For about the last 9 years, my wife and I have been lugging around giant, fabric-bound cases of CDs. While most of the music we listen to nowadays is delivered via iTunes or MOG, we’ve held onto these portable discs of sound…and I’m not really sure why.

Sure, there are some gems that I’ve found–albums that I’ve all-but-forgotten about, but smile fondly when I am now reminded.  But, it’s still mostly a pile of garbage…and it’s still something I can’t bring myself to throw away!

But finally this weekend, after going through the collection for about the 1 billionth time, I decided that I had had enough. I vowed, then and there, to ditch this pile of garbage for good…after I imported them into iTunes, of course :)

So I started importing the music, disc by disc, album by album. And here’s something I’ve noticed: when your entire CD collection is spread across several zippered carrying cases, it doesn’t seem that large. However, when you pile them all up next to each other–and have to wait on a less-than-speedy CD drive, you realize (very quickly) just how much of a chore awaits you.

Now here I am, nearly 60 discs into the over 350-disc collection. Since continuing is surely a good indication of a deep, consuming neurosis, I thought I’d jot down a few reflections of the process. And at the blistering pace of 0.8x ripping speed for Santan’s “Supernatural,” I’ve got time to burn.

Surprising Thoughts about CDs

  • CDs have a surprising resiliency. For the vast majority of their lifetimes under my “care”, these discs have either been under a bed, or in the back seat of a car. Now granted, they were more than likely securely zippered away from the most harsh aspects of their environments…but still. In random spot-checks of my imports, the overwhelming majority of the songs have imported brilliantly. Go figure–these are one of the only things in my life that haven’t been overly and adversely affected by my usual negligence!
  • CDs have a surprising capacity for getting stained. Some of the discs that were salvaged from alternate locations have some weird substances etched into their faces. The stains appear to have dimension, but when you go to clean them with a cloth, a handy shirt sleeve, or any other random wiping device, the offending spots are inexplicably merged into the very fabric of the disc. It reminds me of the couch on the stairs in Dirk Gently, but more unexplainable.
  • CDs have a surprising ability to work when you couldn’t care less if they did, and completely fail to read when it’s something you’re even marginally interested in retrieving. I’ve encountered a number of discs whose reading surfaces remarkably resemble the surface of the moon, but with less smooth spots. Yet when ripped into iTunes, they read as if their damage were merely an illusion. But, of course, when trying to read a long-lost favorite disc from early college days, a pristine reading surface means nothing. The moment you reveal to iTunes any hint of interest, the plan will fail and you’ll be left in a frustrated cycle of cleaning, reading, cleaning, reading…until you finally reach your breaking point and snap the unreadable disc in two. Of course, at that point, it is now a perfectly viable disc and will unveil its contents flawlessly :)
  • CDs have a surprising indictment to level against the 21st century. The fact that there is not already a real cloud-based music service is the biggest travesty of this young decade. After all, by ripping all these discs to iTunes, I’ve really only kicked the can down the road, so to speak. Since there’s no way to really put all of my music on the web in a usable format, I’m still left to lug around gigabytes of music from machine to machine. Of course, “lugging” between hard-drives is pretty painless, but still…it’s the principle of the matter, people!
  • CDs have a surprising ability to remind you of just how crappy the music is that you, and the people you live with, listen to. No matter who you are, there is really no justification for owning the Armeggedon soundtrack. None. So if you DO own it, this would indicate that either your musical preferences are scientifically undetectable, or you are a hoarder. I am a hoarder.
  • CDs have a surprising way of reminding you of just how much of a thief you are. Sure, there are some of the more dutiful among us that conscientiously make “backups” of their purchased music (we call these “losers”). But seriously, if you have a disc with 1.) music on it and 2.) the artist’s name written in permanent marker, you are a horrible sinner. And what about all the other legitimate discs that you cannot recall ever buying? Sure, you might just have a bad memory….but what is more likely is that you “borrowed” the disc from a friend and, well, we’re back to the “sinner” bit.  All of the pain you endure when digitizing this collection is your penance.  It’s not God’s fault that you have too many discs to keep track of.
  • And finally, for all their flaws, CDs have a surprising way of reminding us how terrible the earlier alternatives were. As painful as importing 350 CDs to iTunes might be, it beats trying to accomplish the equivalent from cassette to CD. Although, come to think of it, cassettes were pretty sweet… So maybe, in the final analysis, CDs are really about the worst idea that could have ever happened. Other than the interwebs.