Joe Sparrow : Everything, everything

My friend Neil is listening to to every single mp3 he possesses, in artist alphabetical order, and then tweeting about it.

Neil has a lot of mp3s: he started months ago, and he’s only just reached the Manic Street Preachers. He’s got a long way until he reaches that Zwan LP he now regrets downloading.

Significant obstacles have arisen en route: he’s a Eurovision fan and owns an mp3 of every single Eurovision song entry ever, which made for a harrowing couple of weeks spent listening to borderline insane Greek disco songs from 1974 et al.

From the outside, reading his tweets, a number of concepts have been brought viscerally to life. Mainly that methodically working through a vast list of songs, many of which the listener feels utterly ambivalent about, is an almost diabolical exercise in self-abuse.

But it also made me think a lot about ownership, especially of music. (By “ownership”, I don’t mean music that has been purchased, just music you can reach out and hold – whether CD, vinyl or on a hard drive.)

It strikes me that the mere act of selecting to keep music “offline” is slightly defiant act today. It’s almost comical that clarifying the “offline” part is needed here, such is the ubiquity of streaming music now.

Forgotify was set up because someone discovered that over four million of the songs on Spotify had never, ever been played – and in a fit of sympathy, they built a website that ensures you are the first person ever to stream one of those songs.

Forgotify has been around for months now. There are still over four million unplayed songs on Spotify. That’s how much music there is on Spotify.

What does “owning” the music even mean now? You don’t need to, unless you’re enormously paranoid about the possibility of your favourite Shampoo LPs being deleted from the internet. (Neil owns all the Shampoo LPs, by the way, but not because of paranoia.)

I guess, as Neil is finding out – and revealing via Twitter – that the simple act of owning things that matter to you scratches some deep itch.

And, as Neil is also discovering, ownership is a reminder of past decisions made: downloading the entire Bowie back catalogue sounds like a great plan until you reach Tin Machine.

But mainly, it is a reminder of the value of a finite collection over infinite possibilities.

You could feasibly save tens of metres of shelf space, and giga/terabytes of disk space if you converted the songs you love into a simple playlist to be streamed.

But where is the fun in that? And would you really add Boom Bang-a-Bang to it?