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October 18, 2012
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When All the Music I Love Is, Basically, a Database

I have a large iTunes library. It doesn’t represent everything I have ever heard, nor everything I have ever loved, nor even everything I own. But that iTunes library is becoming a beast to manage.

There is SO much data about the music—that isn’t the music—but is integral.

Recently I have made it a personal project to make sure a single piece of information exists for each track: the release date, the day it became available for sale to the public.

I began this project because I was completely dismayed at the amount of music I have imported into my library without a date at all, and also frustrated by the number of albums imported with a re-release date instead of the original release date. The re-release date to me is like restoring a 1966 Ford Mustang and then saying it is a current-year Ford Mustang. No. Therefore, even when an album is remastered a second or third time, it is still a product of its era.

The release date is important to me. I remember where and when a piece of music was first a part of my life. I remember the order albums were released by favorite artists. So, when I sort my library by date, I want it to match that experience. For example, when I was a Freshman in high school, there was a radio show from midnight to 2 AM on Monday mornings where I first heard Mad World by Tears for Fears. This is opposed to the first time I heard Shout, also by Tears for Fears. I was a Junior in high school by then. I walked into Musicland in the Ridgedale mall in Minnetonka, Minnesota. It was playing in store and I bought the cassette on the spot. So my iTunes library had better get it right.

Aside: In the movie High Fidelity, the protagonist spends significant time sorting his collection of albums chronologically by relationship. This makes enormous sense to me.

Back to data: that raw list of data—disembodied though it is from the music—is becoming something I refer to much as I used to refer to liner notes, those tiny cassette j-cards, or the somewhat larger CD booklets. I don’t always remember the details, so I want iTunes to be true.

Another case where I find date information jarring is with “greatest hits” or other career-spanning collections of songs. The date associated with a song in this case is often the release date of the collection. Yet, that date might be decades removed from when a song in the collection was originally released. This is important to me because I have playlists built by decade. When I am hearing Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, which Kylie Minogue released in 2002 (in the US), I don’t necessarily want the next track I hear to be _Mother’s Little Helper_ just because the Rolling Stones’ “Forty Licks” compilation was also released in 2002.

Speaking of which, it took the “Forty Licks” compilation to make me realize I am a bigger ‘Stones fan than I thought, particularly with material released before 1970. I also now have a more profound respect for their career longevity. They are still making music.

So, in my iTunes library, the songs from “Forty Licks” all reflect the year they were released as singles, with the exception of the four tracks that appear nowhere else—those tracks stay in 2002, though I did for a long time consider dating them from the sessions in which they were recorded. I have reconsidered this position repeatedly.

There are still about 3,000 items in my library that are un-dated.

Don’t even get me started on missing or incorrect album art.

I will be researching music for a long time to come.

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