Computer based media players make it very hard to peruse and find music in the same way that a passionate collector interfaces with their real-world collection. Because everything becomes very “flat”, being displayed on only one arbitrary parameter like Alphabetical or Genre, all sense of depth leaves the collection. Very few true music collectors store in alphabetical order.
In the real world, a collection is generally arranged based on a several “fuzzy” criteria based on the Logical & Emotive connections made by the collector. Most collections are grouped by not only a sense of Genre but also other points of connection like vibe, common players and even personal emotive memories like a teenage lover playing those two records.
The flat landscape of a typical media player takes none of these connections into account which leaves the collector feeling flat about their passion as it is hard to find what the right record to play/ play next should be as the cover flow is so unlike the 3D map a collector builds in their head. Moving from one album to another is sparked off where things are in their collection and that web of connections that are unique to the collector. Yet any two dedicated collectors can look at another collection and start to feel the connections.
While many media players now try to create some sense of connection that is normally only done from the axis of time and commonly connected artists e.g. a Journey record would offer Foreigner, Styx & maybe REO Speedwagon, simply because they share the MOR/AOR tag as well as years of having hits. While partially useful this doesn’t take into account why a collector may choose to follow that Journey record with a Tangerine Dream or Kraftwerk album; or even a Sex Pistols record.
The other problem is that most media players really see the Song as the core unit of the database whereas a collector will see the Album as the core unit, with songs being the sub-unit. If they get a hankering for a song , most collectors will play the whole album the song is part of rather than just tossing that song on alone, or in a playlist.
A great temptation in the modern media player is to hit Shuffle All Songs, I feel that this greatly diminishes the value of the collection to the collector as songs are spat out completely randomly with no sense of connection at all. Randomness devalues the whole sense of collection and connection that are the very essence of any collection (whether stamps or records). While Shuffle can have some value it should be presented with more care and options.
A music collector’s collection is essentially a database in their mind that they lay out as a loose representation in the real world. The connections between albums are like data strings that touch one or many nodes. These things are not difficult to see as a comparison to a standard business database that allows several points of access to the same piece of data.
The tricky thing is that a collector thinks in several dimensions with his emotive choices which also shift the importance of data points based on current events or other data available and active at the time. This can make one record a good choice today but a poor one tomorrow. It can also make one record a good choice from several places that may not seem obvious using only Year and/or Genre.
I have spoken to several collectors who have most Queen records together but The Works (and Hot Space if they bought it) in another location as they feel it better represents another vibe than the classic chunky, bombastic 70’s Rock that Queen is generally known for. A media player fails to allow for those decisions.
When playing Doobie Brothers early Best Of collection I am likely to play something else Rock or Country but when playing Doobie Brothers “Minute By Minute” album the more appropriate options are things like Dragon “Body & The Beat” or Bertie Higgins “Just Another Day in Paradise” album as all three have a subtle summery feel from a similar sense of lyrics and production.
The other thing that happens is a collector will jump from one connection to another so Doobies leads to Dragon (summer) leads to Mi Sex (Oz Rock) leads to Real Life (also Oz Rock and New Romantic/Synth Pop) leads to Duran Duran (New Romantic/Synth Pop) leads to Spandau Ballet (New Romantic)… This can take several leaps within a few seconds of conscious or unconscious connection so Doobie Brothers “Minute By Minute” calls for the seemingly unrelated Human League “Dignity of Labour” EP as the perfect expression of the next moment.
The other often overlooked value of a collection is in the ritual of choosing and playing an album. Media players are usually all about convenience (and this is generally right) but strip away the ritual comforts or finding the right next album, pulling it from the collection, handling the cover and record/CD and returning it after the album has played. This creates space and reverence between each selection that the “Music Non Stop” of the media player demolishes.
There is a possible solution in using the database combined with a bit of Artificial Intelligence thinking to copy the ways that a collector thinks to build a media player that goes at least some of the way towards acting like a real-world collection.