How Do You Decide What to Listen To?

As with most things audio related what should be simple ends up being somewhat complex (or stupid, depending upon your POV).

I have approximately 2,500 discs (90/10 in favor of vinyl). The CDs are stored in the listening room, but the vinyl is stored in an adjacent room. The records are stored on two separate 4 level racks and are arranged alphabetically by artist.

To listen to music I first have to decide on CD vs. vinyl. If I'm lazy, I'll simply press play and listen to whatever is already in the CD player (a 5 disc changer). Odds are that it will be a number of discs that I really like, but it ignores and eliminates from consideration the vast majority of music that I have available. If I take the time to start searching through either the CD or vinyl collection, then I run into another problem. To physically scan through 2000 records is time consuming. Typically it takes 5 or 10 minutes to pick out a half dozen or so records from which I'll actually listen to 3 or 4. Since I only have a limited amount of quality listening time, I tend to select only those records that I know I already really like. To an extent I'm still ignoring a large part of my music collection. While I'm enjoying what I do select, the problem is there's alot of really good music that I'm not listening to.

I guess my question really is - HOW DO YOU LISTEN TO ALL OF THE GOOD MUSIC YOU HAVE? To select one record means you have not selected another. With only a limited amount of time, do you end up listening to only a fraction of your collection? The same 100 or 200 hundred disc over and over again. I have a good size record collection, but I know from these Forums that others have double or quadruple of what I possess. I would assume that others have this problem and I'm interested in how you have addressed the issue.
For a daily or nightly listening session, which might only be 1 to 2 hrs or less, I play a few of the last several CDs I have purchased. I keep the last 35-40 CDs that I've bought unshelved and on a table or chest near my system, to remind me to listen to them several times to decide if they deserve "classic" status in my collection. For some reason, I save LP listening for weekends--something about feeling they take more time and energy to set up and play and so need to be saved for weekends when I have more time. At least monthly, I go to an area of my shelves where I haven't looked or selected in months, and pick 3 or 4 discs or LPs that I've forgotten about, or liked once when I played them 4 yrs ago, or have just recently read an article about, or something, just to show myself that I AM digging into my collection and trying to listen to some of the early pieces I've bought as well as the most recent. My shelves of rock and punk and new wave, which were drawn from heavily and almost worn out in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s, are rarely selected from now. In fact, I may move the rock collection to a more remote set of shelves so I can place my current favorite music, jazz and or folk, front and center instead of off to the sides where it resided during previous decades. My jazz collection has grown enormously in the last 5 yrs so I need to find more shelf space for it. Even with all this thought and rearrangement, I can only listen to a fraction of my collection in any given year. Nevertheless, every time I comb my shelves I find maybe, at most, one CD, and NO LPs, that I can part with. Paring down the collection is impossible. After all, it is a collection, like a museum of my tastes, personality, and maturity over the years, and I can't just LOBOTOMIZE part of it because I haven't listened to it in 10 years! I loved your question, because I think of this issue every weekend when I get ready to spin some vinyl or plastic.
Related to your question, and to my previous answer, is my system of organizing my music: I do it by genre (as defined by me, some of my categories are quite obscure and idiosyncratic), and then alphabetically within the genre. I try to locate what I consider similar genres adjacent to one another. For instance, I have alphabetized sections of blues, then early rock and roll/rhythm and blues, then gospel, then cajun, then country, then folk, then Alan Lomax kind of primitive early folk and sacred music, then what I classify as "," then compilations of punk and new wave, then general rock. After all of this stuff, I have classical (arranged alphabetically within periods of classical music) and then jazz. Jazz was my last category back in the 70s and 80s, but now it's my first, so I've got to rearrange the collection! it'll take some time though, so I haven't started it yet. Did you see the movie High Fidelity?
Right now I've got close to 1000 records and 150 CDs. With CDs everything is pretty simple but so simple is with vinyls as well.
I've got the LP stand which is divided on equal 12x12x12" cubes. Each cube has either a particular artist or group with same style of music.
For example I certainly have to search Peter Hammill next to Van Der Graaf Generator since he was a lead vocal in that band. Or guess where I have to search for Robert Plant?...
Besides that I know that certain levels of my rack is occupied by rock, certain levels are occupied by jazz and certain levels are occupied by classical/easy-listened/new age stuff. To find among rock is more difficult than among any other levels since rock section occupies full three levels. Having used my vinyls for quite a long time, I certainly stack them onto an appropriate level and next to appropriate artist. I also remember all placements well since I play them quite often. If I want to listen to a number of records I have in my listening room a 12" wood bar screwed onto the floor next to the corner so I can stack a number of planned to listen records.

