There’s a darkly funny scene near the beginning of the movie High Fidelity, where Rob is struggling to get over his latest failed relationship. In an attempt to distract himself, he reorganizes his personal record collection. Shelf upon shelf of vintage vinyl is taken down and stacked on his apartment floor. His associate from the record store, Dick, stops by and tries to figure out Rob’s new record arrangement scheme. Chronological? No. Alphabetical? Nope.
I am a little bit OCD when it comes to organizing my music collection. Rob arranged his records autobiographically, meaning that he had to think about what year he bought a particular record in order to find it. That would drive me absolutely insane. I get downright squirrelly if it takes me more than five seconds to find anything in my house. There’s an old joke that says “How do you torture an engineer? Take out a road map, unfold it, tie the engineer to a chair, and then very, very slowly and deliberately fold the map back up incorrectly”. That’s how I feel when I know a couple of discs are out of sequence. It’s sad, I know.
As mentioned in a previous post, your intrepid correspondent has a lot of his music on CD, a little bit on vinyl, and a bunch of Grapes of Wrath and AC/DC tapes in a box in a closet somewhere. There’s also a reasonable collection of music video on DVD and blu-ray, which provides inspiration while I’m slogging away on the elliptical machine. But how is all of this stuff organized?
A long time ago, I went shopping for a decent CD shelving unit. The ones that were available in stores in the mid 1990s typically had individual slots for CDs, and were made of particle board or (even worse) wire. The individual slots were horrible; if you put your music in any kind of order, then some day you would inevitably buy a new CD and either have to file it out of sequence, or move a lot of CDs around to free up a slot in the appropriate place. Plus, you were screwed if you bought a double CD (like Pink Floyd’s The Wall) or one of those odd-sized CDs (like Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy). They didn’t fit in the slots worth a damn.
What I ended up doing was building my own CD shelf. I used solid pine because I like the look of the wood grain, it’s easy to work with, and it doesn’t cost a fortune. Employing all of my junior woodworking skills (thanks to 4-H!) I designed and built a pretty decent unit, with adjustable height shelves and a sturdy base. The beauty of this system is that it allows you to add a CD just by removing the end disc on the appropriate shelf and slide all the other discs along to make room. No more tedious movement of CDs from slot to slot to slot. Just a little shifting of discs from shelf to shelf (and if you leave some empty cases at the ends of rows as buffers, life gets even simpler).
I prefer to arrange my CDs pretty much like a record store. Filed alphabetically by artist, with a few caveats. Start with the A’s to the left, end with the Z’s. Obviously, Muse gets filed right before Mutemath. New Order is right before The New Pornographers (the word “The” is ignored for filing purposes). Things get a little more complicated when proper names get involved. Manic Street Preachers are in ‘M’, whereas Mark Knopfler is in ‘K’. I put Ben Folds Five just to the right of Ben Folds in ‘F’. I don’t bother trying to split up related releases – Tom Petty discs and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers albums are all filed under ‘Petty’ in ‘P’. Then, within each artist, the newest release is always on the left, with progressively older releases to the right. There’s a little bit of semantics that come into play with live albums and so on but ordinarily it’s a pretty tidy system. I also built an Excel database with a catalogue of all the titles for insurance purposes, which was a bit of a slog but it’s one less thing to worry about.
Over the years, I’ve had to build a couple more CD shelving units. On later models, I went away from the adjustable shelf idea and just fixed the shelves at standard CD and DVD heights. But I’m kind of glad that I built the first one with adjustable heights, because this new obsession with vinyl necessitated setting up one really tall shelf. It’s not perfect, and I’ll probably build a dedicated vinyl shelving unit some time this winter in my garage, but for now it works okay. Unfortunately it meant stacking some of the DVDs two deep to make room, but into every life a little rain must fall.
What’s funny is that the CD shelves are rapidly becoming an anachronism. I almost never listen to music on CD anymore. I still buy CDs, but just rip them to my hard drive, bury the songs in iTunes, sync them to an iPod or USB stick, then put the CDs on the shelf and never take them out again. The whole zeal of organizing CDs on a shelf is morphing into getting iTunes configured exactly right. It’s a whole other world of making sure that artists’ names get added correctly (eg. moving ‘Golden Dogs’ and ‘The Golden Dogs’ into the same folder), getting the correct artwork associated with each track, and creating the perfect playlist. Don’t even get me started on editing the ID3 tags embedded in the mp3s…
Screwing around with iTunes takes my Organized Collection Disorder to a whole new level.