mountain View, CA; over the years (as long as that shop existed) I have purchased a couple dozen (maybe 100, overall) CDs in that shop, on my business trips to California (the shop is gone, and now I rarely travel, so that channel is closed).
- The bulk of my collection are physical CD purchases at Amazon.de or from Presto Classical. As I’m in Switzerland, that is subject to a couple of restrictions: below EUR 20 there’s postage added, and above CHF 62.50 (currently about EUR 55) there’s a hefty customs fee, so I tend to pack CD purchases into small batches.
- I have made good experiences with third-party vendors / shops under the hood of Amazon, provided the CD quality is labeled “good”, “like new”, etc. The major downside of this channel is in shipping delays, extra postage, occasional refusal to deliver to non-EU countries, and (with used items) broken CD cases (easy to replace). So far, all CD content from that channel was OK. If occasionally my standard CD drive refuses to read an old CD, the external LightScribe drive will still read them OK.
- Additional online purchases are from shops such as CeDe.ch — not my first choice because of their limited repertoire, poor description, clumsy, limited online shop — but occasionally helps avoiding big customs fees.
- Very few (10?) CDs were purchased at Jecklin in Zurich (at a time when their CD shop still existed).
Other Sources, Downloads
- A couple of CDs are “after-concert purchases” — though I’m not convinced it is a good idea to buy CDs immediately after a concert: sometimes the result is disillusioning …
- A few CDs were gifts that we received.
- around 90 CDs are iTunes downloads; I use this channel a) if a specific interpretation is not available elsewhere, and b) if the iTunes purchase results in substantial cost savings (like: more than CHF 10) — because there is typically no booklet, information about the recording may be incomplete, plus it takes about 1 hour to get a CD burned & labeled (I normally use Lightscribe to label CDs), cover and back sheets, track catalog and backside label strip are printed, cut, fitted into the case, etc.
- 6 CDs are downloads from Magnatune.com. I liked their original business model: one downloaded DRM-free music tracks, paid what one considered appropriate, and the artist got 50% of that price. That was a big contrast to a margin of (much) less than 10% with the big companies). Recently, they switched to a subscription model where one pays a monthly subscription fee that permits unlimited downloads. However, I’m interested in specific recordings, not thousands of tracks. Plus these downloads are still associated with the usual extra work for creating backup CDs, so I have essentially stopped using that channel.
- Finally, for very few exceptions I used MP3 downloading from Amazon.de, but merely because there was no other viable channel or hard copy CD. See above under iTunes downloads.
Overall, 6% of my CDs are online downloads, the rest are physical purchases. I expect this ratio to shift towards downloads, following the general trend away from physical media, into the “cloud”.
What Music is in my CD Collection?
Comparing the CD and LP Collections
I’ll use a simpler approach than in my posting “What’s in my LP collection?”, as have not maintained records about the purchasing chronology. Let’s first look at those composers which are represented by at least 10 CDs in my collection (as per August 2011):
This graph shows the CD counts for the various composers, sorted top-down, by CD numbers (blue); the green bars indicate LP counts. At the top end, the two collections look pretty similar:
- With Beethoven, the blue bar includes the bulk of the LPs (green bar): all recordings of symphonies, piano concertos, the violin concerto, as well as the piano sonatas and string quartets, along with new recordings. This explains why I have more Beethoven CDs than LPs;
- With Bach I now have all cantatas conducted by Ton Koopman. However, I did not venture (or even start) adding the Rilling and Harnoncourt/Leonhardt recordings that I have on LP. Also, I have various LP recordings of Bach’s passions, Xmas oratorio, and the Mass in B minor that are absent from the CD collection.
- The CD collection fills a few gaps in my LP collection: Pärt, Buxtehude, Tallis, Froberger, Byrd, Soler, Scriabin, Widor, Marais, Reger.
Gaps in my CD Collection
I have focused on “catching up” with some of the big names, while neglecting other, important ones. The grossly underrepresented composers include Handel, Brahms, Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Telemann, Dvořak, Vivaldi. If we look at composers where I have 5 or more LPs, but less than 10 CDs, we see additional, big holes in the CD collection (again per August 2011):
The biggest holes: Monteverdi (missing “L’Incoronazione di Poppea”!), Wagner, Schütz, Couperin! There are more, especially from the pre-baroque era, on which even the LP collection was rather thin. Examples are Dunstable, Dufay, Ockeghem, Josquin, Palestrina, Lasso, Byrd‘s vocal works, Dowland and several others. I love the music of that period: this should be my next priority!
Overall, the scope of my CD collection is very similar to the one of the LP collection. One difference is that with the CDs I focus much more on historically informed performances than with the LPs. But it still is “classical only”, except …
“Other” Music CDs …
OK, there are actually a couple of CDs that I omitted from the above text; the restriction “classical only” isn’t the full truth. I did buy a couple of CDs featuring Bobby McFerrin. Occasionally I have fun listening to some of these (especially the one with Yo-Yo Ma). However, that’s nothing I would do with the same intensity and dedication as with the CDs discussed above.
