The death of a dream: saying goodbye to a painstakingly curated CD collection

CDs have never been the most romantic or practical form of media. Picture: Shutterstock
CDs have never been the most romantic or practical form of media. Picture: Shutterstock

Anyone who's said goodbye to a collection knows it's about more than losing material possessions.

It's the death of a dream - a farewell to a future never realised.

In my case, that future was one in which I owned every CD released by every artist in which I had ever developed more than a passing interest.

From the time I got my first minimum-wage job as a teenager until well into my late 20s, I spent a sum I now realise could have been a house deposit on chasing down the discographies of hundreds of bands.

The initial logic, I vaguely recall, was that I was sure to accumulate these albums over the course of my life anyway, so it made sense to maximise the time I would spend enjoying them by buying them all right at the beginning.

"Welcome," I'd say in my head to the people I imagined having over in my later years, gesturing grandly as they stared in awe at my meticulously organised, wall-to-wall display.

"All of my financial freedom, I attribute to having already bought these."

But somewhere in the back of my mind, I'm sure I knew CDs weren't the growth-generating investment vehicle I was treating them as. This is the case for more than a few reasons - some, if you'll believe it, going beyond the glaringly obvious.

The first problem is that your collection can never truly be complete.

Perfection is unattainable - or so a psychologist once told me after I described the lengths I went to to maintain consistent capitalisation across track listings (of some relevance is the fact that he was in the process of diagnosing me with OCD - my particular strain of which turns out to be "mild and unspecified", which, let's be honest, is the funniest diagnosis you can give to someone with OCD).

It turns out that the more artists you listen to, the more you tend to explore. You might start with the very achievable aim of collecting Pearl Jam's studio albums, but soon you're searching eBay for singles, earlier incarnations, side projects, and the hundreds of live bootlegs they've released over the past two decades.

At its heaviest, my collection had the capacity to collapse more than a few shelves like these. Picture: Shutterstock

At its heaviest, my collection had the capacity to collapse more than a few shelves like these. Picture: Shutterstock

Their brief side-gig as Neil Young's backing band sets you on a path which results in Young's extensive back catalogue becoming your personal to-do list, supplemented by the occasional expensive box set like 2009's Archives Vol. 1 1963-1972 ("Volume 1?!" you wail as you pull out your credit card).

A deep dive into the Seattle grunge scene leads to an exploration of '60s rock, '70s punk and '80s alternative. You discover label samplers that come with music magazines are free if you fish them out of the skips behind newsagents.

In my case there was also an uncharacteristic sojourn into the realm of acoustic pop as I collected the works of singer-songwriter Nerina Pallot, which I will maintain to my grave was the result of a deep appreciation for sublimely talented songwriting rather than an idealised post-adolescent crush.

The point is, this is a rabbit-hole to which there is no bottom.

The second problem with collecting CDs is that they are about the worst medium possible in which you can attempt to preserve a music collection.

They exist in the netherworld between analog purity and digital convenience. They're physical objects prone to being scratched, lost or stepped on, yet they're ultimately file containers, their contents measured in megabytes and replicated soullessly on each new device without the acoustic warmth of vinyl.

They're too small to showcase beautiful artwork, but they're too big to fit in your pocket (or, accumulated in sufficient volume, to be boxed up and transported between regional newspaper markets every few years without hiring a moving truck).

What this means is that there will be no vinyl-style CD revival. No retro reissues, no swap meets, no bands writing ferocious punk-rock anthems to shimmering round discs or cracked jewel cases. It's a thoroughly outmoded format devoid of vintage appeal.

And so I have decided it's time to say goodbye.

The music is safe - ripped at 320kbps, embedded with detailed metadata and backed up according to the 3-2-1 protocol (don't remind me about FLAC, please. I've come this far). But the bulk plastic has to go.

A visit to a second-hand CD shop in Queanbeyan earlier this year left me dispirited. I'd be lucky to get a few hundred for the lot, the guy behind the counter said, fixing me with the thousand-yard stare of someone who'd witnessed one too many collections meet their end this way.

When I went back last month, the shop was gone. I may have hallucinated the entire experience.

So for now, my CDs sit at home in boxes, as they have spent many of the past few years. I might put them on Facebook Marketplace - keep an eye out if you're interested. I'd love for them to go somewhere they'll be loved.

If they can't go to a collector, it would be nice if they could be used for something that ultimately furthers the cause of artistry - lining the walls of a prop spaceship in a school play, for example, or being shattered en masse in black and white to help a film student belabour the point I'm belabouring now.

You know, instead of adding a few cubic metres of bulk to one of those garbage islands floating in the Pacific.

Make me an offer?

  • Andrew Thorpe is a producer at The Canberra Times.