With CDs a bit simplier since they're not that much but still I have a jazz-tower that contains now close to 100 CDs sorted by groups of related styles.
Sometimes I just reach into my collection and pull out something without looking at the title first.
Completely depends on my mood, or who is around :) -if you know what I mean. If I hear a song on the radio that I haven't heard in a long time I go home and dig it out, and enjoy it(I am strictly digital at the moment). I tend to listen to my latest purchases most frequent, but I tend to play to death things, meaning I will just listen to them over and over until I get bored(2-3 weeks) then it goes on the shelf until I am ready to take a trip down memory lane, different things bring me back to different points in my life, ie what was I listening to the day of september 11, REM "Automatic for the People" I think that will always have a very ironical rememberence in my life. At the moment I am listening to various Police/Sting music, last week was Greg Brown, its truly amazing the affect it has on me. I remember what I was listening to when I had my wisdom teeth removed(John Tesh- Avalon) and I hate that CD now! it always brings back the memories of pain! If I have a friend over I like to set them loose on the music collection and see what the come up with. For some reason I always tend to enjoy it, go figure ;)
for those of you who have not seen the movie or read the book, i highly recommend "high fidelity." the protagonist, played by john cusack in the movie, is the owner of a vinyl shop. he has a huge lp collection that he rearranges in some nutty ways, including chronologically, as it relates to him. he also has some great things to say about picking music for demo tapes that this thread brought to mind. (BTW, the book is by nick hornby.)

sarah's categorization"system" is remarkably similar to mine, tho i don't use quite as many genre (it's hard enuff for me with only 9 ): classical (alphabetical by composer); rock/pop (alphabetical by artist); grateful dead & gd artists(an entire 100 cd shelf and most of a 125 lp unit, arranged chronologically); folk (alpha by artist); blues (ditto); c & w (ditto ditto); soundtracks (alpha by movie/musical); jazz (alpha artist); and "gems", comprising some 40 or 50 cd's and around the same number of lp's that are extra special (kinda like hp's original dirty dozen list). i tend to play stuff "relationally." i start with a piece that's new or for which i'm in the mood and move on to the next lp/cd based upon what the earlier one brings to mind. that could mean something by the same artist, same genre, similar mood, whatever. i rarely have more than one recording in mind when i start my listening sessions, whether they are a half hour's or half day's duration. great thread, onhwy61. -cfb
tim: i can't believe you're a greg brown fan. you know he's another cornfedboy, still hangin' in iowa city? i have everything he's ever recorded. moreover, a signed photograph of mr. brown, taken by steve stone (former s'phile reviewer and "official" photographer for e-town), hangs on my "artist gallery wall" leading down the stairs to my sound room. FWIW, the other artists in the gallery (all original prints, signed by photographer), include eric clapton, ricki lee jones, john prine, jerry and bobby. gaps are filled with original fillmore west posters by muscoso and mouse. - kelly
I listen to what I like. However, for more than 30 years I have used "great" FM stations to expand and define my........likes!~..

This may be a bit off track, but unless you live in an extremely remote area,..a great FM tuner is still the way to define your LP/CD collection.

So,...what do I listen to? This is a question that will not end, until I do.

Thanks, Whatjd
I stare at my CD/LP collection until beads of sweat form on my forehead.
So like 30-45 seconds??
It's kind of funny, but I started alphabetising all my music almost 20 years ago after accumulating enough to bother. As most of us do, we probably have 30-40 "go to" albums or cds that we listen to more than any others. Sometimes it's an instrument that I want to listen to. It might be the sax, the piano or a guitar and picking one artist reminds me of others that I might want to listen to. Other times it might be category.. rock, blues, jazz or classical and I'll pull two or three different ones and listen to a cut or two and see if that gets me interested. Once in a while, I'll just start going through a cabinet and spot something that I vaguely remember being worthwhile and put it on only to find out that I should have gotten rid of that crap long ago. I don't know about you, but I feel it almost sacrilegious to dispose of music of any kind. It's almost like that old sweater that you got from your favorite grandmother years ago that you never wear but don't have the heart to throw away. Some music wears well, it may be old, but there's a kind of comfort in that. As I type this, I'm thinking that there is something that I had forgotten and just remembered. Pardon me while I go find that special piece that takes me back to an earlier time and place that I'm missing right now.
Actually, that was supposed to be beads of blood! Just not the same effect, oh well.
John Tesh brings pain to me too and I didn't even have any teeth removed. I'm just glad you were not listening to Greg Brown or Charles Lloyd or somebody else when you went to the dentist.
(This is just a joke)

Sincerely, I remain
Nice thread, Onhwy61. Except in the case where I've just bought something and want to hear it, I almost always choose by my mood, which is often influenced by a recent concert I've been to or a recording I heard on the radio coming home that night. I often will just listen to the tuner for hours, as Whatjd mentions, and let WQXR or NPR pick what I listen to. Every now and then, if the system doesn't seem right, I might bring out one of my reference recordings to see if everything is working right or if the stars are out of allignment, etc. And when I get nostalgic, I dig into those old 60's rock and folk albums. I am not nearly as organized as many of you in filing and categorizing my recordings (which is the opposite of my work habits, interestingly--what does that mean, Detlof?), so I really choose my listening by the piece or the composer I'm in the mood for, then try to find it in my records/CDs/SACDs.
Interesting replies. I'm glad I'm not the only one who saw a little of themselves in "High Fidelity".