Audiobooks & Podcasts
Finally, I also have over 200 CDs in a collection of audiobooks. These are again different, in that I listen through them once, and then certainly not again for a long time. Reading books is one of those things that I have almost given up, due to lack of time. But listening to audiobooks is something I quite like — provided I’m doing something that allows for the mind wandering off! Examples:
- I have the whole series of “Commissario Brunetti” stories, by Donna Leon (in German, all good entertainment!);
- I also have a couple of novels, spoken by the late Gert Westphal (a truly phenomenal speaker for the German language). Examples: “Die Wahlverwandtschaften” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Der Stechlin” by Theodor Fontane, “Doktor Faustus” by Thomas Mann. I do have these books in print as well, but never seem to get around to reading them.
- Similarly, our second public radio channel features weekly (30 – 45 minutes) readings from stories and novels, both short and medium size books. I’m listening to these as podcasts, and some I then burn onto CD or DVD.
How about the Artists in my Collection?
In classical Music, there isn’t just the question of what music to collect, but also / equally, which artist(s) to pick. Let me add some thoughts about this here, first looking at my LP collection:
- My primary idea was to cover a broad scope of music. I selected compositions which I heard on the radio or later in concert, plus composers and pieces that were present my parents’ small LP collection;
- In those days, artists were of secondary importance, except that
- I tried catching recordings with artists whose names I knew from the radio, names that my parents mentioned.
- As I also watched out for cheap releases on secondary labels, the artist selection was often arbitrary.
- In exceptional cases, I would eventually add a second recording of a given piece (or set of pieces);
- Finally, for selected areas (Beethoven piano sonatas, symphonies, Missa Solemnis, etc.) I would add several versions or collections by specific artists.
New Directions and Opportunities
For reasons outlined above, some (most) of this has migrated into my CD collection. Now, with my growing interest in historically informed performance (HIP) recordings, I tend not to add extra “classic” / “traditional” recordings, but to focus on HIP versions. That said, with few exceptions (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven), I keep focusing on the width of my repertoire:
- I may be comprehensive in some areas of coverage. Examples: all cantatas, piano sonatas, string quartets, symphonies of certain composers, often with a single artist, conductor, or ensemble.
- However, there is no way I can even dream of being comprehensive by collecting a significant portion (let alone all) of the recordings for a given piece.
- On top of that, I do not claim that I have the reference recording for any given piece, and
- an artist’s reputation alone is not a reason for me to buy: beyond what I had on LP, I’m really focusing on what I like now.
This is just as an illustration on the last point above. I posted a comparison of 15 recordings of Beethoven’s Symphony No.3, “Eroica”. In response, I received a comment “Not a single version of Karajan’s recordings? You’ve got to be kidding…”.
No kidding — I know Herbert von Karajan’s style and repertoire; I even have a couple of his recordings. Frankly, what I heard in the past has never (or rarely) convinced me. Some pieces even disappointed me (I may get to those when I discuss the relevant compositions); probably also his “jet set attitude” made me feel suspicious.
Yes, he has qualities — some have to do with his reputation (like: his ability to pick and select the very top soloists of his time), and one may also see his quest for the perfect sound as a quality (actually, in today’s HIP environment, that last point is rather controversial, to say the least), but he was also known to avoid pp / ppp because this might affect the sonority of a recording, and in the extreme, some of his recordings are “nice & polished, but boring”, especially since Harnoncourt & Co. brought forward the concept of Klangrede (“speech in sound”).
In conclusion: HvK never really was near the core of my interest — quite to the contrary. The fact that many listeners regard specific or all of his recordings an “all-time reference” doesn’t interest me. This will not cause me to spend more money on this artist.
Besides: even if I were to follow the suggestion to add Karajan, this would by no means make a collection more complete, as I’d have no problems naming one or two dozen other conductors from the same period & similar tradition that I regard as being of comparable significance (the same is true for instrumentalists, whatever instrument). Also, since the days of Karajan, the music market has exploded. Today, one could often find well over 100 interpretations of a given popular work. Even just trying to keep up with ongoing, new releases can be tough, if not impossible. Overall, I think it is wise to focus on what is doable / feasible!
Basic Directives for the Blog and my Collections
When comparing interpretations, I’m typically trying to cover what I have, and what is in the scope of my interest. I’d rather add an interesting recent recording than one that some (especially older) listeners consider to be their reference. On top of what I already have, I will definitely not add older recordings of which I know or suspect that they will have no chance of “surviving” a comparison with my favorite (let alone HIP) recordings. The purpose of my blog & collection is not to bash on artists that I dislike, but rather to point out what I like.
Also, keep in mind the motto “All just my personal opinion” of this blog — I never claim universal validity of my findings & opinions — it’s all pretty subjective, even though I try justifying my statements and findings, and nobody is forced to read my blog!