Let’s Stay Physical: The Case for CDs and LPs

Nov 1st, 2016 | By | Category: Back to Vinyl, Essays

recordcollection photo by DEARGDOOM57 https://www.flickr.com/photos/deargdoom57/5442804137/in/photolist-9hXN3D-6wcdL3-nJ6wgB-8Bfhmm-5PE8xP-6s1P5W-5szn1b-5hpUj1-86Vfda-5suZcZ-86Vffr-7p14N1-86Yr2C-86YqZh-86Yr5N-bEEKre-86Yr4o-5uT2xD-7BdnLn-86Vf6M-8UYjnP-6vZ37u-6qTo5t-6wnRoT-6sPYRX-6vEDTB-6sU4NA-8Eaa9M-6vEN4p-f6p3et-5nWRNE-7xDbdL-6yogmU-6vF3wV-8oUct5-6sU5yN-77ZU7x-6qTPRx-85vxoL-8ZsDRn-6uf5Ym-6NLa6n-7yLbVm-7yaYFX-6q3xLw-8SjiWZ-6q3y1W-8JK4eB-6qTroa-8Snr4mI recently spent several months packing up most of my house for a move that fell through at the last minute. I’ve had more enjoyable experiences in my life.

Back when I used to move much more frequently — during the college years and shortly thereafter — I followed a simple rule of packing. The last things to be packed were my record collection and stereo. Of course! Otherwise I would not have music to listen to during my packing. Conversely, the first items to be unpacked were those same items — of course. Because I had to have music while unpacking and settling in.

This time things were different. With Sonos/Spotify available in much of my house and a music server with a gazillion songs attached to my listening system, the LPs got packed up at the outset. As did my large collection of CDs. There was little time for serious listening, so no need to keep the original sources available.

I’m not sure exactly how many times I’ve moved thousands of LPs and CDs in my life, but it’s been more than a few. And as I was packing those items this time, I had a fleeting feeling that I had not encountered before: I don’t want to do this again. Those things are heavy, and just moving them from shelf to carton and back again was enough to make my back moan for days. But then I thought: Could I really bear to part with my physical media?

I have had purges over the years, both small and large. In the most epic one, I sold about half my record collection to a local dealer, for no more than a dollar or two each. I wisely invested the proceeds into a LaserDisc player and a handful of movie discs.

Of course, those items are now worthless, long ago donated or sent to the dump. But some of the records I disposed of are selling on eBay for $500 (had I learned nothing from my brother’s baseball card lessons?). And I really am sorry I can no longer open some of those gatefold sleeves and browse the HUGE bookets. Spinning the tracks from a hard drive just ain’t the same thing.

As a member of the Boomer generation, I am far from alone in thinking about these matters. In fact, just today Sujesh Pavitrhan published a piece in which he steadfastly vows to keep his physical media. In his piece Why I won’t be ditching my CDs,  he notes:

I have friends who, to this day, regret getting rid of their LP collection back in dark days of vinyl, during the late 1980s and 1990s. And similarly, those who have disposed of all their CDs will, I suspect, rue the move in the coming years or decades.

I watched in pain a few weeks back as a very close friend made the decision to sell off his amazing record collection. I know it was not easy for him, but it seemed to be the right time and the right thing to do. I wish I had been able to buy his records. Partly, that’s because I know he had some gems in that collection. But even more so, it was because I hated to see his life’s musical “soundtrack” broken up. Those LPs held a lifetime of memories: Of discovering new bands from indie newspapers and word of mouth; of going from city to city, shop to shop, to track down their albums; of staying up way too late in way too filthy clubs to hear what those songs would sound like live.

So like Sujesh Pavitrhan, I will likely end up holding onto my LPs and CDs for quite some time yet. But the irony is that even though my move fell through, I haven’t taken the box knife to all those cartons of LPs yet. I’ve been happy to spend what little listening time I have with my vast digital collection and a few new LPs. So at this point, maybe I am more in love with the idea of having my collection than with the collection itself. In any event, I am glad I don’t have to make the decision just yet as to whether it’s time to listen to my back and send my collection to the winds.

What’s your take on the importance of a vinyl or CD collection? Have you made the move away from physical media yet?

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