Managing my music collection has always been more about avoiding pain than it has been about instant retrieval at my fingertips. I have lived with people whose entire music world consisted of cassettes (with no cases!) dumped into a shopping bag. I consider myself lucky to have once rescued a sturdy wooden tri-level wine display off the streets of Manhattan back in the '80s. The slight incline of the actual shelves made for excellent (alphabetical, of course) cassette perusal.
Of course, this wasn't an extremely portable solution. Because I moved around endlessly in those years, it's no surprise the wine display didn't survive all of my many pads and gaffs. I began my music collecting life with 45s (because I swore to everyone that one day I'd be able to afford a jukebox; thankfully some dreams remain filthy shards of disappointment). Back in the small vinyl days, I kept a cache of footlong "crates" culled from places like Peaches (remember how the stores always smelled like sweet hippie incense?). The crates were a godsend for many years: easy to transport, easy to display and today they serve time as organizers for tools and bathroom items, so I am an upstanding citizen of sustainability as well.
A small-ish music collection is easy to maintain when everything is laid out in one glance; however, when several different genres are scattered throughout a residence, organization becomes less about the storefront and more about the database. Who wants to run out and buy another copy of Beaucoup Fish or Dubnobasswithmyheadman just because you don't remember if it's under the sofa or you sold it on Amazon for cocktail money? And who among us, unable to memorize every track on every CD, purchased a greatest hits compilation never realizing you owned all the songs already?
By the time I'd converted to compact disc and invested a sizable chunk into funky art installations to house all that plastic, I'd long since discovered a manic way of keeping a database of my music, no matter how time consuming and life draining. It wasn't just album tracks, it was the endless compilations and "samplers" I'd picked up along the way, the CD singles and CD maxi singles and CD ultra maxi singles with amazing rarer-than-rare b-sides and 15 remixed versions (at least 3 being dubs) of the latest techno/electronica/trip-hop track that I snagged just in case I was ever asked to deejay (I was never asked). Seriously, who needs to spend the time upending an entire room's contents as if the FBI had mounted a drug raid when you can consult a handy, gratutiously-updated list-to-end-all-lists?
Of course, those days are a distant memory, I am pleased to say. My digital life allows a piece of software like iTunes to literally assault me with libraries and playlists complete with an endless array of iterations for viewing "The Collection". It will even back up the monstrosity to some ethereal otherworldly cloud if I choose. The fact that I can make an on-the-fly mix of any songs that contain the word "kittens" or "mmmm" never fails to delight.
It goes without saying, but I'm saying it anyway, that all the time I save not worrying about my music collection I still have to waste with all those books and dvd/blu-rays. Scanning barcodes with my iPod is still terribly time consuming and the severe lack of vital information - like who catered each film's food truck or in what typeface each book edition was set in - makes the whole database app enterprise ripe for competing developers to sweep in and take the marketshare. One day soon an algorithm will select the perfect track to match every situation of my day. My music will follow me everywhere, a soundtrack uploaded, shared, blogged about, commented on and then quietly archived by the NSA.