A few weeks ago, I got involved in a conversation with some friends about what to do with our old vinyl and CD collections, the assumption being that -in the digital age- nobody really wanted to keep hard copies of anything anymore. I begged to differ, because I’m one of those sad folk who does want to keep hard copies. I like having products to hold, look at, read, smell and –most of all- file.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a sizable music collection will have to devise an efficient filing system. CDs, for instance, should always be displayed in alphabetical order, preferably in the room in which you do your listening. Unfortunately, I don't have that luxury for my own collection, which resides in the living room, wherein other members my family are to be found, usually watching something they call 'the television'. Due to some legal mumbo-jumbo that I don’t understand, I am not allowed into this room without giving written notice, but at least I know that when I fancy listening to an old CD, my meticulously-curated display will allow me to find it within a couple of minutes.
An alphabetical system should be easy for the layperson to understand. Under a properly administered system, The Eisenhowers, for example, would sit comfortably between The Eiderdown Blankets and Ejector Seat Button. It almost goes without saying that, when filing any act beginning with the definite article, the ‘The’ should be ignored, unless the act in question is The The, in which case, you must simply ignore the first ‘The’ in favour of the second, or –if you wish- ignore the second in favour of the first.
But even something this simple can throw up the odd challenge. The demands of maintaining accurate filing will often wake me up in the middle of the night, as I fret over where to place acts like Boards of Canada (under B or C?), Captain Beefheart (C or B?) or Admiral Fallow. Is that bearded bloke who sings for them an actual Admiral whose name happens to be Fallow? If it is, file under F.
Grappling with the problem of whether I should file 'A band called Quinn' under A or Q is bad enough, but even more problematic is the question of where to place the 2003 album by the splendid hip-hop jazz collective The RH factor. The ‘RH’ in that moniker stands for ‘Roy Hargrove’, so should it be filed under ‘R’ because it’s the first identifier after the redundant definite article, or under ‘H’ for Hargrove? That coy nomenclature creates a headache for the dedicated filer; if the project had simply been called The Roy Hargrove Factor, I would have avoided a whole lot of sleepless nights and at least one bitter online fall-out and resultant caution from the police.
Compilation albums should be filed at the end of your collection, after The Zutons or ZZ Top. ‘Greatest Hits’ albums should be filed with the artists, even if the collection has a name which would –under normal conditions- place it somewhere else in your library. There is, among the CD filing community, a militant faction which believes that all compilation CDs (including, ridiculously, ‘Greatest Hits’ collections) should be filed together, under ‘C’ for compilations. This is nonsense of course, unless you are some kind of anarchist. No serious person would argue that ‘Kate Bush - The Whole Story’ could legitimately be filed under ‘C’, or indeed, ‘W’.
As an aside, I also have a section in my CD collection for stuff that I've recently bought, but which hasn't yet been properly filed because I'm still listening to it. Stop sniggering at the back.
You may scoff, but scientists have proven in various studies that folk who don’t have their music and books in alphabetical order are more likely to become terrorists, drug dealers or used car salesmen. Not having a filing system is bad enough, but Dante’s ninth circle of hell is reserved for folk who take CDs out to play them and then put them back in the wrong case. That sort of thing really is not a million miles removed from how Hitler and the Nazis got started in 1920s Germany.
And what about vinyl, I hear no-one ask?
My extensive (and impressively tragic) collection now resides at two upstairs locations. Singles are stored in a cupboard in the master bedroom (I don’t think my wife has even noticed this), while albums are kept in what -if about a ton and a half of domestic flotsam and jetsam were removed- I could more or less legitimately describe as my ‘music’ room, which contains -among other things- a USB turntable and a USB tape deck. This reminds me that I have a big box full of tapes that I have yet to convert to MP3. I’m wondering if it is going to be worth the bother. The Chickasaw Mudd Puppies, anyone? Or Babylon Zoo? Or how about two albums from the one artist (Todd Rundgren) on the same tape? Was that a thing back then? Now that I think about it, some of this stuff might actually be worth some money; my guess would be somewhere around 43 Vietnamese Dong.
If you have ever thought about buying either a USB turntable or a USB tape player to 'convert' your old stuff to MP3, let me tell you what is likely to happen. All of your old vinyl and tapes can essentially be put into two categories:
Category 1: Wow! I'd forgotten how good this was! I think I'll buy it again on CD.
Category 2: This isn't very good. That's probably why I don't listen to it anymore.
All of my CDs have also been ripped to MP3 and stored on an external hard drive. For this, I use a simple system to avoid unnecessary clutter in the folders allocated to each letter of the alphabet. 'Major' artists (four albums or more) get a sub-folder within the alphabetical folder for all of their albums. For example, the 'B' folder will have a 'David Bowie' sub-folder containing all of his work. ‘Minor’ artists (three albums or fewer) just get filed under the appropriate letter.
Given my meticulously-filed collection of stuff, you may well ask why I have felt the need to back-up my collection to a hard-drive. I have taken this precaution, dear reader, in case there is some kind of apocalypse and I am the only survivor able to provide an extensive selection of middle-aged white guy pop tunes for the survivors. In the event of societal meltdown and an anarchic descent into violent chaos, it will be 'survival of the fittest' and only those of us with truly essential skills will endure. I’m sure you’ll agree that I’ve carved out my own particular niche in the post-apocalyptic landscape.
I hope this brief guide might prove useful to anyone who is thinking of how best to arrange their collection. I have very particular views on filing, but I appreciate that there are alternative opinions and lifestyles out there. Without wishing to appear judgemental, all I would say is that folk who don’t properly catalogue their stuff are probably the kind of sick weirdos who believe in astrology, feng shui and other new-age mysticism.
Such folk may, on the surface, appear to be harmless enough, but just don’t expect them to understand that the spirit of rock and roll resides in the ability to administer a system of classification that unambiguously locates a particular artefact in a position relative to other artefacts in a collection on the basis of its subject and /or name.