In another thread I described how I transferred my CD collection to a computer based digital jukebox. Recently I've even started to transfer parts of my vinyl collection (at least a 2 year project). To date I have nearly 5,000 individual songs at my immediate disposal. The iTunes software classifies the songs and allows me to sort by name, artist, genre and comment. Instead of a verbal comment, I gave each song a numerical rating (10-best, 0-worst). Any song rated 4 or higher is worth listening to with songs rated 7 or higher being my favorites. I've set up the following playlist:

Brand New - recent acquisitions
4 to 6 - songs rated between 4 and 6
6 & 7
7 to 9 - 40% of the collection
Slow Blues
Blues Kings - Albert, B.B. & Freddie
Guitar - hot guitar playing
Billie, Ella & Sarah
Ellington - the man and his band plus his songs by others
Gershwin - written by, but done by others
Jazz Guitar - Wes, Grant G., ect.
Jazz Piano - primarily McCoy and Monk
Live Performances - anything with an audience clapping
Love Songs - for those special momentsNew Orleans Sound
Pop/Rock Female Vocalist
Pop/Rock Covers - famous songs done by other artists
Pop/Rock Instumentals
Stan Getz
Vinyl - transferred from my vinyl collection

A listening session typically involves selecting a playlist and pressing play (less than 30 seconds including computer awakening). The playlist are always set to random play. Over the last two weeks I have been primarily listening to the "Brand New" or "7-9" playlists. A typical hour long listening session could have everything from Sly & Robbie, Herbie Nichols, Heaven 17, Marvin Gaye, Otis Rush, Dwight Y. and MC5. Sometimes the transitions are jarring, but in a way it adds a level of excitement. While I love this way of listening, it might not be for everyone. A friend commented that they missed listening to an entire CD in sequence. Another friend could not deal with changes in musical style. The beauty of the playlist format is that if I wanted to, I could setup a playlist to work around these complaints.

I recognize that my solution to the problem of selecting what music to play is an example of massive technological overkill. It was also time consuming and fairly expensive ($5,000) to setup. However, I can honestly say that in the few months I've had this setup, I am truly listening to more music and I'm listening to good music that I normally would have passed over. It's surprising how much music I already own that I love, but rarely listened to.

One last thing, I noticed that when I listened to CDs that I would not learn the names of the songs. Instead of the names I remembered CDs by track numbers. iTunes displays the song title. It's funny to now learn the names of songs that I've been listening to for years.
'61; a thought provoking thread, and you have an incredible music organization/access system. I identify with those who select music by present mood or maybe desired mood, and BTW, it doesn't always work (for me), and it may take me some time to actually find music that fits my emotional state. And sometimes (not often) I can't find anything that "fits" and I have a lousy listening session.

I only have about 1,000 CDs (no LPs), but as I don't keep music that I don't like, I've listened to many more than this to accumulate 1,000. My modest collection is organized much like others above, ie alphabetical by category. I also keep 100 or so "favorite" CDs at hand and tend to play them a lot, but I make it a point to delve into archived CDs (or new ones) to have something new/different to hear.

I like Jond's approach to selecting music;>) A neat sense of humor!

One thing that hasn't been mentioned here is; as the stereo system is changed-- especially significant changes, I've found that the character of many CDs change, and a result of this, some I like even more, but some I can no longer tolerate. Latest example of this is: I recently got new, pretty damn revealing speakers (Vand. 5s), and I'm now in the process of re-evaluating my whole CD collection. Actually, this phenomenon could be the subject of another thread.

The largest category of music in my collection is Blues, and I especially like acoustic blues. Cheers. Craig
I'm old lazy and always tired. Yes years back I had everything set up great. Then I dig through;never putting them back where they belong.

Now I may have a title in mind ; but I just grab whatever strikes me ,as I'm looking for "it"-- Doesn't that remind you of the guy who marries a girl 'cause she is already pg??
Onhwy61 - I share your approach a lot of the time, though I'm not quite as organized about it. I have several Sony CD Changers controlled through a software front-end that allows for all the categorization you describe. Sometimes I use the software front-end, sometimes I just turn one of the changers on, hit Random and then play. It's like having my own radio station and I find that the "surprise" of what comes on next greatly adds to my enjoyment. I'm not sure why but if I consciously decide to listen to a song from the past it feels like being in a rut, whereas if it just "comes on" it feels great. It also mixes old and new which is great on many levels. It's probably not the last word in technical quality, but it sounds pretty darn good and it really puts me in the frame of mind that the music is everything.

I always have the choice, which I regularly exercise, of picking out a CD to play straight-through. I agree that there is something about the context of the "album" that is valuable and adds to the experience. After many organization schemes, I finally just put everything in alphabetic order. I usually choose based on style and instrument - I love music where the electric guitar is front and center but it's not always what I'm looking for. Sometimes I want vocals, sometimes I really don't.

I also share the technique of keeping the most recent purchases in a pile by the system to play more regularly until I'm familiar with them. Finally, I have a 12 CD changer in my car that I regularly change the contents of. My music collection (~1000 CDs) gets a lot of use. -Kirk