(c) Trina Lambert 2014

(c) Trina Lambert 2014

Though I don’t miss eight-track cartridges, cassettes, or albums, I do miss how listening to one set of works at a time allowed me to get to know a particular set of music well. When we upgraded our stereo system to include a CD player that let us listen to five—five—CDs, either one after the other or shuffled together, I still felt I could really get to know the individual pieces of works. Sometimes that song I didn’t think I liked grew to become one of my favorites, something that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been forced by the industry to take my music as a set.

At the time when we built our CD collection, I would have told you the options were almost overwhelming. What did I want to listen to for the next three hours or so? But for the most part I did come to know the songs on those discs, some in an intimate way. Remember reading the words from the CD cover, not just looking them up online where you hope that person sharing the words hears well enough to get them right? I wanted to know what they meant and write some of the words on my heart.

Now I can access my songs shuffled in so many ways: randomly, by album, by artist, by genre, by playlist, etc. Yet all those songs are there for me at the same time. With my CDs, I never stopped before to count just how many songs I had available to me. Despite not having converted all those songs from the original format, just the sheer number listed on a screen of what I own overwhelms me. And the new stuff acquired—some individually, some in album groups—has never grown as near to my heart and memory. Somehow it seems almost wrong to focus on an individual song or album when I can listen to some endless random loop.

Having too many choices has weakened my connection to this song or that album. I feel as if I’m losing my ability to come to know a work so intimately that it becomes part of the soundtrack of my own head. Instead, so often it’s all this grand, big collection of music I like versus something really personal to me.

So while I’m open to new songs and new artists, the expansion of music options available to me seems to keep me quite a bit in the past. These days I hear songs I like then promptly forget about them. Without repetition they just don’t stick with me.

Though it’s easier to live without physical representations of music cluttering my space and gathering dust, I feel that when all my music is contained in one small box or a cloud, the too-muchness of the formats puts a barrier between me and true love for that music individually.

The other day after driving around in my car while listening to a mix CD made several years ago, I realized just how often I had fallen into singing along with those songs without even knowing it. I, not some random algorithm, picked those songs. Sure, I made the “playlist” myself, but first I had to know those songs well enough to want to choose them.

Yes, even with a car that is smart enough to allow me to bring along all my music at once, I prefer to put a boundary on what I can hear in that small space, even if that means cluttering up the car with specific CD jewel boxes. How else am I going to live up to my “Caution—driver singing” license plate holder? I can’t sing along with every one of the songs in my collection, but give me 10 to 15 at a time and you’re going to need that warning.