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Are You An Enthusiastic Music Collector Or A Hoarder?

Mark Smotroff explores a sensitive topic often suffered by serious music enthusiasts…

This is a touchy subject… But it is a topic that keeps on coming up both personally and in discussion threads on social media in many music enthusiast groups. So I feel a need to address it because the problem arises more often than is necessary or fair. Frankly some of the comments people make on this topic border on bullying… Stick with me for a bit while I explain the scenario… 

Many people are casual music enthusiasts who might have a modest collection of recordings they enjoy. A lot of folks these days have sizable digital collections they manage through software programs or via streaming services or they have gone through tons of their old physical CDs which they’ve ripped to hard drives and manage manually.

But, then there is a sizable group of music enthusiasts who still enjoy — and prefer — to obtain and own their music on some physical form. That would be vinyl records for some, CDs for others. Heck, there is a resurgence of cassette fans these days, so it is a matter of what ever might float your boat! 

In my experience, people who aren’t especially passionate about any specific “things” in life don’t tend to collect much of anything.  That is not a slam and it is perfectly OK as it suits their lifestyles.  They have a so called “balanced” amount of books, artwork, clothes and music in their universes.  They seem equally content to simply view a particularly item in photographic form in a book or in person at a museum or on the Internet.  They don’t have a passion for any one thing that spurs them on to want to build their own collection, be it physical or virtual.

That is all fine and good. It is their choice in life to live that way.

However, it is some of these same individuals who seem to have issues with those of us who do get deeper into one thing — and in this case it is music I’m talking about, as represented in physical form of records, CDs and many other formats that have been around over the years!  And that is where things start to get strange. 

Some of these people may not even realize it when they are making harsh, hurtful and often offensive public statements.

It is particularly harsh when somebody points a finger and jovially calls you a “hoarder.” This totally demeans someone’s personal passion.  

At this point, I thought it would be useful to provide a broad, basic dictionary definition for the purposes of illustration about what these folks are referring to: 

Hoarding Disorder : a psychological disorder characterized by the persistent accumulation of a variety of items that are often considered useless or worthless by others and by the inability to discard such items without great distress.

I consider myself a student of music and am quite passionate about it. I have been involved in the entertainment industry pretty much my entire career so it is useful for me to have easy access to a lot of this music that is not reliant on computers or the Internet. 

I own a lot of music, no question. I am a pretty serious enthusiast of pre-recorded music by many artists. When I get “into” a certain artist I will often “go deep” and try to obtain their entire catalog of music, some of which can be quite rare and even sometimes offering differences in how the recordings sound (ie. Mono, Stereo, Quadrophonic, Surround Sound, etc.).

Sound was one of the reasons I started collecting old records in the first place. Beyond the reality that some recordings were out of print, I soon learned that the earlier pressings (on vinyl in particular) sounded better than many of the reissues. I could tell this early on even on our modest stereo equipment which I shared with my older brothers back in the early 1970s. 

My collection is generally alphabetized by artist and broken down into quite detailed categories which helps me to locate titles quite quickly when I need — or want — to play them. Jazz to Blues to Vocal Pop to Reggae to Soul to Classical and more… 

Today I have 10- and 12-inch vinyl LPs, 45 RPM singles, 78s dating back to the early 1900s, 16-inch radio transcription discs from the 1950s — primarily for rare jazz performances — and of course CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays. I even still have some cassettes (note: I gave my sizable Grateful Dead tape collection to a friend’s young son who was getting into them about 15 years ago).  Heck, I own a handful of rare laserdiscs, some vintage 8-tracks and a few cylinders. Save for the cylinders, I have players for most of  these things. 

I maintain a modest library of books related to music and the arts. To an outsider, my collection might seem large but I think that is because they have little to nothing of their own.  Again, this is about perspective.

My collection — and I suspect those of many of my music loving brothers and sisters around the world — is a labor of love and far from being “considered useless or worthless by others.“

Not that size really matters but in reality my collection is also pretty tame in comparison to some of the collectors I’ve met over the years and continue to meet on social media. 

So what is the problem that some seem to have about people who are passionate about collecting music?  They don’t flinch at some multimillionaire who has built dedicated special garages to house their many rare automobiles. I know people with hundreds of guitars and other instruments, working musicians who are passionate about the distinct and often unique sounds they can create.  

Heck, some years back I learned that an acquaintance collects antique egg trays! That was his thing so I wasn’t about to judge him calling it useless or worthless. 

Most collectors I know are generally quite thoughtful and organized, a very different thing than the clinical definition of hoarders (click here to go to The Mayo Clinic’s explanation).  

A Living Breathing Museum

Before he died suddenly, I briefly knew a very wealthy and serious collector of 78 RPM discs who also had a stunning recording studio built in his home. He owned vintage microphones and thousands of gorgeous, beautifully cared for 78s plus the specific players they were designed to be played on. He had so many records that he kept a large portion of the collection in the dry basement of a friend’s home down the block (where he also had more vintage 78  and cylinder players!). 

Is this hoarding? No way.  This man lived in one of San Francisco’s ritziest neighborhoods and was absolutely passionate about sound and music! He knew the ins and outs of particular players and which records sounded best on them (yes, early on before standards were established some records were optimized for playback on certain types of machines). This was his own personal working museum which he clearly enjoyed every day and liked to share with appreciative audiences (like me!). 

Now, I do understand the problems some collectors come head to head with at some point involving physical space and other people’s perception of it.  I am well aware of the challenges therein. I have even written about this topic a bit before, discussing the purging process (click here to read that). 

But, some outsiders have a misperception as to what is acceptable to their standards. So they make derogatory comments, even if in jest seemingly.  For those folks, if it seems to take up more space than they think it should in their perception of the world, well then it must be bad. 

I have been the target of these sort of half-joking/half-serious comments more times than I would like to admit.  My collection is nowhere near as big as many other very very serious, heavy duty music collectors around the world. There are people who build entire rooms just to house their collections and their stereos and home theater systems. These are people who regularly buy collections from others in quantity to cherry pick rarities they seek as well as upgrades. 

Digital Hoarding?

When non-physical digital music started happening as a mass market public phenomenon, I remember chuckling to myself as I frequently saw friends sizing one another up based on the size of their digital collections.  It was a badge of honor to tell your friends how many songs you had on your iPod. I remember one friend gleefully talking about how he had something like 20,000 songs in his pocket. 

Size mattered! 

But…. was that hoarding? Digitally it might appear that way to some, but I don’t see it that way.

My friend with the 20,000-song iPod is passionate about his music. He listens to and really enjoys it. He buys CDs and tickets for more concerts than he can probably afford. He loves music! 

I also know that if he had the budget and the physical space he would have lots and lots of records and CDs.. Actually he has a lot of CDs and his other passion is collecting T-shirts – – rock concert T-shirts! I’ve seen his collection. He has T-shirts almost like I have records. It’s pretty amazing and wonderful too! 

Is this friend a hoarder? No. This collection is organized, categorized and stored carefully. He knows where everything is. 

I guess the point of all this is before you make jokes, take a minute to consider that what you are saying might be ultimately insulting to someone who has spent a lifetime curating their collection. 

There is a difference.  And I hope people can start to understand and appreciate the passion many of us have for music.  

Just because someone does not fit your real-estate-staged concept of what a pristine home living environment is supposed to be doesn’t mean it is bad.

Take a moment to think about what you are saying…

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