Why I miss the limitations of CD players

Music is something that binds us all. I've yet to meet someone who doesn't feel something about music.

It's been a topic of conversation in the OnTheSide group (a Slack community aimed at adding support and accountability to side-projects), with several members blogging about the topic. Sam Hardacre kicked off the trend, with Trevor and Sam soon following. I must warn, this post is a meandering stroll through the depths of my memories and nostalgia rather than something worthwhile and structured.

Without sounding like I need to justify my love for music, it was a part of my education for nearly all of my school life. Starting with learning the violin in Year 3 (7 years old), I progressed onto Guitar because it was "cool". I got a small Saturday job at the studios where I had my guitar lessons and that led onto me taking Music Technology as an A-level at college. In Higher Education, I bucked the trend of my siblings (who both chose Business Studies) and headed to a college for a National Diploma in Music Technology. Staying at the establishment, I completed my Bachelor of Arts in Music Production with a 2:1 in 2011.

Throughout college and "university", I found bands to go see live. I bought a ticket to see Red Hot Chilli Peppers in Hyde Park from a man who turned up to meet me in a Mini in the Car Park of what become (not long after) the home ground of Brighton and Hove Albion. I used to trawl Virgin Records and other long-gone CD and music shops for up-and-coming bands, new music and "if you liked this you would also like..." kind of displays. I would find a band I like, listen to their album back to back constantly and then find a similar artist to obsess over.

When I was doing a paper-round or on the bus to college or even when I got my first car, I would "burn" my CDs to Minidisc. With LP4 technology, you could get 4x the music on one Minidisc that you could on a CD. Rather than create a Mix "tape", I would simply put 4 albums on. I had a Minidisc wallet to carry them round when I went on holiday - choosing your favourite albums of the time to take with you. I bought a new head unit for my Fiat Seicento so I could plug my Minidisc player in.

It was a limitation I enjoyed. The restriction of only being able to listen to what you own. Even when streaming and peer to peer sharing came into popularity, I would get specific albums that would be to new or too pricey for me to buy, whereas friends just obtained dumps of whatever was popular.

I used CDs for years. Burning the latest album on a CD-RW (making sure you get the + or - depending what drive you had on your computer) to listen to. My first few cars only had CD players, I would pick 10 or so CDs from the shelf to live in the motor which forced even more limitation. I'd pick some favourites, but add some others I'd been ignoring or had yet to listen to.

Then iPods and MP3 players came along. I felt giddy able to have so many albums available in such a small device. I used to regularly sit at my laptop of an evening (where I had ripped all my CDs) and update the albums on the device. Most of the time I would listen to albums from start to finish, but if I was feeling particularly fruity, I would navigate to the shuffle all option!

Then Spotify (and other streaming services) become popular and ruined it all. WiFi and mobile networks were everywhere which made it more accessible and CD players dwindling (I don't have anything in my house which will now accept a CD), I finally took the plunge and subscribed. I was a very, reluctant, latecomer to Spotify and I'm still not a fan.

It sounds silly - I can listen to any album I've ever wanted to, rediscover the soundtracks of my life. There is the album that got me round my paper round, the first song I learnt on guitar and the first one I played on piano. There are songs that were there for my first love, my early childhood when Dad was in charge of the stereo and even the tracks my brother had on repeat in his Metro to look "hard".

But that's the problem. There is too many options. I open Spotify and I'm faced with choice paralysis. I don't know what to search for, what to listen too, what to choose. Spotify has the "similar artists" but as Trevor mentioned, the big data just too programmatic. I struggle so much I just end up listening to Taylor Swift, Bastille or The Hamilton Soundtrack.

If, on the off-chance, I do find an album I like, I hook onto it like a crocodile and don't let it go for weeks. It's the only thing that gets played (from start to end, of course). I then find a new album and completely forget about the old one. I started making a note of what these albums were, so I could revisit them, but I haven't updated it for years.

Until someone makes a Spotify app which replicates that of a CD shop, or Spotify come up with a tier which operates like Audible's "credit" system (you can only choose 1 or 2 new albums a month to add to your collection), I'm in a perpetual cycle of not enjoying the platform while revelling in the fact I don't have to buy a CD ever again.

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Mike Street

Written by Mike Street

Mike is a CTO and Lead Developer from Brighton, UK. He spends his time writing, cycling and coding. You can find Mike on Mastodon.