Fictitious vol. 19: Piracy as a form of music appreciation
Nostalgia expressed in lost gigabytes
Hello! Happy to have you here, no matter if you’re a veteran reader or a recent subscriber. It might be symptomatic at this point, but in this issue, I’m going to again talk about different formats and how they affect our experience. We had reading last time, now it’s time for music!
Piracy as a form of music appreciation
If you asked me about my music collection some ten years ago, I’d probably just share my Soulseek username. By connecting directly to my hard drive, you’d be able to browse the various albums, bootlegs, live recordings and even full discographies I had amassed over several years. All without paying a dime, of course, but piracy was more than just getting stuff for free.
On my computer, I’d have my entire collection at my fingertips. With a simple command line music player ( CMUS, still the best I’ve ever used), I could navigate it and play a specific version of a favourite song. Maybe a demo track? An unreleased mix? A live recording from the band’s gig in ‘97? Everything was there. While the collection wasn’t limitless, it had enough depth and breadth.
Parts of it would rotate on my pre-Android phone that had a surprisingly versatile player app. Come to think of it, I don’t know if my smartphone today has one at all. With streaming being the obvious choice nowadays, I don’t even remember uploading an MP3 to my new phone.
The old collection grew from many sources. Hours spent trawling Soulseek, always being thankful for people who had their music ordered in a sensible way (mine certainly wasn’t). Rapidshare links shared on niche forums - a Russian roulette of sorts, as Trojans were crawling over those sites like vermin. Torrent websites - there was one board in particular, where everyone was super anal about formats, quality and completeness. If you downloaded a discography of a band from there (bye-bye 40 GB of storage), you could be sure it would contain… everything. Finally, CD burning was still a thing and a CD-R burned at a friend’s place would add another 10-20 albums—MP3s not FLACs—to the collection.
I can’t claim that I had listened to all the albums stored on my hard drive but I 100% knew what I had. Like Umberto Eco’s library, it was as much about the music yet to be listened to as about the go-to listens. There was also a simple Notepad file with bands I wanted to explore and a wishlist on Soulseek (it would ping you when someone appeared to have the album you were after). No recommendation algorithm in sight.
You could guess from my tone that I’m not going to start singing praises to Spotify and Youtube Music now. On the contrary, I feel that streaming services, with their convenience, have stolen some of the magic from curating personal music collections like the one I had. Here are some of the drawbacks I see.
The illusion that everything is there when it’s not. With your personal collection, you always knew its limits. And you knew that to add some rare record to it, you’d have to search for it, sometimes futilely. The feeling of finding something new was truly serendipitous. With something like Spotify, it’s too easy to start feeling satisfied with what they’ve got.
You don’t own anything. Now, I know this is a bit rich coming from someone who just bragged about storing GBs of pirated music. I have no illusion about musicians actually getting anything from my several monthly streams. But when their music is saved and shared with others, it’s at least cherished.
You stop valuing music. When there’s little backstory to how you discovered a certain piece other than “an algorithm suggested I listen to it”, a valuable layer to the musical experience is lost.
Now, everything I just wrote up might be a fallacy. Maybe there’s nothing special about hoarding music and chasing bootlegs. But it’s the least probable maybe I can imagine.
I admire people with nice curated music collections, no matter if it’s vinyl records (here’s mine), CDs, tapes or MP3s. I even know of people who sync their pirated treasure troves via their devices, basically streaming from their own collections, without ever using Spotify. I might join them, as appreciating music makes me happy. More than the mere act of listening.
And what about you? Did you have a too big too handle collection of assorted MP3 as well? Where did it all go? Let me know in the comments below or simply by answering this email (firstname.lastname@example.org works fine too).
Ways of supporting Fictitious
Since I launched Fictitious in May, this space has become quite an important part of my day-to-day. I’ve met new people, reconnected with some old friends and acquaintances and ultimately forged an outlet for sharing not just my thoughts, but also my attempts at writing fiction and my quest to become a well-read person.
I’m eternally grateful to everyone who reads my stuff, gives me pointers, and shares their own funny takes. Some people write because they have ideas. I write because I want to connect with others. It means the world to me.
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Buying me a virtual coffee (one-time donation). You can also buy me a virtual cuppa, which I will then probably transfer into a book purchase (got to fuel my Ray Bradbury Challenge somehow!).
The language corner
Lyrics in other languages. I know people who are huge fans of French rap, even though they don’t speak a word of French. The same is true about me and Arabic rap, for example. There’s just something about how a certain language sounds that make a difference. And maybe, if the lyrics were translated into our own language, we’d find the songs… less meaningful than we thought?
Making fun of his compatriots’ love for American songs, Adriano Celentano released this song in 1972:
Containing 100% gibberish words, it still manages to sound American. Now think… maybe that K-pop song you like so much is meaningless as well? Maybe there actually is a song you loved until you discovered its meaning (or lack thereof)? Let me know!
Why using big words is rarely a good idea:
Word of the week. GOUND. Every morning or so, I clean my dog’s eyes from post-sleep mucus. People get it too. When we were kids, my mom called it “eye-sand”. Apparently, some Brits call it “sleepy dust”, which I find just adorable. But if I had to stay away from cuteness, I’d choose the British dialectical word for it - gound - which sounds nicer than gunk.
See you on Wednesday at the next round-up of my Ray Bradbury Challenge. Recommendations for essays, stories and poems are always welcome :).