For me, the second half of 2017 was replete with existential crises and, initially, I coped by seeking out music more intentionally. The earliest effort in this crusade involved digging out a back up hard drive I've had since before I set off for college. Its contents contain 90 percent of the music I listened to from ages 14-22.
Sifting through the file structure, I found artists that I hadn't thought of in years. Some reminded me of road trips, other songs were just music I'd listen to driving the ten minutes to my friend's house before a weekend of either debate tournaments or D&D. I spent the rest of that day with the drive's contents.
During that time I spent queuing up music I re-ignited the fires of adolescent rebellion, momentarily resurrected long dead romances, reminded myself of moments with friends lost to the effects of tension, time, or distance. Simultaneously, those MP3s reinforced some of the earliest bonds of my current friendships.
To my surprise, I also found artists I had no recollection of. "This is okay," I told myself, "it is preserved because I sought to preserve it." I found good, new-to-me artists and no matter how questionable the quality of what I found, they were—at one point—my choices. I resisted the urge to delete anything I might object to now, because in the way that my unread books indicate the person I would like to become, the catalog of music points to the person I was. The songs on the drive aren't just a miscellaneous collection of specific electrons on a spinning magnetic disk, they're an affirmation of my very identity.
While I have stories about weird, serendipitous coincidences with algorithmically generated playlists, those songs don't shape my life in the same way that a stranger-turned-friend in study hall introducing me to Emery's Walls (and thus the genre of emo) made living in the foreign land of Oregon bearable for a recently transplanted thirteen year old, or how an Anti-Flag CD gifted by a crush when I was 16 may have influenced my politics today.
The next time you want to introduce your friend to music, make them a CD. If they don't have a player, decorate a flash drive and give it to them. Physical objects matter. They tether us to our histories and to each other.
I still have and listen to that ten year old CD.
Liz Pelly wrote this article for The Baffler on the automatically generated music industry and the effects on us, the artists, and the art form.
Over at The Verge Kaitlyn Tiffany wrote a piece with suggestions on how to find music without algorithms.
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