When Best Buy announced they would no longer sell music in the compact disc format, I panicked. My 22-year-old son just laughed. "Nobody buys CDs anymore," he said, rolling his eyes in disgust.
"But I'm not ready to give up my CDs," I protested. "I love opening a CD case, popping out the disc and loading it into the player."
"I didn't understand any of what you just said," he responded indifferently. "Dad, you really need to get with the times."
I was once part of an IT team, designing databases and creating websites. I loved being on the cusp of evolving trends. When my kids were small, I helped them navigate "Reader Rabbit" screens on our computer. Now I've been left behind.
When CDs were introduced in the early 1980s, the record industry gods claimed they'd be around forever, boasting perfect sound quality delivered on indestructible plastic disks. A musical dream come true! Re-examining my listening habits, I realized that CDs were not the only prehistoric music formats in my house.
Melodies have been in the background of my life since I was a teen. Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" blasted from the speakers in my metallic blue Plymouth hot rod in high school, and I rocked the UConn campus with Donna Summer's infectious beats during my disco radio show.
During college, I landed my dream job, spinning Madonna's upbeat tracks to overflowing dance floors at Smugglers Inn, a popular nightclub. As I entered the dimly lit smoky club each night, clutching a couple dozen new dance singles under one arm, my heart rate increased with the thought of orchestrating the looming party. As strong scents of Halston Z-14 cologne drifted in the air, friends approached the DJ booth with their requests and I nodded in approval. The thundering bass, frenetic strobe lights and confetti canons didn't come to rest until 3 AM, when, as if on cue, the crowd screamed for more.
Years later, as a new father with restless infants, I calmed the house with the sounds of Earl Klugh and smooth jazz. Today, I frequent jazz clubs in New York and Boston with my college-aged son.
I've collected thousands of vinyl LPs and 45s, hundreds of compact discs and several hard drives bulging with downloaded iTunes songs. I even admit to stockpiling dozens of cassette tapes. Truth is, I've had problems managing my collection.
Anxiously, I spent time looking through my vast assortment of records and digital tunes for a Bachman-Turner Overdrive album, realizing I needed to find an easier way to access it. Music brought me so much pleasure—why was I struggling so hard to sort through it?
Most of my life was organized. My desk was uncluttered, containing only a wireless keyboard, mouse, monitor and a few framed family photos. My paper files were all neatly tucked into folders and alphabetized. Even the cup holders in my car were empty and always ready to hold a steaming cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee. It was time to straighten out my music life, as well.
"You should digitize your old music," my son suggested. After some research, I found recent leaps in electronic innovations have made it easier than ever to convert music to a single, convenient, digital format, essentially putting decades of rhythms at your fingertips.
Finding a USB turntable online, I chose next-day delivery. Hooking up my new modern-day record player to my laptop and using its software helped me create magical electronic files that I stored on my computer. The melodies were ready to download to my smartphone and digital music player. (Yes, I still have an iPod and I'm not giving it up.) I was elated that I could listen to all my tunes at home or on the go in my car.
"Dad, today there's so much music out there—beyond your own collection," my 21-year-old daughter said.
"Tell me more," I said.
"I listen to my music on Spotify," my son suggested. My daughter nodded. I subscribed to the online service. I couldn't believe I had access to a universe of songs stored on their platform at the click of a button.
My most exciting move was test-driving satellite radio. I signed up for SiriusXM's 30-day free trial and was hooked. I could listen to the Doobie Brothers on the '70s channel or pump up the tempo with my Grace Jones favorites on the Studio 54 channel in a matter of seconds.
Modernizing my methods, I felt sadness for what my kids would never experience in their "one-click" world: flipping through albums at Tower Records, or meeting friends at tiny, out-of-the-way record shops, the feel of a well-worn tattered record jacket held in one hand while sliding the vinyl disk out into the other. Studying liner notes. The mechanical process of lifting and placing the featherweight tone arm onto a spinning platter. But I've realized these things aren't as important to the millennial set as getting to their favorite songs in just a few taps.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not giving up my prized records. At times, I prefer listening to the rich sounds of vinyl, powered by a turntable. Nothing beats hearing the crackle in the speakers at the moment the needle hits the grooves. But I was excited to discover new ways to enjoy my beloved music. The good news is I'll no longer embarrass my kids by lugging around bulky CDs. Best of all, I'll always have quick and easy access to my entire collection, from Aerosmith to Jay-Z.
"Dad, can I listen to The Chainsmokers on your Spotify?" my daughter recently asked.
"Of course," I said, feeling like a tech-savvy pro.
Thinking back to my DJ days, I was thrilled to honor her request. And all I had to do was hit "play."