I can recommend throwing away your To Do list, especially if its list of dull chores hasn’t changed in a couple of years. But I can also recommend leaving one item on your To Do list; that big but fun task you’ve been saving for when all the dull tasks are completed.
I recently, finally, finished MP3ing nearly 15 years worth of music taped off the radio, and now have a completely empty To Do list (well, allowing for considerable artistic licence). Over the years I filled 24 tapes with music, mostly recorded from John Peel and Mark Radcliffe shows, a practice which slowed then stopped when downloading replaced taping and iPods replaced my Walkmans.
I ended up buying many of those taped tunes again on CD, and downloaded a few more, but that still left a long list of session tracks which I’d never find elsewhere. So spending hours hunched over a cassette deck and Amadeus was the only solution. I’ve now emerged from these evenings of recording and tagging, metaphorically clutching 19 hours of music, some of which isn’t Britpop.
The move from analogue to digital means I’ve lost some information. Not sound quality; my cloth ears barely notice and much of the material isn’t quite high fidelity in the first place. It’s the metadata that gets lost. Just as Nicholson Baker decries the replacement of paper by facsimilies, the transfer to MP3 results in a more mechanical experience. I’ll no longer refer to the scrawled cassette inlays of band names, songs, dates and indecipherable notes, and I’m not going to think “Ooh, tape 4, that’s a good one, I’ll listen to that,” when I can now cut, filter and randomise my entire music collection any way I choose.
Of course, there are similar complaints every time we move to the next new format of the future. Records are nothing like live music. CD inlays don’t have the romance of 12 inch sleeves. MP3s can’t be fetishised like real objects with their pictures and fragility.
But each change has its benefits. Rather than being relegated to a dusty box under my bed, more than a decade of my favourite music has a new life. I can start listening to it again, remembering, just as I did when the music was on stretchy, snappable tape, the places I’ve heard it in the past: Listening to a That Dog session while walking to Temple Meads station; Belle and Sebastian while heading to my first job; Nick Drake in a park in Alabama. While some of it’s forgettable mid-90s jangly guitars, there are wonderful moments that I’ll now hear more often: Pulp and PJ Harvey at Glastonbury, where I wish I’d been in 1995; Nick Cave’s relentless three-part murder spree in O’Malley’s Bar; Baby Bird and Kenickie, a year apart, cracking up mid-song like Elvis; and, as they say, much, much more. Now I just have to start putting things back on the To Do list.