What’s in Your iTunes?

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Photography by : ANTI Society

Text by : Max Fabricant

February 21, 2014

The first mp3 I ever downloaded was “The Real Slim Shady.” That was in 2002? I played it over and over on a two-button Mp3 player, the most memorable present from my ninth birthday. At the time, having my favorite song on the move seemed too good to be true. It almost overwhelmed me, as if experiencing the song in different places at different times of day or night changed the way it sounded coming out of my headphones. It’s kind of like driving around for the first time on your own with your iPod hooked up to the car stereo. These are comparable moments in my life in how I was able to control the music – the sound – in my surroundings. I only had that one song for a good month on my Mp3 player before discovering the rest of “The Marshall Mathers LP.”

I liked what I heard, and started watching more music videos on MTV Jams before school. I eventually committed to a life of music at a local Strawberries (right?) where I bought my first hard-copy CD. I’m still pretty satisfied with that purchase. My first CD was “Get Rich or Die Trying.”

I noticed more and more as I expanded my taste in genres how important the concept of an album truly is. It serves as the necessary context for every individual song on the record. Now I’m in high school. Now I have an iTunes library that I update and categorize and download onto my iPod Nano. I’ve pretty much aged on cue with the evolvement of how we hear about the music we ultimately share with others. I feel like ’92-’93 babies in particular saw this technology grow in the same way you notice you’re just a little bit bigger and taller in the mirror on the first day of school each year. The first “stepping stone” was a Razr, then you might graduate to an ENV3 with a slide-out keyboard for texting, and if you were lucky, you had a Droid or iPhone by the time you could drive. Twitter and Facebook too; these social sites became so much more professionally-oriented as I moved on from my final years as a teenager. But realistically, the transition is essentially over and the game has changed in full. Who knows where it will head next, but I see the past ten years as transition into the now and forever. Little kids back home from my neighborhood are running around with better versions of the iPhone than I have – just to call their parents in case of an emergency.

Looking back, it used to be so simple. Major artists on major labels ran the show, released singles in anticipation of an album, and featured rappers and singers either climbed the ranks or sizzled out. Now independent artists can make a name on their own by showing face on YouTube or branding themselves online. Oh, and now I’m 20 years old and I use a laptop to download mixtapes and purchase albums on iTunes. I have playlists for one hundred occasions; some playlists are for one artist’s collection and one artist only.

Fortunately for my own situation, you can hear all the hip-hop you want for free. The mixtape era has liberated the possibilities of building a brand, and young acts will throw all the music in the world at you just to make some noise. Feature rappers come and go, because there are too many. The ones who stick around hit a niche. Gucci Mane will never make groundbreaking beats or blow your mind with lyricism, but I believe he is one of the realest rappers of the ratchet sub-genre. That’s a niche. His success is fueled by the investment he made to making consistently unfiltered trap rap. I have six full-length albums + mixtapes by Gucci Mane, including the historically ig’nant trilogy: Gas, Molly, Lean. There are songs I do not enjoy, but my personal rule is to leave an album as is- no deleting individual tracks. There are many songs like that floating around my iTunes library. A conversation I had with Stunnaman 2800 from The Pack a couple years back changed the way I saw the music in my own iTunes. He told me his upcoming mixtape was going to be free because it’s for the people- and he wasn’t going to start charging until he had to in order to eat. This mixtape culture behind the modern day come-up does require that distinct combination of passion and humility to put art out for the good of the game. I could tell he truly believed his opportunity to be heard made his hustle worthwhile. It inspired me.

I decided to sit down and write this because of an experience I had the other day while sifting through my iTunes. After playing around with the tabs some, I noticed I had 254 songs I haven’t played through ONCE. I can’t quite pin the feeling, but it wasn’t good. Like a hard pill to swallow, or a slap across my face. I couldn’t just move on without considering what it meant. What are those songs to me? Are they clogging up my catalog, or enhancing my understanding of the modern music industry? Has my access to music over the years lowered the bar of something that I am now reconsidering to be a holy place for the storage of my most dependable hobby? An iTunes download is a sacred thing, or is it…? This article is therapeutic in that sense. I am currently figuring this out for myself.

I suppose I normally scroll through my 13,000 or so songs absent-mindedly, looking for a track to make the moment in time what it is. Whether I’m hosting people at my place, showing off a song I love or recently found, or simply clearing my mind, there’s something to be said for the songs that sit in my iTunes library. My implied catalog of musical interest. Albums, mixtapes, EPs, individual tracks – all which have been downloaded or purchased so that they are only a click away. Then there’s the songs you look up on YouTube or Soundcloud. Not the ones you couldn’t find a link to pirate, or are waiting on their official release – the songs you just never got around to putting in your iTunes or most personal collection of music.

The convenience of the songs you keep on deck in your iTunes can say a lot about what you make of not just the music, but the industry. A lot of people talk about taking the time to delete old “friends” on Facebook or unfollow people from way back when who still show up on their feeds. Throughout my ongoing dissonance of the purpose of those songs I have never listened to sitting in my own iTunes, I have to believe they were downloaded at one point or another as an element of collectable sensationalization. Or perhaps it has more to do with the promise I’ve made to myself to download an album in its entirety, if available. Maybe I should promise myself to actually listen through them. Maybe I’m missing out on 254 chances to host a better party, show off a better song, or connect with a verse, chorus, or single lyric. What makes my music “iTunes official”? Definitely something to think about.

  • Noah Davidson

    woww, hmm. interesting perspective.