The Music Memoryhole Edition
On digital music, the cloud, and the great migration
Michael Grant (MG) is a creative director at Avocados and Coconuts. He has previously written about the Tanforan Shell Station and Poptimism. He can remember what his first Napster download was…but it’s a secret.
Michael here. There have been two distinct, sustained eras for building a collection of recorded music.
The first was a system wherein customers went into a store, forked over money, and took physical media home in the form of records, 8-tracks, tapes, or cds. In order to lose this type of collection your house had to catch fire, or someone had to shatter your car window and jack your Case Logic binder, or you had to die.
The second is a system wherein customers pay less than the cost of a Mission super burrito for access to basically everything ever recorded and systematically build their “own” “library” of selections. In order to lose this type of collection, I suppose you can tap delete til your finger bleeds, or wait for the day when Neil Young finds a sustainable way to destroy the Spotify server farms.
And that would be curtains on this piece—and the answer to the daily question would be “that actually isn’t interesting”—except there is a hidden mini-era in between the two, a half-decade of memory-holed music from roughly 2003-2009. For those playing at home, yes that is from the widespread adoption of the iPod until its dismissal and demise.
All of us had music on our iPods that we didn’t have before and haven’t had since. Tracks that defined those years and are now confined by them. They’re abandoned, and it has as much to do with how we got those songs as the devices we played them on.
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Why is this interesting?
It was a perfect storm of chaotic mass music acquisition. iPod capacities were ballooning right as internet speeds were spiking and pirating options were blossoming. In other words, we could get (read: steal) sooo much music sooo fast. Enough to fill up our computers and spill over into a sea of external harddrives (that mostly still exist, somewhere in storage, unloved and unlabeled).
It was more music than we’d ever had, but it still felt like ours in a way that was spiritually adjacent to the old model. These were our files! And to get them we braved sketchy links, endured mislabeled songs, cleaned up metadata, and compared multiple versions of the same low-quality leaks.
And then the vast majority of it was abandoned. So where did it all go? The answer is: nowhere. We kept going. It stayed right there. But we loved it once, and we can again.
So it’s worth exhuming some tracks from this not-so-distant past. Call it a conscious unvanishing. A collective act of musicomental archaeology.
I asked my fellow WITIzens to join in trying to remember the songs we lost. The resulting playlist of iPod Rock is so much more than “the best indie of the late aughts.” Google exists and so do those lists. No…there had to be more to it. These songs are the ones that will always be 128kbps in our hearts, that are inseparable from the doofy little circular docks they nestled into, that soundtracked our oddly enthusiastic drives to go see a remake of King Kong starring Naomi Watts and Jack Black.
It turns out iPod Rock is the only genre that could possibly claim to connect Ratatat to Robert Plant, Electrelane to E-40, and Goldfrapp to Guns ‘n’ Roses.
So do a little clickwheel thumb circle, hit play, and let us know what we missed.
Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Michael (MG)
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