Neil Young is going to hate this story.
So, even before my stint as a professional music writer, I had a massive horde of compact discs.
I kinda lost count of the discs in my collection after 600, which was significant because it was at that point that my wooden CD rack was full. And then I became a music writer, and the promo CDs flooded in. I was selective about what I kept, but there was still tons of music that ended up coming home with me. Most of it was good.
When Jenn and I had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves built in our living room, I cordoned off one whole section for my music. I pared down from time to time, and the collection leveled off at around 800 discs after my music writing days — after the gold rush, if you will. I began shifting to MP3 nearly exclusively about 2 years ago. (That’s the part Neil Young will hate.*)
This year, one of our primary goals in the wee household is to pare down to just essentials. That’s a philosophy that’s always been near to The Dew’s core but was galvanized when we traveled to Amsterdam last year. Jenn and I eyed the CD collection and knew it would be one of our targets. There comes a time, and it was now. Maybe 6 weeks ago I spent a few evenings a week grabbing handfuls of CDs and making hard choices. I would replace what I couldn’t give up with digital versions. There would be few exceptions for pieces I would keep as physical artifacts:
- Anything signed by an artist.
- Anything recorded by someone we know.
- A Pearl Jam live bootleg to a show we actually attended in Atlanta.
- Titus Andronicus’s “The Monitor.”
- Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.”
- And about a half-dozen pieces that were formative to me, out of print or somesuch. This includes my first-edition works by the band Daniel Amos. (It’s kind of a bonus that Jenn hates them.)
I found an online retailer — SecondSpin.com — that actually still purchases CDs. Which means, I guess, that there are still people buying them. They weren’t paying much, but it was something, so I started punching in album titles and made a box for anything that SecondSpin would give me at least a dollar for. In the end, about 25 percent of what I had was worth shipping to them.
I began to see trends: Popular albums by popular artists weren’t worth much. Little-known records by little-known artists weren’t worth much, in cases where they’d even buy them.
But the sweet spot was unpopular albums by popular artists. These were more likely in short supply and sought after by completists. (I understand the compunction. I used to be one of their people.) In some cases this could be something related to a popular artist, but not actually by said artists. I was surprised to find a 2-disc tribute to Jeff Lynne and ELO would garner me $5.
A 5-disc collection of old blues songs by old blues artists, which Jenn picked up on Daedalus Books a few years back was actually worth a buck more now ($11) than when she bought it.
The exception to the rarity rule was Tom Petty & The Heartbreaker’s greatest hits album, which I think sold like bonkers, but still held it’s value. I ascribe this to the fact that Tom Petty may be more popular now than he ever has been. And rightfully so. You go, old man.
I think I ended up with about 8 boxes to ship away, and I got checks totaling about $400 for all my trouble. The balance of the discs was picked through by friends and what was left was donated to the local Friends of the Library chapter, because Jenn and I have hearts of gold. For the ripped discs or mix discs that I’d burned myself, I’ll recycle those with The CD Recycling Center of America, for the sake of Mother Earth.
Now, just because I cleared out all but one little shelf of compact discs doesn’t mean I love or listen to music any less than ever. I’ve just changed mediums. In fact, I used my SecondSpin war chest to buy a Sonos wireless speaker that I’d been eyeing. I can move that puppy around to any room in the house – or on the deck or on the front porch and have my music collection available anywhere wi-fi will reach.
And that, friends, means rock ‘n’ roll can never die.
* And I’m sorry, but I can’t hear the difference between a compact disc and a high-quality MP3. For that matter, I don’t think vinyl is markedly “better” than compact disc in terms of fidelity. But that’s a war I won’t be waging in this space.